Bush Proposes Answers to Tech Questions

President Bush pushed high-tech proposals in a politically important state Monday, calling for computerizing all patient health care records within 10 years and permanently banning taxes on high-speed Internet access.

In his eighth trip to Minnesota, Bush also said the federal government was moving ahead with $350 million in research and development projects for hydrogen-fueled cars.

Democratic candidate John Kerry's presidential campaign said the election-year initiatives were "little more than a smoke-and-mirrors operation" to hide how little the administration has done to promote the high-technology sector.

Bush spoke at the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges (search) and then attended a Republican fund-raiser — his fourth such event in a week — at a private residence in Edina, a well-heeled suburb in the Twin Cities.

The fund-raising lunch, at the home of real estate developer Dave Frauenshuh, brought in $1 million from 110 donors for the GOP's Victory 2004 fund.

Adding details to earlier initiatives, Bush tied a healthy economy and job growth to goals such as high-speed Internet service in every home by the year 2007, service known as broadband.

The United States ranks 10th in the industrialized world in broadband capability and "10 is 10 spots too low," the president told the community college educators.

Back in Washington, congressional supporters of the permanent tax ban on Internet access planned to bring their bill back to the Senate, following several months of fruitless negotiations.

Some technology industry leaders have criticized the Bush administration as indifferent toward their business interests.

Broadband (search) is especially important to the technology industry because it can use these high-speed lines to sell an array of products and services, including movies and music and devices that enhance computer use.

Kerry's campaign said Bush's policies don't do anything to provide the new resources needed to deploy broadband in rural and urban areas and that they are not addressing the regulatory barriers that prevent deployment, barriers Bush says his administration will work hard to remove.

Broadband grew from about 7 million subscribers in December 2000 to nearly 24 million in June 2003. About 90 percent of all U.S. ZIP codes have access to at least one form of broadband connection — up from about 70 percent at the end of 2000.

In promoting placing patient health care records on computers, Bush said the country has a "19th-century" system of keeping medical records and needs to go totally electronic.

"These old methods of keeping records are real threats to patients and are incredibly costly," said the president.

The president is creating a national health information technology coordinator (search), a sub-Cabinet-level position. Bush said the federal government will set technical standards for the switch, he hoped by the end of the year, so that doctors and hospitals can share patient records electronically nationwide.

On the transportation front, Bush announced that the Energy Department has selected partners for more than $350 million in new research projects to remove roadblocks to developing hydrogen fuel technology. The projects will address the problem of storing hydrogen on vehicles; increasing consumers' knowledge about hydrogen energy; and making hydrogen fuel cells (search) that are both durable and affordable.

"I think we can use technology and innovation to go beyond the false choices of the past," said Bush. He cited as an example the debate over balancing the need for a clean environment and meeting the country's energy needs. He noted that the exhaust from hydrogen-fueled cars would be water.