At the risk of taking my positive-thinking resolution for 2005 too seriously, I'll express only mild disappointment that yesterday's State of the Union Address said nothing obvious about the importance of promoting broadband and other digital communications technologies. With global freedom, the solvency of Social Security and the sanctity of marriage to cover in under an hour, the Oval Speechwriters did not have time to respond to my call for making investment and innovation in these technologies a White House priority, regardless of who replaces outgoing FCC Chairman Michael Powell.
Or at least they did not respond explicitly. As I pore over the speech transcript (while sipping from my glass half-full), I note that there are at least a few implicit rhetorical morsels on which we digi-wonks may sustain ourselves, at least until the Administration articulates how it will achieve such campaign goals as bringing broadband to all Americans later this decade.
First, the speech clearly emphasized -- right up front -- the need to be "good stewards of this economy," a feat that will be impossible without strong market-savvy leadership in the rapidly converging communications and information technology sectors. Such leadership is critical not only to reap jobs and growth from these sectors but also to spread the many efficiencies (and thus economic gains) that flow from use of these technologies throughout the economy. The nation's businesses must pursue this broad-based approach to using things digital to "keep America the economic leader of the world," another goal highlighted in the speech.
Second, the speech also made clear that being good economic stewards means "making our economy more flexible, more innovative and more competitive." If that doesn't scream "market-oriented approach," I don't know what does. So for now, we wonks can rely on these scant words in hoping the Administration will continue the policy of using private-sector incentives and investment, rather than regulation, to squeeze the most economic juice from digital technologies.
Third, the speech admonished that "America must reward, not punish, the efforts and dreams of entrepreneurs." If you listen between these words, you can almost hear stirrings of a more sweeping recognition that consumers and competition are best served by allowing companies and individuals to enjoy the fruits of their labors and other investments. Thus, this statement puts a fine point on the speech's earlier call for a more flexible, innovative and thus "market-oriented" approach to stimulating the economy. Decisionmakers like the FCC can't answer that call with respect to communications if they start imposing onerous regulation on emerging services such as Internet voice. As technologies such as wireless, WiFi and cable modems demonstrate, companies will invest in bringing the newest services to consumers most quickly where they face the least risk that regulation or other policies will rob them of the value they create.
Of course, the speech did not quite vow to continue such policies as the FCC's efforts to promote investment and innovation in digital technologies by minimizing regulation. But it did not rule out those policies either. That arguably leaves plenty of room to sandwich additional tidbits along the lines of those I've culled here -- perhaps between thoughtful colloquia with Congress over judicial nominees and re-doing the New Deal. Or at least that's my hope.
And I reached this admittedly precarious state of mind on the Digital State of the Union without spraining my positive-thinking muscles (much).