The New Washington Tech Agenda

President-elect Barack Obama brings a decidedly different technology agenda to the White House than President Bush did eight years ago. Widely considered the most tech-savvy president ever elected, Obama sees an activist government - tinkering here, readjusting there and spending here, here and here - as the path to innovation and the future.

Since technology is the key to virtually all of President-elect Barack Obama's plans for sweeping changes in the direction of the country and the way Washington does business with its citizens, it is not surprising Obama brings a decidedly different technology agenda to the White House than President Bush did eight years ago.

Bush praised technology as a key driver of the economy and worked to remove government barriers such as laws, rules and regulations to let the free market make its decisions on winners and losers. Obama, though, embraces technology as the path to innovation and the future and plans to invest heavily in technology as the key to reviving the economy.

An eWEEK look at the emerging new Washington tech agenda:

Network Neutrality

Would innovation blossom if virtually any legal Internet service or software program could run on any broadband network? Obama thinks so. Broadband providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast do not, conjuring up nightmare traffic management scenarios. One of Obama's earliest tech campaign promises was to throw his support behind network neutrality, which would prohibit discrimination in the delivery of broadband services by providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

Absent network neutrality rules, Obama said, "you could get much better quality from the Fox News site and you'd be getting rotten service from some mom and pop site. And that, I think, destroys one of the best things about the Internet-which is that there is this incredible equality there."

Prime example? In August, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Comcast violated the agency's Internet policy when it throttled peer-to-peer traffic by BitTorrent, a clear discrimination against the P2P provider. The agency ordered Comcast to stop the practice but did not fine the cable giant. Comcast has sued to overturn the decision, claiming the FCC does not have the legal authority to impose the decision.

Obama has already promised to put network neutrality proponents on the FCC, but if Comcast wins its case against the agency (and many think it will) Obama is likely to put his support behind federal legislation to mandate network neutrality. His first choice, though, is to leave the issue with the FCC. All this will take time to play out.

H1-B Visas

The technology sector has long fought for an increase in H1-B visas, a specialized-occupation (i.e., tech-related) temporary worker. While Obama has said he will support a temporary increase in the H1-B cap, his heart is not in it. The president-elect, along with a number of Midwest lawmakers, does not see it as a long-term solution to providing the high-tech community with skilled workers.

Comprehensive immigration reform with an emphasis on retraining workers who lose jobs to offshoring is a top priority for Obama. As with under Bush, though, as long as H1-Bs are tied to immigration reform and its more incendiary border security and amnesty issues, the visa issue is likely to go unresolved with, perhaps, only a small bump in the number of H1-B visas.

A more likely scenario is an overhaul reform of the H1-B system. A recent U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services report said as many as 20 percent of the applications may be fraudulent or technically flawed. Cleaning up the system would free more H1-B visas for tech companies.