Winds of Change: Barack Obama

Senator Barack Obama, a Democrat from Illinois, has been elected the first African-American president of the U.S., news organizations declared late Tuesday night. Obama seems to have reached the necessary 270 electoral votes to become president in an election featuring what could be historic turnout, although the results are not yet official.

However, Obama hasn't talked a lot about tech issues during the 2008 presidential campaign, but he did put out a lengthy tech policy paper a year ago. During a debate with rival candidate John McCain in September, Obama called for the U.S. government to focus on rolling out broadband to the parts of the country that don't yet have it.

Obama was talking about priorities that shouldn't be cut even though the U.S. economy is lagging. “I also think that we're going to have to rebuild our infrastructure, which is falling behind, our roads, our bridges, but also broadband lines that reach into rural communities,” Obama said.

Obama's broadband goal is to help people connect with each other and to resources, Reed Hundt, a former chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission and an Obama tech adviser, said last week. Obama promises a new kind of governing, where ideas can come from the “bottom up,” not just the top down, Hundt said.

“The real commitment is to have our entire democracy include absolutely everyone,” he said. “When we say universal broadband, what we mean is universal community.”

Obama is also a big fan of technology. He's been photographed sending messages on a PDA, and his campaign used text messaging to announce his choice of a vice presidential running mate. His campaign solicited for donations through e-mail, and it set fund-raising records for a U.S. presidential campaign, raising more than US $639 million as of mid-October. A large percentage of donations came over the Internet.

The campaign set up Obama pages at Facebook and MySpace and set up a Twitter feed. Obama even purchased advertisements in online video games, including Madden NFL 09 and Burnout Paradise.

Obama's tech policy paper focuses on several issues:

Net neutrality: Obama has long supported the passage of net neutrality laws or rules. “A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history,” his tech paper says.

Competition in the wireless spectrum: Obama has called for a review of existing uses of the wireless spectrum, and he wants government agencies to come up with “smarter, more efficient and more imaginative use” of the spectrum they control.

Privacy: Obama wants to restrict how databases containing personal information are used. He'd increase the Federal Trade Commission enforcement budget to fight spam, spyware, phishing and other cybercrime. Obama would also focus on ensuring that electronic health records are secure, his position paper says.

Outsourcing: Obama wants to end tax breaks for companies that ship U.S. jobs overseas.

H-1B visas: Obama has questioned the need for more H-1B visas, which many tech companies use to recruit foreign workers to fill jobs in the U.S. He's also called for reform of immigration programs, including ways for immigrants to become permanent residents.

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