Obama Versus Romney on Tech Policy

          It’s no secret that this election has focused on the economy and little else. Most Americans will go to vote based on their wallets and bank accounts rather than their tech based beliefs. Just like the candidates’ views on the economy and foreign policy, their opinions on technology policy are important and will affect the daily lives of Americans for years to come.

      Barack Obama entered office in January of 2008 with lofty promises on a myriad of issues, and tech is no exception. The Administration may have reached some of its goals, but the economic and regulatory implications of most are concerning. Mitt Romney promises to decrease government oversight in many areas of Americans life, and his impact on the technology sector is likely to spur both economic growth and innovation.

Broadband Adoption

  • President Obama vowed to increase broadband adoption to 90% by 2020, to better use to nation’s wireless spectrum, and to provide tax and loan incentives to promote broadband. Some of these promises were delivered, while some came at a high price. Case and point: Open Range backed by $267 million in loans from the Agriculture department filed for bankruptcy with Taxpayers on the hook for at least $74 million. The loan incentives included in the stimulus bill cost approximately $4.7 billion.
  • Romney would pursue support for connecting rural Americans to the Internet through public-private partnerships and supports the auction of surplus government technology to benefit Internet infrastructure expansion.

Net Neutrality

  • While in Congress, then-Senator Obama co-sponsored the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, which would have enacted net neutrality and allowed the FCC plenty of room for additional regulatory overreach.  With hopes for a rewrite of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a pro-regulatory administration is not a good sign for Tech companies or any business that uses the Internet.
  • Governor Romney has come out in opposition of dangerous net neutrality, stating that he supports a free and open Internet and the government should have almost no regulatory powers over it. The Romney camp prefers market forces to regulation, and calls the net neutrality rules an attempt to micromanage telecom policy.


  • Obama would not support repatriation. American tech firms held $430 billion in cash off American shores, an increase of 21 percent since last year. Assets held overseas total $1.4 trillion, and the tech sector represents about 30 percent. With the highest rates in the world, businesses are given a perverse incentive to invest their money overseas rather than bring it home.  Under current policy, businesses are double taxed if they bring their earnings home paying both foreign taxes and the difference between the U.S. rate and the foreign rate.  The higher our corporate tax rate, the less likely businesses are to create new jobs here or bring investments back to the United States.  It’s a lose-lose for Americans.  Our system of global taxation effectively shackles any multinational American business with a marginal corporate tax rate of 35 percent – 39.2 percent if you count the average state corporate tax.
  • Romney favors a repatriation holiday.  The payoff would be significant and almost immediate, generating “hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of good, permanent, private sector jobs,’’ Romney told Republicans in Bartlett, N.H. “We want that money that’s [invested overseas] to come here — to invest in new factories, and new jobs, new equipment.’’ A multinational company can avoid the 35% tax rate by choosing to be taxed instead by the country where they are operating.  The US corporate tax rate is among the highest in the world, so typically multinational firms keep profits in overseas accounts. If they transfer funds back to the United States are they subject to the higher rate.  Repatriation could prove incredible helpful to our struggling economy.

Federal Spectrum

  • While its easy for both Obama and Romney to agree that broadcast spectrum should be auctioned – 60% of spectrum is controlled by government.  Obama has not commented on a report from his tech advisers on sharing government spectrum.  Spectrum sharing could very well be a tactic to keep federal spectrum right where it is, especially since there is no viable technology and the methods for sharing are so varied.
  • The Republican Party 2012 Platform endorses an inventory of the federal spectrum and auction of any that can be spared.

Tech issues are complicated even for those who spend their entire lives working on them. However, it is clear that Governor Mitt Romney has supported free and open Internet in his policy positions and promises, and that President Obama has been far less consistent in doing so. Tomorrow’s election may not hinge on tech issues, but Americans should certainly keep them in mind nonetheless.