Finally – A Technology Agenda…

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Technology issues rarely get respect on the campaign trail…

Despite technology’s critical role in our society, you don’t usually hear candidates talk much about their positions on technology related issues. In a short speech at Google yesterday, Barack Obama did just that. With many candidates that – short of blackberries – are probably pretty technophobic, it is really refreshing to hear someone running for office that seems to understand the bigger digital picture:

As political speeches go, this one was pretty specific. Obama comes down firmly for preserving Network Neutrality and for providing universal broadband coverage – two issues that are very important to me. He also endorses preserving spectrum for non-commercial uses, making government data available online using Open File Formats (a boon to non-Microsoft Linux and Mac users), and creating open forums around pending legislation.

Of everything he mentioned in this speech, perhaps the most interesting is the creation of our first national Chief Technology Officer. We certainly need one. Each division and agency in our government seems to make it’s own technology decisions – many of them very poorly considered. As a national government, we have no cohesive platform or data architecture to build around. There are no clearly defined standards for identity, security, or access. We are running on a set of aging, isolated technologies cut off not just from each other, but from the needs and expectations of the public they are supposed to be supporting.

And the result is a set of poor, inconsistent services…

No business would run itself this way – and neither should our government. As time goes by, addressing this will become increasingly important. A well considered approach to technology could be transformational. Imagine if our government provided standards based access to every service offered online. People would be able to create mash-ups that combined them in logical ways with other services and data, and extend the footprint of these services in ways the government couldn’t do on its own. Even agencies within the government could tie related services from other agencies together, packaging them in less siloed, more consumer friendly ways.

It could be the start of ‘Open Source’ government…

If someone with technical vision and a clear mandate could fill the role of ‘National CTO’, they could open our government up and make it accessible to individuals in ways that the traditional bureaucracy never could. Change at this level could have a positive impact on the entire experience people have when interacting with our government.

I understand that a lot more gets said during a campaign than gets done during an administration, so I am pragmatic about what I think will be accomplished. I also recognize that Network neutrality, preserving public spectrum, and providing universal broadband access probably aren’t defining issues in this election. However, they are important issues, and it’s nice to hear positions on them articulated like this.

We need more elected officials that understand them…

NOTE: Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are co-sponsors of legislation that was introduced in the Senate (by Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine) that requires broadband providers to treat all network traffic equally. It would allow broadband providers to create tiered pricing, but require that there is non-discriminatory access to each tier.

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