US president George Bush could continue his largely hands-off, market-driven approach to technology issues, while Democratic challenger John Kerry would take a more government-focused approach to issues such as encouraging broadband, cybersecurity and spam, said think-tank pundits on both sides of the debate.
Technology experts Robert Atkinson and Thomas Lenard reviewed the presidential candidates' responses to a questionnaire from the Computing Technology Industry Association. They agreed that, on several technology issues, Kerry would be more hands-on than Bush has been.
A Kerry administration would take an "industrial policy" approach instead of letting the market deal with issues such as cybersecurity and broadband availability, said Lenard, a senior fellow and vice-president for research at the Progress and Freedom Foundation, which advocates for free markets.
"The government shouldn't do something if it can't do something productive," Lenard said in response to an Atkinson criticism that the Bush administration has done little to combat spam e-mail.
On the other hand, the Bush administration has largely left those issues up to private companies, said Atkinson, vice-president of the Progressive Policy Institute, which is aligned with moderate Democrats.
Asked about Bush's answer on education and training programmes, in which the president talks about his No Child Left Behind programme and budget increases for job training and employment assistance, Atkinson said Bush has underfunded many training programmes and shifted money away from some programmes to pay for others.
"In many cases, the president's rhetoric is right - I agree with it - but I question his record, his commitment and his competence," Atkinson said. "What you really see in education is the president saying, 'I don't want to spend any money, I don't want to exert leadership there'."
Atkinson focused his criticism on Bush efforts to spread broadband, strengthen cybersecurity and eliminate spam. Many Japanese customers have access to broadband up to 50 times faster than most US customers can get, he noted. Kerry has proposed a 20% tax credit for companies offering broadband 20 times faster than what's generally available today.
But Kerry's plan is to pay for broadband tax credits with money the government eventually makes by auctioning off analogue television spectrum as television stations move to digital signals, and that transition is moving slowly, Lenard said.
On spam, Atkinson criticised Bush for having a "defeatist attitude" of government not being able to help with the problem. Bush did nothing to encourage the passage of tougher proposals than the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing (CAN-SPAM) Act, signed by Bush in late 2003.
While the Bush campaign responded by talking about how CAN-SPAM sets some "rules of the road" for law enforcement, the Kerry campaign wrote: "I am open to considering the best means available to ensure people do not receive unsolicited e-mail."
Lenard countered with the argument that there's little the federal government can do to combat spam. Private technology suppliers offer products that have more of an effect than the government can, he said.
On cybersecurity, Atkinson called the Bush administration "lax" in leading any efforts, with three cybersecurity czars having left the administration since Bush took office.
But Lenard said it doesn't make sense for the government to regulate cybersecurity because private suppliers offer products to protect customers and companies.
Grant Gross writes for IDG News Service