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The opportunity: New political regime should focus on telecom policies: Obama-Biden team learned value of wireless on campaign trail

Funny how an economic crisis rivaling (but hopefully not surpassing) the Great Depression tends to concentrate the minds of policymakers otherwise given to pugnacious political ideologies left to right. Survival has a way of quickly bringing into focus a vivid vision of the past, present and future condensed into one.
Change has indeed come to official Washington. In this new disorder of economic chaos and uncertainty, the creed of big government spending reigns supreme among Republicans and Democrats alike. It is defined by baleful bailouts and economic stimulus plans costing trillions of dollars and guaranteeing nothing. Some pundits argue there is simply no option but to spend ourselves out of this mess. Others ask why not give bankruptcy a chance? The record-breaking budget deficit that’s materializing will have to take a back seat to economic recovery. The economic triage is to play out in something resembling a high-budget theater of the absurd, with Wall Street greed punished by limitless government generosity and understanding.
While the economic well-being of the nation is at stake, so too are the political lives of those elected and re-elected in November and the legacy of man leaving the White House.
In the same way national security became the common denominator of public policy in the Bush administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, economic growth is apt to be the common thread running though the Obama White House, the Democratic-led Congress and a new-look Federal Communications Commission in coming years. During the 1990s, when the Clinton-Gore administration held sway, spectrum auctions became a politically painless way to raise billions of dollars for the U.S. Treasury and generate economic activity through unprecedented wireless buildout. Auctions are not supposed to be just about money, but they mostly are. There will be less spectrum for bidding in the Obama administration, though perhaps it could be persuaded to again tap into the federal government’s inventory of radio frequencies for transfer to the private sector. How about spectrum fees, an idea routinely shot down with little fanfare in one presidential budget after another?
Policymakers in the new political regime should focus on telecom policies that spur innovation, create new wealth, promote vibrant competition and, perhaps most importantly, embrace an interdisciplinary approach that views information technology (wireless and broadband, in particular) not as an end in itself but as a means to lift all ships – public safety, business, health care, education, energy independence, government transparency and so on. It is an opportunity waiting to be seized. The Obama-Biden team should know. It masterfully exploited wireless and Internet technologies to raise record campaign cash and energize a new, youthful generation of voters in what turned out to be a winning formula.


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