Many compare the internet of today to another communications game changer – the introduction of the printing press five centuries earlier. However, the internet’s impact may be even more profound. Returning on the heels of the World Conference on International Telecommunications, a UN based treaty conference in the United Arab Emirates held in December 2012, where the United States successfully supported the current open and transparent structure for the internet, we appreciate more astutely the Internet’s uniqueness and how this Administration has prioritized technology policy and innovation. In Dubai, the focus of the UN conference was to update a 1988 telecommunications treaty regarding traditional international telecom services, but a few countries sought to use the conference to establish new international rules to govern the Internet.
The U.S. State Department, joined by industry, like minded governments and civil society, successfully opposed this and other proposals of other countries in UN and UN affiliated organizations. This past year, similar proposals have been recently discussed in multiple bodies under the aegis of the United Nations – including, for example the General Assembly, the Commission on Science and Technology for Development and the International Telecommunication Union – and our continued opposition to them reflects the bi-partisan approach to internet governance that has prevailed since the privatization of the Internet in the 1990s.
The internet has changed the global landscape much like electricity changed the physical landscape of cities around the world, with elevators, skyscrapers, subways, and street lights. The internet bridges vast distances like the airplane, and makes the world flatter like roads, by allowing instant access to an almost endless stream of information via smart phones and tablets.
And U.S. cities are embracing the transformation that these innovations bring. San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee created the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI), which utilizes government as a platform for innovation. MOCI works closely with San Francisco residents and local creative and tech-minded communities to collectively design solutions for three strategic focus areas: economic development, citizen engagement, and government efficiency. Mayor Lee also chairs the Technology and Innovation Task Force for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which just announced the 2013 Mayors Innovation Summit to be hosted by their President, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. The Summit will explore how innovation and technology can engage communities, improve the quality of life and drive the creation of cities as places of choice for both residents and visitors.
This Administration’s prioritization of technology policy and innovation distinctly impacts AAPIs. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20% of Asian Americans still live in a household without internet use. To close the digital divide, through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, the Administration has been working to expand broadband access to unserved and underserved areas including immigrant communities. And according to Pew Internet and American Life Project, studies show that Asian Americans are much more likely to use social networking than any other demographic group; raising the profile of an often overlooked community.
The human rights and economic considerations regarding technology policy and innovation are mutually reinforcing. As President Barack Obama remarked at the Holocaust Museum last spring, “technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them.” Interfering with the use of the internet inevitably imposes economic as well as political costs. Serious reductions in the free flow of ideas harms a society’s ability to engage in innovation and thus handicaps economic growth.
As the U.S. continues to lead the world in innovation and adoption of advanced broadband, our government policies recognize the unique and positive impact that this rapid technological growth and acceptance has had on the United States as a whole and on AAPI communities in particular. In the next four years, we will continue to see the Administration bolstering strong innovation in the United States to meet our global 21st Century challenges.
Rhonda Binda is Deputy Director in the Office of Global Intergovernmental Affairs at the U.S. State Department, a former White House staff member, and a technology and telecommunications attorney.
Manu Bhardwaj is a Senior Advisor and Chief of Staff to two U.S. Ambassadors at the U.S. State Department, a former White House and Commerce Department staff member, and litigation attorney.