Report: Leverage ICT for Economic Stimulus

January 14, 2009  • Institute Contributor

Contact: Charlie Firestone
The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program
202.736.5818
[email protected]
[email protected]

Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program Report Recommends Actions to Leverage Information and Communications Technologies for Economic Stimulus

Washington, DC, January 14, 2009 – The Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program today released its new report “ICT: The 21st Century Transitional Initiative.” The Report calls for bold and broad measures by the new Obama Administration to promote widespread diffusion and adoption of broadband communications, promotion of new applications in government and private industry using communications, and the use of communications to save energy costs and reduce carbon emissions. View the report at www.aspeninstitute.org/c&s.

In August 2008, the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program convened 29 experts and leaders in communications policy from government, business, academia, and the non-profit sector to address how the next Administration could leverage information and communications technologies (ICT) to help stimulate the economy and establish long-term economic growth. The Institute, a non-partisan, non-ideological, non-profit organization, assembled leaders from across the political spectrum with the aim of making specific recommendations to the new government. 

Underlying each of the recommendations is the belief that policy reforms, investments, and certain uses of ICT can lead to significant economic and social gains throughout the country, serving a double bottom line. As an exercise, the group contemplated the government’s spending up to $10 billion in this area as part of its economic stimulus, but it also made many suggestions that would cost very little. (The Initiative was adopted before the economic crisis beginning September 2008. Since then, larger sums have been proposed by others.)

The Aspen Initiative. The recommendations fit into three over-arching categories: (1) presidential leadership, (2) infrastructure development, and (3) energy savings and environmental benefit. View the Initiative Summary at www.aspeninstitute.org/c&s.

Presidential Leadership. First, there is a desire to see strong presidential leadership to promote digitization of government service. This, it is suggested, should be expressed very early in the Administration in an Executive Order that also mandates the adoption of a coordinated ICT layer throughout government. To help achieve these goals, the group recommended a government-wide auditing of ICT and electromagnetic spectrum uses and opportunities; the coordination within the government of agencies with ICT responsibilities; coordination of the federal government with businesses, state and local governments and the scientific communities in this area; and the pursuit of interoperability of communications for public safety first responders. 

Key to this strong presidential thrust would be the creation of a Chief Technology Officer (CTO); it is important for such office to have budgetary responsibilities in order to be effective. Accordingly, it suggests that the CTO also be a deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Recommendations for ICT Infrastructure. Most groups looking at this area of ICT infrastructure encourage widespread diffusion of broadband, and suggest uses of the Universal Service Fund (USF) to achieve this. The Aspen conference agrees with this, recommending the targeting of funds to underserved areas, to key facilities such as hospitals that could serve as “anchor tenants” in such areas, and backhaul access. 

Furthermore, the Aspen conference found it even more crucial to increase broadband adoption rates. This can be done most economically first by gathering better information on broadband adoption, including its inclusion as a question in the US Census Survey. In addition to the use of the USF for broadband rather than voice support, the group suggests subsidization of devices and service bundles, as is the practice in wireless service.

Other measures to facilitate infrastructure development are to increase spending on ICT research by (1) surveying basic research being conducted, and conducting other relevant studies, (2) increasing and/or refocusing budgets of ICT related agencies (e.g., DARPA, NSF, NIST), and (3) creating a national lab for ICT. Additionally, the group suggests the removal of legal and regulatory roadblocks to infrastructure developments, and urges the government to facilitate the use of rights of way.

ICT for Energy Savings and Environmental Benefit. The Aspen conference considered a number of areas where creative approaches could promote broadband usage and serve the double bottom line of financial and social benefit. The third category of recommendations focuses on a crucial set of concerns for social benefit: energy efficiency, conservation and environmental stewardship. 

The group looked first to the ICT industry itself, a significant user of energy, urging these businesses to improve their energy efficiency and recycling practices. A more transformative proposal, however, was in support of Smart Grids, linking the electric grid to the Internet economy. To do so, the government needs to promote interoperability standards, putting meters and appliances on the Internet so that consumers can monitor the use of their energy consuming devices, use less electricity during high-cost peak times, and even sell energy back into the grid where possible.

The Aspen participants also pointed out that with ubiquitous broadband deployment, more people can telecommute, saving significant energy costs in substituting communications for transportation to the workplace. And they suggested other ways that governments at all levels could aid the environment, for example, by examining the impact of regulations on energy use before adoption of new regulations, and by setting examples of energy conservation by the use of ICT in delivering governmental services.

“The Aspen Initiative looks to the new Administration to take leadership in leveraging ICT for economic and social benefit,” said Charles Firestone, Executive Director of the Communications and Society Program. “By stimulating broadband access, adoption, and demand – through government leadership, services, and investment – the Federal Government can use this transformative technology to serve the double bottom lines of stimulating the economy and serving social needs. It could even serve a third bottom line,” said Firestone, “good government.”

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