April 29, 2021
Broadband expansion and workforce development topped the list for members of Protocol's Braintrust.
Good afternoon! It's been almost a month since President Biden unveiled the American Jobs Plan, so now that some of the dust has settled, we asked the experts to dig into the details of this infrastructure plan and highlight the pieces they think could have the biggest impact on the tech industry. Questions or comments? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
President & CEO at BSA | The Software Alliance
There's been a fair amount of debate recently about the meaning of "infrastructure." I view it as part of the formula for creating inclusive economic opportunity. Inclusive economic opportunity means intentionally extending the benefits of technology so that all Americans have access to the advantages that software and digital services provide. Over the past year, software has helped us work, learn and connect with loved ones. But the pandemic has also further spotlighted the need to spread the benefits of technology to those who have been historically disadvantaged.
Focusing on tech workforce development in the infrastructure bill means improving access to STEM and broader digital skills education, including within communities of color and historically marginalized groups, narrowing the skills gap and supporting technical and vocational training and expanding broadband and computer access, especially in underserved rural and urban areas and in low-income communities. We know that technology can create many kinds of opportunities for people, but we need good public policy to make sure those opportunities are attainable for all who want them.
A more conventional way of thinking about infrastructure means buildings, transportation systems and other networks that enable us to live and work. Of course, software plays an important role here as well. We need buildings, roads, bridges and airports that are stronger, less expensive and more environmentally sound; integrating software into the design and development is the way to do that.
Improving our infrastructure is bipartisan and beneficial to every state, district and town in the country.
Founder at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas
Of the many constructive catalysts for American innovation within the Biden infrastructure proposal, achieving universal broadband and accelerating 5G will prove the highest-impact.
2020 highlighted the critical importance of broadband connectivity to how we work, live, play, learn, innovate and remain healthy. Digital transformations accelerated, and those on the wrong side of the digital divide fell further behind. Yet we also saw immense new investment and innovation pointing to a possible future of higher productivity and greater creativity for those who are connected.
5G networks will put that inventive potential on steroids, and promising U.S.-based 5G solutions such as open-RAN give hope that America can leapfrog China in 5G innovation and deployment.
The key will be encouraging government support for market-led solutions without falling into the trap of government-mandated strictures and prices that stifle competitive innovation.
Nicol Turner Lee
Senior Fellow, Governance Studies and Director, Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution
President Biden's focus on broadband is the most achievable and timely goal in his infrastructure plans, especially given continuous private sector investments in the networks, and the ongoing public- and private-sector goodwill during the pandemic to keep consumer connections on, like the recently adopted Emergency Broadband Benefit, and school leadership pursuing digital equity strategies for the nation's K-12 public school students. Over 70% of employed adults now work remotely in the U.S. The largest school districts also provide remote and in some unique cases, hybrid learning models. Telehealth has also become an efficient source of health care delivery for both patients and providers.
Having equitably deployed broadband infrastructure is one of the goals of the White House, and we must start with communities that have been the least served when it comes to network deployment and adoption programs, including high-poverty rural, urban, suburban and tribal areas. Parallel investments in both networks and adoption activities will be crucial to balancing supply and demand, while addressing the persistent digital divide, which has foreclosed on various social and economic opportunities for vulnerable populations. Biden's broadband infrastructure plan should also focus other federal agencies, like the U.S. Department of Labor, to create apprenticeships, and credentialing programs to put people to work in the building, expansion and support of these assets.
With the opportunity to create a fair tech new deal, the American Jobs Plan can place a larger down payment on broadband, guaranteeing that no child or community will be left offline, ever again.
Matthew T. Cornelius
Executive Director at the Alliance for Digital Innovation
President Biden's American Jobs plan has numerous explicit opportunities for the tech industry — such as broadband expansion, massive investments in R&D and securing supply chains. However, some of the most interesting, and potentially powerful, investments are more implicit. At the most fundamental level, Biden's plan does not distinguish between — but rather interconnects — America's physical and digital infrastructure in nearly all elements of his vision. Like an iceberg, this means much of the opportunity for the tech industry is hidden under the surface.
Take, for example, President Biden's commitment to modernizing VA hospitals and federal buildings. In a pre-COVID world, it would be sensible to expect most of those dollars to go primarily towards paying for facilities upgrades, renovations and equipment. In the Biden plan, however, these funding priorities would include investments, first and foremost, in the digital infrastructure underpinning veterans' health and government operations. For VA hospitals, funding would likely go towards telemedicine and virtual screenings to help bring the treatment and care to patients — and not the other way around. And, as has been clearly showcased during the past 15 months, workers (especially many federal employees) have become highly productive operating virtually. It's easy to see Biden tasking the General Services Administration to streamline the government's real estate portfolio, while simultaneously investing more in cloud, collaboration tools and digital services that empower agencies to deliver their mission whether they are in offices or not.
President Biden knows partnership with America's innovative technology companies is critical partners to delivering on his promises. The opportunities for them are everywhere, if they just know where to look.
Head of North America Public Policy at Workday
With the U.S. economy continuing to feel the impact of the public health response to COVID-19, President Biden's American Jobs Plan calls for critical investments in workforce development. These investments hold the prospect of both potential benefits for the tech sector while also providing a potential opportunity to leverage technology to help.
In calling on Congress to invest $100 billion in workforce programming, the White House is seeking to prioritize access to computer science and programs that connect underrepresented students to the science, technology, engineering and mathematic fields. Steps like these can help bridge the technology skills gap while promoting more equitable economic mobility.
In addition, the American Jobs Plan focuses on developing new skills for in-demand jobs in growing, high-demand sectors. With skill representing the currency of the changing world of work, a focus on skills is critical to providing workers and employers the agility to navigate today's workforce development challenges. To focus reskilling on in-demand skills, federal agencies and the private sector should partner to leverage technology that uses real-time data to identify economywide employment trends focused on emerging roles. Such information is critical to informing demand-driven reskilling efforts, pointing the way toward training that would improve economic opportunity and open career pathways with a higher likelihood of success.
President & CEO at the Consumer Technology Association
The Biden administration plans to update our digital infrastructure are well-intentioned, as every American child needs access to broadband to be connected and to learn. While the Consumer Technology Association does not advocate for government spending for our industry, we endorse the goal of bringing high-speed broadband to every American. During the pandemic, we learned that fast broadband to the home isn't a nice-to-have technology — it's a necessity. Virtually every key challenge we face — from improving the education system to creating jobs to expanding access to health care — counts broadband access as a key condition.
Simply put, it is difficult to be an engaged and productive member of society in 2021 without broadband access. Given the consistent failure in the U.S. of government-created and -run broadband systems, we believe it would be more effective to incentivize rural and inner-city broadband connectivity by cash transfers and other incentives. We urge the federal government also to expand broadband by other means — including deployment of new spectrum, removal of obstacles to 5G hardware installation and support for new broadband technologies like white spaces and low-earth satellites.
President & CEO at Information Technology Industry Council
See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated April 29 2021).
President Biden's proposed American Jobs Plan is notable for its forward-looking vision of how the United States can invest in digital infrastructure and technologies to lay a foundation for economic growth and American leadership globally. Investments in priorities like universal access to high-speed broadband, efforts to fight climate change, STEM education and training programs, increased R&D at HBCUs and in emerging technologies, semiconductor R&D and manufacturing and supply-chain security will be crucial to the country's continued growth and competitiveness.
It's no question to us that every one of these shared priorities is necessary for private sector dynamism and continued U.S. leadership, especially as other countries increase their own investments in digital technology and infrastructure. However, one of the most important will be expanding technology-neutral, secure and resilient high-speed broadband and 5G. It's a win-win: By connecting every American to the internet, the private sector benefits from an expanded pool of people using the internet to work, learn and participate in the modern global economy. Those same people can plug into markets beyond their local community to get a higher paying job, start their own business or make money from a side hobby on a digital platform.
Expanding broadband and 5G access also increases equity and outcomes for those in unserved or underserved areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all how important a reliable internet connection is for so many aspects of daily life. Broadband and 5G will make it easier for governments to deliver essential services to their communities, reduce our carbon footprint and fuel household income and overall GDP growth. The more people that are reliably connected to the internet, the more people that contribute to technology-fueled growth and innovation in the U.S.
Kevin McAllister ( @k__mcallister) is a Research Editor at Protocol, leading the development of Braintrust. Prior to joining the team, he was a rankings data reporter at The Wall Street Journal, where he oversaw structured data projects for the Journal's strategy team.
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