November 7, 2008 in Business

Obama a tech advocate

Expect strong support
By The Spokesman-Review
 

President-elect Barack Obama, who used the Internet effectively in his campaign, will be a strong advocate for technology growth, said Rick White, a former Washington congressman and now an adviser for a Spokane company.

White, who was hired as a consultant this year by patent and intellectual property law firm Lee & Hayes, said the new administration can be expected to promote wider access to new tech services and encourage changes in federal immigration laws.

Democrats, by and large, work harder than Republicans to win supporters among the tech industry, said White during a Connect Northwest executive breakfast Thursday in Spokane.

“We’ll probably see bigger, more focused government programs that promote technology than we’ve seen,” he said.

White served two terms in Congress, from 1995 to 1998, representing the West Side district that includes Bainbridge Island. From 2001 to 2005, he served as CEO of TechNet, a policy group representing most of the country’s largest tech firms.

Democrats, White said, will search for ways to change the laws that limit the number of H1-B visas the country provides foreign workers. Many tech firms, including Microsoft and Google, believe U.S. immigration laws prevent skilled workers from taking jobs with U.S. firms due to the visa restrictions.

“Democrats might do more (to increase those visas) and might have more flexibility in changing immigration laws,” he said. “They don’t have a base of support that hates immigration.”

Another area where citizens might see gains is the area of universal broadband — the goal of providing affordable high-speed Internet service across the country, not just large metro areas, White said.

He noted that a key Obama adviser has been Reed Hundt, former head of the Federal Communications Commission. If the Bush administration had a hands-off approach to promoting technology, Obama will be selectively more liberal, if Hundt is a measure.

“Reed is a definite interventionist,” said White, which suggests that the FCC under Obama might move more aggressively in the direction of spreading access and promoting technology innovation.

Obama has suggested the federal government needs to be more transparent and accessible; he’s said new technology efforts will focus on those goals.

For his part, Hundt has said broadband access is a key step in that direction. He’s said giving more people full access to the Web at an affordable rate will promote two-way interaction between citizens and government officials.

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