Why we still like Ike in the digital era

Back in the 1950s with a Republican president named Dwight D. Eisenhower guiding the policies of the nation, the U.S. government took on the task of building out the U.S. highway infrastructure. At the time, the argument made was that an interstate transportation system was vital to national defense. Of course, the United States has yet to be invaded by a foreign government, but the investment in the highway system has paid for itself 100 times over because it boosted interstate commerce.

Now if we flash forward some 50 years, we are looking at the same scenario all over again. In this age of modern warfare, communications is the vital piece of infrastructure required to win. But in the digital age of warfare, communication needs to be ubiquitous and instantaneous.

In a discussion with Norman Lorentz, recently appointed CTO for the Office of Management and Budget under the Executive Office of the President, it's clear the Bush administration gets this point. Lorentz understands the impact such an infrastructure will have on the economy. As a result, Lorentz says he supports the concept of making broadband more accessible across the United States, while pushing for the federal government to give local communities the incentive to deploy 802.11 networks. Imagine a world where every school building served as a public 802.11 wireless hub for accessing the Internet.

Like all things in the body politic today, this will be tightly coupled to national defense and the war on terrorism. But the real value will come from the economic stimulus to the gross national product.

Now within Washington, there are vested interests lobbying for their own agendas. Telecommunication carriers are not happy about the prospect of people communicating freely over the Internet. And then there are content providers that increasingly see the Internet as a means to disenfranchise them. No doubt there are real issues here, but trying to retard the deployment of new communications technologies in order to maximize short-term profits around obsolete business models is not only foolhardy, it's also patently harmful to national defense.

The real question that needs to be addressed is how companies that are going to be affected by the deployment of these technologies will find incentives to change their business models. The key to that answer is to look at the total value of ubiquitous communication and subsidize companies that help the country attain that goal.

So at the end of the day we wind up with a national information technology policy that not only serves national defense, but also drives real economic growth. The funny thing is, some 50 years later, we still like Ike.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld and InfoWorld.com. Contact him at michael_vizard@infoworld.com.

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