Technology Policy Will Play Role in Campaign

As the Democrats gathered here in Boston this week for their convention, technology issues are not exactly at the top of the agenda this year. Nonetheless, technology policy will still play a role in the campaign and in the agenda for the future.

An examination of the 2004 Democratic platform (search) confirms that while technology policy issues are not a large part of the platform, they are important to the party and to consumers, especially in the value that technology brings to the economy, education, energy and even security. The platform addresses these issues and calls for universal broadband access and a permanent Research and Development (R&D) tax credit (search).

The platform’s section on "A Strong, Growing Economy," lists the priorities of the party for a vibrant economy. This section includes discussion of tax credits, assistance for companies in dealing with the costs of health care, free and fair trade (search), and increased investment in small business. The section mentions technology as a key engine behind economic growth and adds that the party is committed to "promoting new technologies, like energy, that will lead to the companies and jobs of tomorrow."

The platform’s economy section contains a plank on "Investing in technology to create jobs," which focuses on the central role that technology plays in the future of the economy and improving the lives of the American people.

"We will invest in the technologies of the future, from renewable energy to nanotechnology (search) to biomedicine, and will work to make permanent the research and development tax credit," the platform reads. The party also goes further to call for universal broadband access, which it says could add $500 billion to the economy and generate 1.2 million jobs.

A permanent R&D tax credit has been a top priority for leaders in the tech industry for a long time. Given the importance of technology and the great value it brings to consumers and to our economic vitality, tech leaders have argued that it’s critical to give innovators additional incentive to focus on R&D to create new products and improve existing ones.

The Republican Party has also expressed support for a permanent R&D tax credit.

While there has been a great deal of discussion among policy makers and within the industry over how to reach universal broadband access (search), there has been wide agreement on the goal. Achieving universal access will allow workers, students and all consumers to bring increased efficiency to our economy and the way we live our lives, according to most technology leaders.

The Democrats platform also recognizing the importance of technology to small businesses, which it argues are the "lifeblood" of our economy. The party plans to double funding for technology among the nation’s 350,000 small manufacturers.

In its plan to reinvigorate manufacturing in the country, the Democrats call for the "growth of high-technology ‘clusters’ that invest in new industries around research institutions. In another section, the platform also calls for breaking down trade barriers to China’s high-tech market to provide opportunities for American companies.

Throughout a number of its planks, the party’s platform recognizes the importance of technology as it relates to various aspects of our nation’s needs. In its discussion of security and strengthening of the military, the document calls for improved technology to help our military. The party also recognizes the importance of technology in strengthening border controls.

Given the large numbers of technology companies who develop hardware, software and a variety of technology solutions for the defense sector, the importance of technology in the future of the military is an important issue to our industry.

The platform also discusses the importance of technology in our nation’s energy policy and calls for the creation of "new technology for producing electricity in a better, more efficient manner." The Democrats also endorse the implementation of cleaner coal technology.

In the area of education, technology also plays a role in the document. The platform calls for increased technology training for teachers and insuring that schools offer the "technology and equipment for a 21st century education." The document also emphasizes the importance of technology in lifetime learning. "And we will support high-quality distance learning so that Americans everywhere can use a keyboard to learn from experts everywhere."

These planks demonstrate that policy makers understand that technology not only offers economic opportunity for our nation, but is also critical to make our lives easier and more efficient.

As the campaign season kicks off, there will be a number of important issues at stake to our industry. In some cases, there is agreement among the parties on some of these issues and in some cases they will disagree. While technology policy will not be at the very top of the agenda here in Boston or during the campaign, it’s clear that our industry and our issues will play an important role in this campaign and in the future of our economy and our lives.

Jim Prendergast is the executive director of  Americans for Technology Leadership.