Sunday, January 25, 2009

Silicon Valley welcomes Obama

By Ian Hardy

North American Technology Correspondent



It took only a few seconds for Barack Obama to go from ordinary citizen to the most powerful man in the world - the 44th President of the United States.

Many believe that his understanding and use of social networking tools to reach voters gave him a distinct advantage over other candidates.

He is well known as a fan of technology. He is an avid Blackberry user, the first president to air his weekly address via video websites and the first to have an official portrait taken with a digital camera.

So Silicon Valley leaders hope that the arrival of President Obama in the White House will mean a new enthusiasm for tech on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Eric Schmidt, boss of Google said: "During the Bush presidency there was not a lot of focus on technology.  

"It was not an administration that particularly focused on science, science policy, and investment in research and development. They focused on other issues.

"We've got a new president now, who has got a completely different agenda."

He said the change would have "a big impact globally on America".

Open network

There's no doubt that President Obama has a long hi-tech 'To Do' list. It was published on his campaign website and top of the list was net neutrality.

He is against allowing broadband suppliers to prioritise network traffic and charging a fee to websites and services for doing so because, as he said: "Once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose".

He said: "The internet is perhaps the most open network in history and we have to keep it that way."

With competition among ISPs almost non-existent in the US, broadband speeds and penetration are other issues the new President will have to look at.

As he put it: "It is unacceptable that the US ranks 15th in the world for broadband adoption.

"Here in the country that invented the internet, every child should get the chance to go online."

He will also be the first US president to have a chief technology officer staff who will oversee a massive effort to make government more transparent via the internet.

But that is just the beginning as far as Silicon Valley is concerned.

Jason Goldman, co-founder of micro-blogging site Twitter, said: "In terms of things like municipal wi-fi, even in populated areas, it is difficult to get free and easy access. If you look at the places that are further out it is difficult to get access.

"It is kind of ironic considering that America had this steadfast policy that you can get mail delivered wherever you are or you can get a phone to wherever you are."

Science now

One of Obama's longer term presidential promises is a concentration on maths and science in schools from a young age.

Some believe that is absolutely crucial for US success in the decades to come.

Intel chairman Craig Barrett said: "The big companies are great at creating the next generation of products.

"But the ideas for the future really come out of our tier one research universities: the MITs, the Stanfords, the Caltechs.

"The administration through its attitude towards funding basic research can accelerate the creation of those ideas."

President Obama has already said that this year the economy may get a lot worse, but for some people they believe that this is an ideal opportunity for the technology industry as a whole to re-evaluate its main goals.

In other words it's not just about making millions of dollars any more.

Biz Stone, the co-founder of Twitter said: "There is this sense that you are supposed to be doing more than just creating great products or a great company.

"There's some obligation to take a crack at some global issues.

"You don't have to solve them, you just have to make sure that they're part of the fabric of your company, that you have people in your company that are thinking 'Why else are we here besides working on this product. What else can we do? What else can we participate in?'"


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