State of the Internet
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the Internet is no longer an optional resource. It is a fundamental tool encountered in every aspect of our daily lives. We rely on it for business, information, education, communication and personal expression. We use it at our offices, in our homes, on desktops and laptops and even on our phones. The vibrancy of our nation's economy increasingly depends on the growth and utilization of this transformative technology.
In Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of our country, startups have become billion-dollar businesses by leveraging the power of the Internet. These companies are transforming our society, making our economy grow and creating hundreds of thousands of domestic jobs.
As President Obama noted in his State of the Union address, the federal government has played a crucial role in the growth of the Internet and our most innovative businesses. The technology at the Internet's core was funded by a Defense Department program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Silicon Valley has been a substantial beneficiary of federal research funding, and the dividends are apparent. Giants like Google, Cisco and Sun Microsystems (now part of Oracle) all emerged from federally funded research projects.
But as the Internet continues to grow in prevalence and complexity, what can we do to replicate our past two decades of success?
It begins with an investment in basic research. The private sector has always been the engine of American job creation and innovation, and the federal government has provided the resources and incentives necessary for our businesses to innovate and compete. While the United States still leads the world in funding basic research, China and other nations are working aggressively to catch up. We must continue to invest in research and preserve our advantage in this critical area.
The Research and Development Tax Credit is another essential economic tool, because it directly rewards business investment in new technologies, but the tax credit has been renewed only on a short-term basis. During my 18 years in Congress and three administrations, I've worked to make the tax credit permanent. Last February, I led a bipartisan effort of 120 members of Congress in urging the expansion of the credit. There are few easy answers to improving the economy of our nation, but the R&D tax credit is one of them. It needs to be made permanent.
A climate of openness and innovation has been the hallmark of the Internet. A decade ago, it's what allowed a startup named Google to compete with better-funded, less technologically advanced competitors. Today, Congress has the responsibility to preserve this climate for the next Google, and for the consumers and the economy that will benefit from its success.
This begins with broadband availability, ensuring that every community has access to affordable high-speed Internet. In a recent poll conducted by Cisco Systems and the Saïd Business School, the United States ranked 15th in the world in broadband quality. We must close these gaps, and quickly.
All available options should be on the table. In the last Congress, I sponsored legislation calling for the installation of broadband channels when the ground is already being torn up for construction and transportation projects. The Federal Highway Administration estimates it is 10 times more expensive to dig up and then repair a road to lay fiber than to dig a channel for it when the road is being fixed or built. This is a simple, inexpensive method to increase our broadband capacity, and it should be a priority for Congress to pass this year.
Increasing our wireless broadband capacity is equally critical. It's clear that wireless is the future of the Internet, but it relies on airwaves - just like over-the-air television and radio - and there is only a finite amount available. To meet current demand and promote future innovation, Congress needs to allocate the necessary airwaves, supporting faster speeds, greater capacity and increased competition.
With expanded broadband comes a growing need for an open and free environment, one that allows technologies to develop and consumers to have access to a wealth of information, websites and applications. Until the FCC voted in December, there were no rules in place to prevent a broadband provider from blocking access to the legally acquired content of competitors. These rules are an important first step, but they need to apply equally to all forms of broadband, including mobile and the thousands of mobile-based applications and services.
The Internet might be the most powerful economic tool since the invention of the printing press. We need to provide businesses and consumers with the right policies to leverage it for the future. Once these policies are in place, we will have laid the groundwork for a new decade of job growth, innovative technologies and economic success for all Americans.
Anna G. Eshoo represents Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale and Menlo Park in the U.S. House of Representatives. She co-chairs the Congressional Internet Caucus.