Bush Addresses Broadband Access Taxes, Research and Development, and Conversion to Electronic Medical Records

April 26, 2004. President Bush gave a speech in Minneapolis, Minnesota to the annual convention of the American Association of Community Colleges. He addressed many technology related topics.

Summary. Bush spoke about the importance of innovation to the U.S. economy. To promote and incent innovation he advocated making the research and development tax credit permanent. He also advocated federal spending on research and education. However, he said nothing about incenting innovation through copyright, patent and other intellectual property rights.

He also spoke about the importance of promoting broadband deployment. He said that he wants to see multiple providers, affordable service, and broadband "spread to all corners of the country". To promote broadband he advocated banning taxes on broadband access. He also said that the federal government must increase access to federal land for fiberoptic cables and transmission towers (but he said nothing about obstacles to broadband deployment posed by local governmental entities that control access to rights of way).

Bush also advocating setting standards for broadband over powerline (which is the subject of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proceeding), and providing more spectrum for wireless broadband. He also expressed his support for the FCC, and for FCC Chairman Michael Powell in particular.

Bush also proposed converting the medical records system from paper to electronic files, and stated that the federal government is setting standards for electronic records.

Finally, he promoted community colleges, to train workers for jobs in new technologies. And, he opposed isolationist trade policies.

Broadband Deployment. Bush stated that one of his goals "is to make sure that we have access to the information that is transforming our economy through broadband technology. I'm talking about broadband technology in every part of our country." He added that "it also is going to be an important way to make sure that we're an innovative society."

Bush lauded the benefits of broadband based distance learning and telemedicine. He said that "the expansion of broadband technology will mean education literally will head into the living rooms of students. That will even make the system more flexible and more available and more affordable."

"Educators understand the great value of broadband technology", said Bush. "It's the flow of information and the flow of knowledge which will help transform America and keep us on the leading edge of change. And we've got to make sure that flow is strong and modern and vibrant."

Regarding telemedicine, he stated that "if you're from a state where there's a lot of rural people, there's nothing better than to be able to transfer information quickly from a rural doc to a hospital for analysis in order to save lives. It's happening all around our country. The ability to send an x-ray image in seven seconds and have a response back in ten minutes with a preliminary analysis oftentimes will save lives. But you hear us talk about making sure health care is accessible and affordable. One way to do so is to hook up communities and homes to broadband."

Bush reiterated the statement that he made in his March 29, 2004 speech in Albuquerque, New Mexico -- that the U.S ought to have universal and affordable access to broadband by 2007. See, story titled "Bush Calls for Universal Broadband Access by 2007" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 865, March 29, 2004.

He stated on April 26 that "I'm talking about broadband technology to every corner of our country by the year 2007 with competition shortly thereafter."

He added that "we've got to make sure that there's competition for your -- for your demand. We need more than just one provider available for not only community colleges but also for consumers. In our society, the more providers there are, the better the quality will be and the better the pricing mechanism will be."

Broadband Access Taxes. Bush said that "Broadband technology must be affordable. In order to make sure it gets spread to all corners of the country, it must be affordable. We must not tax broadband access. If you want broadband access throughout the society, Congress must ban taxes on access."

The Senate resumed its long delayed consideration of S 150 on April 26. This bill, titled the "Internet Non-Discrimination Act" would ban taxes on internet access. The House passed its version of the bill last fall.

S 150, as passed by the Senate Commerce Committee, makes the ban of the 1998 Internet Tax Freedom Act (ITFA) permanent, sunsets the grandfather language of the ITFA after October 1, 2006, provides that the moratorium applies to telecommunications services "to the extent such services are used to provide Internet access", and adds an exemption for any taxes imposed to fund universal service subsidies.

However, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Sen. Thomas Carper (D-DE) and others are seeking to water any legislation down with exceptions that would permit various taxes on internet access.

Broadband and Access to Rights of Way. Bush then said that "a proper role for the government is to clear regulatory hurdles so those who are going to make investments do so." For example, the federal government can "increase access to federal land for fiberoptic cables and transmission towers."

The Department of Commerce's (DOC) National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report titled "Improving Rights-of-Way Management Across Federal Lands: A Roadmap for Greater Broadband Deployment Report by the Federal Rights-of-Way Working Group" in April 26.

It contains numerous recommendations regarding the application and permitting process. These recommendations pertain to access to information, application procedures, timeliness of reviews, review procedures, and assessment of fees. However, nothing in this report proposes guaranteeing any broadband service provider access to any federal land, limiting fees that can be charged, or setting fixed decision making deadlines.

Bush also released a memorandum for the heads of executive departments and agencies on April 26, 2004 titled "Improving Rights-of-Way Management Across Federal Lands to Spur Greater Broadband Deployment". It directs federal entities to follow the recommendations of the NTIA report.

Neither the NTIA report, the President's memorandum, nor the President's speech deals with access to rights of way controlled by state and local governments. These permitting authorities pose the greater obstacle to broadband deployment.

Broadband and the FCC. Bush also addressed the FCC. He said that "Regulatory policy has got to be wise and smart as we encourage the spread of this important technology. There needs to be technical standards to make possible new broadband technologies, such as the use of high-speed communication directly over power lines. Power lines were for electricity; power lines can be used for broadband technology. So the technical standards need to be changed to encourage that."

The FCC has already issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) regarding broadband over powerline systems. The FCC adopted this NPRM on February 12, 2004. See, story titled "FCC Adopts Broadband Over Powerline NPRM" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 836, February 13, 2004. The FCC released the text of this NPRM on February 23, 2004. This NPRM is FCC 04-29 in ET Docket Nos. 03-104 and 04-37. See also, notice in the Federal Register, March 17, 2004, Vol. 69, No. 52, at Pages 12612-12618.

Bush also praised the FCC and Powell. He said that "we're going to continue to support the Federal Communications Commission. Michael Powell -- Chairman Michael Powell, under his leadership, his decision to eliminate burdensome regulations on new broadband networks availability to homes. In other words, clearing out the underbrush of regulation, and we'll get the spread of broadband technology, and America will be better for it."

Bush also discussed spectrum management in vague terms. He said that "we need to open up more federally controlled wireless spectrum to auction in free public use, to make wireless broadband more accessible, reliable, and affordable. Listen, one of the technologies that's coming is wireless."

Innovation. Bush also discussed innovation. He said that "America leads the world because of our system of private enterprise and a system that encourages innovation. And it's important that we keep it that way. See, I think the proper role for government is not to try to create wealth, but to create an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit flourishes."

He added that "The government can help as well, though, by providing research scholars. I mean, one of the things we've got to recognize is that if we want to be competitive in the future, that we've got to encourage research and development so that the next wave of technology is America's wave of technology."

He said that this can be furthered by two policies: federal subsidization of research, and tax breaks for corporate research. He stated that he has proposed "raising federal spending on research and development to $132 billion".

He also said that "I think we ought to encourage private sector companies to do the same, to invest in research. And therefore, I believe the tax credits that are critical for encouraging of research ought to be a permanent part of tax code. They're set to expire. Congress ought to make tax cuts permanent."

Notably, in this discussion of encouraging innovation, he said nothing about intellectual property rights. Bush also gave a speech back on November 18, 2003 in which he discussed innovation, without mentioning intellectual property. He said then that ""the prosperity, and social vitality and technological progress of a people are directly determined by extent of their liberty. Freedom honors and unleashes human creativity -- and creativity determines the strength and wealth of nations." See, TLJ story titled "Bush Says Liberty Creates Innovation Which Creates Wealth".

Community Colleges. Bush also discussed community colleges. He said that "I want to talk about the role of community colleges in the out years as we promote a new generation of American innovation."

He continued that "the people closest to the situation in each community are those who can best devise a strategy to meet the growing demand for workers and the need to make sure the workers have the appropriate skill sets."

Bush cited the example of a community college in Florida that provides training in "robotics, in lasers, and phototonic technology". He said that "there's a demand for these kind of workers, and what the community college system does is it provides a fantastic opportunity for job training, for new educational opportunities."

Bush also discussed workforce productivity and economic growth. He said that "not only does the community college system help somebody get employed, they help somebody to become a more productive worker. And there's a lot of talk about productivity in our society. Productivity provides interesting and important challenges. First of all, the more productive your workforce is, the faster your economy has to grow. See, if you've got -- if a worker can produce more goods and services per hour than in the past, in order to add new workers, the economy has to grow faster than productivity. And it's a challenge. And that's why we can't become isolated from the rest of the world. We've got to reject economic isolationism."

Bush's emphases on training rather that protectionism, and on community colleges rather than other educational institutions (such as research universities, liberal arts colleges, or large state universities), are similar to those of Federal Reserve Board (FRB) Chairman Alan Greenspan.

For example, on March 11, 2004 Greenspan testified at a House Education and Workforce Committee hearing titled "The Changing Nature of the Economy: The Critical Roles of Education and Innovation in Creating Jobs & Opportunity in a Knowledge Economy". He argued against protectionist policies, and in favor of education. He stated that "One area in which educational investments appear to have paid off is our community colleges."

Similarly, on December 12, 2003, Greenspan gave a speech in which he suggested that the appropriate policy is not protectionism, but retraining workers "for new job skills that meet the evolving opportunities created by our economy has become so urgent in this country. A major source of such retraining has been our community colleges, which have proliferated over the past two decades."

Electronic Medical Records. Bush also proposed converting the medical records system from paper to electronic records. He said that "The 21st century health care system is using a 19th century paperwork system. Doctors use paper files to keep tracks of their patients. Pharmacists have to figure out the handwriting of a doctor. Vital medical information is scattered in many places. X-rays get misplaced. Problems with drug interaction are not systematically checked. See, these old methods of keeping records are real threats to patients and their safety and are incredibly costly. Modern technology hasn't caught up with a major aspect of health care and we've got to change that. We've got to change it."

He argued that patients "should have personal electronic medical files available that accurately and securely keep a patient's medical history ... In other words, medicine ought to be using modern technologies in order to better share information, in order to reduce medical errors, in order to reduce cost to our health care system by billions of dollars. To protect patients and improve care and reduce cost, we need a system where everyone has their own personal electronic medical record that they control and they can give a doctor when they need to."

He proposed that "Within ten years, every American must have a personal electronic medical record."

He added that the role of the federal government in this conversion is developing technical standards for these records.

Bush also referenced privacy. He said that "Patients will have control over their privacy. I fully understand there's a issue of privacy. And the people who ought to determine the extent of privacy, their privacy, of course, is the patient, the consumer."