5 urgent problems in Techland for the next president to tackle

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There’s no clear news on the presidential race this morning, unfortunately, but there are plenty of items on the to-do list of the next president regarding tech.

  • The most obvious challenge: the dominance of the largest companies and the piecemeal efforts to rein them in. The new lawsuit against Google’s search business aside, there’s been precious little action to address other areas of concern, ranging from Apple’s app store policies to Amazon’s treatment of third-party sellers to Facebook’s manipulation of advertising. The House’s 449-page report on Big Tech and antitrust offered more than a dozen suggestions for action, including passing laws banning discrimination on tech platforms, limiting certain business combinations, and requiring interoperability across social networks. What’s needed is a healthy debate over the proposals.
  • China poses several challenges that need to be addressed, from both a national security and an economic perspective. The old free-market approach of allowing Chinese companies into U.S. tech spaces has not been reciprocated. And hackers working with the Chinese government have been stealing trade secrets and targeting pro-democracy movements for years. But the Trump administration’s disorganized reaction has been stymied in court. Many lawmakers are eager to act, but the continually amended responsibilities of the secretive Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) have not helped much. A president could do worse than appoint a blue-ribbon panel to straighten out this mess.
  • The pandemic has laid bare the state of America’s broadband infrastructure—and that state is not good for millions of people. One million kids live in “Internet deserts” where connectivity is unreliable, overpriced, or simply unavailable. Don’t forget the girls at the Taco Bell for Wi-Fi! And Land O’ Lakes CEO Beth Ford, speaking last week at Fortune’s Global Forum, called for $100 billion in government effort to close the broadband gap.
  • Unlike other countries, the U.S. has not made many of the most appropriate airwave bands available for 5G use and service so far is spotty or slow. 5G wireless promises to ignite a wave of innovation by exponentially increasing the speed of wireless and the number of devices connected. So-called midband spectrum has the capacity to support high speeds and the range needed for comprehensive coverage. An FCC auction of the C-Band next month will help but carriers still need a lot more airwaves more quickly.
  • Despite what any politician says, many 20th-century jobs are going away. Employment in coal mining has dropped 50{58a1dc6c0ae79131d70da91f0509185830ba20bd66fa98bb163bf48fbf8fcb62} since 2012, while jobs in telecommunications, textiles, and other industries are forecast to shrink by 20{58a1dc6c0ae79131d70da91f0509185830ba20bd66fa98bb163bf48fbf8fcb62} to 70{58a1dc6c0ae79131d70da91f0509185830ba20bd66fa98bb163bf48fbf8fcb62}. At the Global Forum, Adecco Group CEO Alain Dehaze called on companies to emphasize reskilling workers whose jobs have become redundant. As the White House Council of Economic Advisers reported in 2018, many reskilling programs are already helping, but many gaps remain.

Those are just a few items that need to become higher priorities. Now back to counting the ballots.

Aaron Pressman


[email protected]

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