Winning the Race 2012 Memos: Digital Communication Networks

September 24, 2012
As the 2012 presidential campaign moves in the final stage, ITIF is presenting general principles and specific recommendation ideas across several policy areas.

We live in an information-rich world in which we increasingly depend on advanced digital networks to connect our smart phones and computers with databases and information processing systems in the cloud. The opportunities for IT to deliver improvements in the economy and quality of life are multiplied by fast, reliable and pervasive digital networks. Innovation is particularly fast in the mobile world, but next-generation wireline networks form the essential foundation of all digital networking. Pervasive digital networks are also essential prerequisites for the smart grid, intelligent transportation systems, and improvements in health care.

The United States leads the world in the adoption of fourth generation LTE mobile networks, but we lag our competitors in provisioning spectrum. While the United States is not the world leader in wired broadband because of our disadvantages over some nations in population density and low rates of computer ownership, policy here can help as well. Communications policy was historically characterized by bipartisan consensus. Today that has weakened. Democrats are more likely to support an expansive research agenda and digital literacy and computer ownership programs, but they’re sometimes inclined to over-regulate and to support government in the network operations business. Republicans are more likely to rely on markets incentives to spur investment, but they’re also less inclined to intervene in areas where markets are not solving the problems that need to be solved.