Four principles to harness benefits of advancements


• Insight and investigation. The foundation for advancement is discovery. We must employ a robust network of research institutions and private industry to expand the reach of our scientific knowledge and extend our technological capabilities. In Congress, this means encouraging research and development and setting policies that will allow the work of researchers and scientists to be available for public consumption.

• Incentives and investment. One of the best ways to encourage investment in research and development and the infrastructure to deploy technologies is through targeted tax incentives. The tax code can be a powerful tool for innovation, particularly when it is used to lower the costs firms face to conduct research and develop new discoveries into marketable products and services.

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• Innovation without interference. Armed with tax incentives and poised to get a return on their investments, companies are creating new technologies and keeping America on the leading edge of innovation. We must not stymie those efforts with extraordinary oversight and unnecessary or burdensome regulation. Instead, we should employ only the commonsense guidelines that will work in concert with consumer choice to police the marketplace.

• Individual choice through competition. If we adhere to the first three principles, consumers will reap the benefits. They will enjoy numerous choices offered at competitive prices, and they will subscribe to services, purchase devices, and invest in the technology they want and need. In turn, entities will be driven to offer competitive goods and services. And they will pour revenue back into research and development, thus continuing the cycle of American innovation and technology leadership.

There are two high-priority initiatives that represent the best and the worst of technology policy, according to these principles. Because both are so critical to our nation’s technological progress, I have made each a priority in my work in the Senate.

The first is broadband deployment. Many communities and small businesses still lack access to broadband infrastructure or do not subscribe to available services. In both cases, communities risk lagging behind in education, economic growth, and even healthcare. Rural areas of my state of Texas are particularly vulnerable to this technology gap.

I have supported efforts to determine where in the nation we need to focus on broadband deployment. And to build on the crucial task of broadband mapping, I recently introduced the Connecting America Act. This legislation will stimulate investment over the next five years through limited-duration tax credits. Targeted incentives will provide companies immediate access to capital and encourage investment to build or improve infrastructure where we need it most.

The legislation also reforms existing grant programs to better leverage our scarce resources to bring infrastructure to remote places. The bill would create a technology-neutral bond program for communities, rather than Washington bureaucrats, to raise funds for construction, assess infrastructure needs and adopt the appropriate technologies. This is the right approach to nationwide broadband deployment.

The second critical issue is net neutrality. Advocates claim it is an essential regulatory approach to further promote the Internet as an open platform for innovation and economic growth, while discouraging intentional discrimination against particular content or applications. The nature of the Internet guarantees a measure of openness. Because it is a vibrant marketplace with billions of dollars of new investment, I am not convinced additional regulatory intervention is needed to ensure its broad availability.

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However, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski recently announced plans to enact a new regulation that would extend to all technologies providing Internet access, including wireless services. Regulations that would limit broadband carriers’ ability to manage their networks in the manner that is best for their business and to meet their consumers’ varying usage needs is the wrong policy approach. It will discourage investment and innovation in network infrastructure by creating uncertainty. I will ask the Obama administration to rethink this effort.

In the few prior instances of misconduct, consumers and the marketplace have responded swiftly, which has kept the Internet an open platform for innovation. Before new restrictions and regulations are imposed, we must understand why they are essential. In my judgment, the need hasn’t been demonstrated.

One of modern history’s greatest innovators, Bill Gates, said, “The potential for technology innovation to improve lives has never been greater. ... If we make the right choices, the United States can remain the global innovation leader that it is today.”

As we set the policies that impact technology, let’s make the right choices.

Hutchison is the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.