Traverse City Record-Eagle

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May 29, 2013

Forum: Building trust, jobs through bipartisan steps

If politics in 2013 is known for anything, it is impenetrable gridlock, the biggest casualty of which is not just growing public cynicism but unattended-to economic challenges like wage stagnation and high unemployment.

This insolubility is why some statesmen are arguing both sides should find issues on which they largely agree and try to implement incremental improvements. If there is any industry ripe for this, it’s telecommunications.

Since passage of the 1996 Telecom Act, U.S. broadband companies have pumped over $1.2 trillion into the economy. They’ve invested over $120 billion in research, equipment and people in the past two years alone. During the Great Recession, internet providers held three of the top 10 spots on the private investment charts.

This trillion-dollar private-sector gamble has paid off in jobs - generating over 10.8 million as of summer 2010. The centrist Progressive Policy Institute says the exploding “App Economy” alone is responsible for 500,000 jobs and $20 billion in annual GDP.

It’s a model we must build upon.

That means continued investment in basic research. From the miniaturized computers that came out of the Apollo program to the internet, itself birthed on a DARPA grant, there is no substitute for the kind of “no boundaries” research only government can fund.

Republicans and Democrats clearly agree, as President Obama and Mitt Romney demonstrated in debates last year. The dollars involved are relatively small; the entire federal research budget was just $140 billion in 2012. But it’s from these small federal research seeds that tomorrow’s commercial forests will grow.

We also need smart market rules that allow the type of bet-your-industry investment gambles that fueled the broadband boom. For the internet, that meant breaking free of stifling Bell monopoly-era regulations and wise leadership at the FCC that distinguished between these new internet services and the lumbering telephone utility that came before.

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