Democrats Outline Innovation Agenda

Democrats' plan to improve the use of technology in the United States includes making broadband more accessible and increasing the number of math and science students.

Democrats in Congress proclaimed an aggressive plan today to improve the nations standing in technological innovation, and many of the priorities outlined mirror recommendation long sought by the IT industry.

Lamenting that federal funding for basic research peaked in 1987 and that the United States ranks 16th in the world in broadband penetration, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Democrats met with CEOs in many fields—including telecommunications and high-tech—over the past several months to develop an agenda to support innovation.

"The underdeveloped countries of yesterday can become the formidable competitors of tomorrow, or even today. Those countries are following what has been the United States blueprint for decades," Pelosi said. "As others have copied our blueprint, we have departed from it."

At the top of the agenda is an initiative to increase the number of students who study math and science by offering scholarships and other financial assistance.

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Under the plan, the country would gain 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers in the next four years, she said.

"We will graduate 70,000 engineers this year," Pelosi said. "India will graduate 350,000 engineers, while China will graduate 600,000."

The nations relatively low rank in broadband penetration is a hot button issue for Democrats and Republicans alike. Pelosi said that she would double federal funding to promote broadband access, particularly in rural and underserved areas.

Her plan, which also includes a tax credit for service providers that deploy broadband facilities in such areas, would ensure that every American would have affordable access to broadband within five years, she said.

The Democrats agenda also would double federal funding for basic research and development in the physical sciences, and it would promote government-private sector partnerships to help turn new ideas into marketable technologies.

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A number of IT trade organizations, including TechNet and the Business Software Alliance, applauded Pelosis agenda.

Cisco Systems Inc. President and CEO John Chambers lent his support to the initiative as well.

"This agenda thoughtfully addresses how government can best play a role in improving our economic competitiveness by focusing on innovation," Chambers said in a prepared statement.

"I look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to implement these laudable goals."

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