Comparing the 2012 Presidential Candidates’ Technology and Innovation Policies

September 12, 2012
| Reports

Despite the obligatory acknowledgment of innovation’s central role in U.S. economic growth, the 2012 campaign has not yet seen a serious conversation emerge regarding the policies sorely needed to revitalize U.S. innovation-based economic competitiveness. Moreover, rather than adopt an “all of the above” approach to innovation policy that includes corporate tax and regulatory reform as well as increased federal investment in research and development (R&D), digital infrastructure, and skills, the candidates stress policies from “each column,” with Governor Romney focusing more on the former and President Obama more on the latter. This is unfortunate. For, as we write in the book Innovation Economics: The Race for Global Advantage, U.S. policymakers need to recognize that the United States is engaged in a fierce race for innovation-based economic growth. To win this race, the United States will need to adopt a new, bipartisan Washington Innovation Consensus that places science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the center of economic policy-making and recognizes that both parties bring good ideas to the table in this regard. 

This report highlights the candidates' technology and innovation policies with the aim of amplifying the national dialogue around bolstering innovation-based economic growth. The report begins with an overview of each candidate’s general philosophy on technology, innovation, and trade policy, and then compares the candidates’ specific policy positions across 10 policy areas:

  1. Innovation and R&D
  2. Energy Innovation
  3. Tax
  4. Manufacturing
  5. Trade
  6. Education and Skills
  7. Broadband and Telecommunications
  8. Regulation
  9. Internet/Digital Economy
  10. Life Sciences and Biotechnology

The report is based on information gathered directly from the campaigns’ websites and policy documents or from media reports of statements made by the candidates. In some cases where a candidate has not articulated a specific position, the candidate’s record while in office or the position of the candidate’s party (as reflected in the Democratic or Republican party platforms) is used as a proxy.

ITIF is a non-partisan research and educational institution—a think tank—focused on innovation, productivity, and digital economy issues, and does not endorse either candidate. Rather, this report seeks to provide a factual, impartial comparison of the candidates’ technology and innovation policies.

Under-the-Table Subsidies

September 11, 2012
| Blogs & Op-eds

Under the table subsidies provide another example of where the U.S. is going wrong in spectrum reforms.

Winning the Race 2012 Memos

September 5, 2012
| Reports

As the 2012 presidential campaign moves in the final stage, ITIF is presenting general principles and specific recommendation ideas across several policy areas we believe the next President and Congress should adopt to restore U.S. global competiveness and prosperity.

As chronicled in Innovation Economic: The Race for Global Advantage, the United States is losing its once formidable edge as an innovator. Many other nations are putting in place better tax, talent, technology and trade policies, and reaping the rewards in terms of faster growth, more jobs, and faster income growth. It’s not too late for the United States to regain its lead but it will need to act boldly and with resolve.

Week by week until the November election, the Winning the Race series will put forward creative yet pragmatic ideas in policies affecting taxes, trade, education, broadband, the digital economy, clean energy, science and technology and other areas. Taken as a whole, the series represents a new Innovation Consensus to replace the outdated Washington Consensus.

Memo One (September 3, 2012): Boosting Innovation, Competitiveness, and Productivity

Memo Two (September 10, 2012): Trade and Globalization

Memo Three (September 17, 2012): Corporate Tax

Memo Four (September 24, 2012): Digital Communication Networks

Memo Five (October 1, 2012): Traded Sector Industries

Memo Six (October 9, 2012): Digital Economy

Memo Seven (October 15, 2012): STEM Skills

Memo Eight (October 22, 2012): Clean Energy

Memo Nine (October 29, 2012): Science and Technology

Memo Ten (November 5, 2012): Overcoming the Barriers 

Complete List of Policy Recommendations: Top Policy Recommendations for the Obama Administration to Help the United States Win the Race for Global Advantage

Powering the Mobile Revolution: Principles of Spectrum Allocation

July 31, 2012 - 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Rayburn House Office Building
45 Independence Avenue Southwest
District of Columbia

Advances in mobile technology have spurred new business models, created 1.5 million jobs and improved education, health care, and public safety in the United States. For the United States to stay in the lead on LTE adoption, we need advances in semiconductor technology, software, and spectrum reallocation. Read more »

Powering the Mobile Revolution: Principles of Spectrum Allocation

July 31, 2012
| Reports

A mobile revolution is profoundly changing information technology. A dramatic shift from old technology norms built around fixed-location systems to new mobile devices, wireless networks, and location-centric applications has the potential to reshape society and the economy. In 2011 more smartphones were sold than personal computers, and by 2015, tablets will outsell personal computers as well. The new mobile technology increases economic efficiency and enables innovation, creating jobs and increasing prosperity. By the FCC’s estimate, mobile technology is “creating 1.5 million new U.S. jobs and offering tremendous potential to improve education, health care and public safety.”

The continued progress of the mobile revolution depends on advances in semiconductor technology, software, and spectrum reallocation. The most important of these inputs from a policy perspective is spectrum; the United States faces a “looming spectrum crunch” unless regulators can find 500 megahertz (MHz) of new spectrum for mobile applications in the next ten years to complement smaller cells and continued advances in signal processing technologies. Progress toward the 500 MHz goal has so far been mixed, as regulators oscillate between forward steps and backward ones. In order to be effective, legislators and regulators require a comprehensive set of spectrum management principles to guide spectrum policy decisions.

The United States leads the world in the adoption of 4th Generation LTE technology, but it lags the rest of the developed world in repurposing spectrum from legacy systems to LTE. Breaking the spectrum logjam depends on more liberal spectrum policies, better informed principles of spectrum rights, a better understanding of spectrum technology, and a great deal of hard, detailed work on the management of specific spectrum bands.

Nations that lead in the race to modernize spectrum policy stand to win the economic race for the jobs and innovation that are directly created by the new technologies, obviously, but they also stand to improve their economic performance a second time by replacing wasteful and antiquated information systems with more robust, pervasive, and efficient ones. In other words, they gain once by doing things they’ve never done before and again by doing the old things better.

Historically, spectrum allocation has been an ad hoc, piecemeal system driven by the logic of the moment: A commercial enterprise or government agency with an idea requested a spectrum allocation from the relevant regulator (the FCC in the case of commercial use, and the NTIA for government agencies). If the regulator saw merit in the idea, the regulator looked into its inventory of unassigned radio frequencies and allocated the best available fit. In some cases, the process of spectrum assignment has been initiated by the regulator itself; sometimes to good effect (Wi-Fi™) and sometimes not (satellite phones).

It’s now clear that spectrum allocation and management is an ongoing process that will benefit from guidance by a set of fundamental principles. Rather than simply re-assigning spectrum from legacy systems to mobile networks, policymakers need to reform the system that has created a critical shortage of spectrum in the most dynamic sector of the economy while over-allocating spectrum to wasteful and obsolete systems. The spectrum crisis is an opportunity for fundamental reform in the logic of spectrum assignment.

A more rational system of spectrum assignment would respect the principles that are evident in the operation of actual high-demand, high-performance, and high-efficiency wireless networks. In brief, these principles are:

1. Sharing: Prefer assignments that serve multiple users, as commercial networks do, over those for single uses.

2. Application Flexibility: Prefer assignments that support a variety of applications over those that support a single application.

3. Dynamic Capacity Assignment: Prefer networks that allow capacity to be adjusted on demand to those that allocate capacity statically.

4. Technology Upgrade Flexibility: Permit technology upgrade without permission.

5. Aggregation Efficiency: Prefer large allocations over small ones to minimize guardband losses.

6. Appropriate Facilities-Based Competition: Seek an ideal number of networks, a number that is likely to be larger than two and smaller than six in most instances.

7. High-Performance Receivers: Favor systems of high-performance receivers over those that can’t tolerate common sources of RF noise.

8. All Relevant Dimensions: Allocate “patches” of spectrum by frequency, power level, place, transmission direction, beam spread, modulation, coding, and time.

9. Promotion of New Technologies: Use rules modification rather than exclusive allocation as a means of enabling the next generation of spectrum technologies.

10. Maximize Redeployment Opportunities: When upgrades to existing systems free up spectrum for new ones, as was the case in the DTV transition, require the upgrade.

These allocation principles flow from empirical knowledge of the nature of spectrum, the current state of the art in radio engineering, and the likely timeline of new developments in radio engineering. They are explained in more detail in the main text.

Application of these principles to spectrum allocation disputes will help resolve case-by-case disputes in an optimal manner. Ideally, we should be able to score each spectrum dispute according to the number of principles it follows. This method enables us to determine the extent to which regulators are moving spectrum policy forward or backward. The examination of selected current controversies illustrates this method of analysis at work.

The demand for spectrum is largely created by new wireless applications. The most important example of the demand is the vast pool of applications that have been created for smartphones and intelligent infrastructure such as the “smart grid.” Demand for wireless data capacity—bandwidth—roughly doubles year after year.

Bandwidth is often compared to highway capacity, but a better analogy is food production: We can always build more roads, but we can’t increase the supply of arable land or of spectrum. We increase the food supply by bringing more acreage into agricultural use, by improving agricultural technologies such as genetically engineered seed, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and by employing sound management practices. Similarly, wireless bandwidth is increased by putting more patches of spectrum to use, developing technologies that increase bits/hertz usage efficiency, and managing network traffic responsibly. Each of these three practices is necessary, and each produces widespread societal benefits.

Spectrum research and development is extremely important, but in the short to medium term technology is not going to resolve the spectrum crunch on its own. Research is advancing along two principal lines:

1. Researchers on the Software-Defined Radio/Cognitive Radio (SDR/CR) field are developing techniques that allow easier access to unused or lightly-used patches of spectrum. These techniques are an alternative or a supplement to traditional regulator practices that assign spectrum to license holders who may not use their allocations fully at all times. In practice, SDR/CR needs to be connected to an authorization database such as the White Spaces Database that provides go/no go information to prospective network operators, and the decisions that his database implements flow from a spectrum allocation policy.

This branch of research is frequently touted as increasing spectrum efficiency, but this description needs clarification. SDR/CR actually aims to improve allocation efficiency by enabling a larger pool of potential users to contend for access to the spectrum. While this can be beneficial, it does not improve usage efficiency, the amount of information per unit of spectrum (bits/hertz) that can be transmitted and received over a given patch of spectrum.

2. Research on spectrum efficiency develops techniques that allow for greater bits/hertz usage efficiency. This line of research concentrates on techniques that govern the ways that bits are represented on wireless networks, the nature of antennas, and the coding systems and scheduling systems that enable multiple users to share a given patch of spectrum in an orderly manner.

Most of the practical advances in the use of RF spectrum by commercial and other public systems are the result of research on usage efficiency: Packet radio, modulation systems such as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) and Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (QAM), Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) antenna systems, and scheduling/coding systems such Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA).

However, spectrum research doesn’t absolve policymakers from identifying more spectrum for wireless data systems. To the contrary, SDR/CR technology depends on spectrum allocation policy as it is primarily a means of implementing complex, multi-level allocation policies. Advanced research on usage efficiency is not currently mature enough to make allocation decisions unnecessary, even if it may be someday. If and when that were to occur, policymakers would still be required to address the vexing problem of the billions of less advanced systems that remain on the air with a transition plan to better technology.

Consequently, lawmakers and regulators concerned with spectrum allocation have no choice but to meet the current spectrum crisis by making better use of current technology. This requires repurposing and reallocating the pool of spectrum best able to meet the needs of the mobile revolution, a job that is best undertaken by adopting principles that reflect the best understanding of spectrum usage technology as it is today and as it will be in the next five to ten years.

Recent spectrum controversies don’t always reflect clear and consistent decision making. Grading the decisions that have been made or will be made soon in this area yields the following results with a scoring system that ranks each decision on a scale ranging from +10 to -10, where +10 is most desirable:


  • Leave DTV Channel 51 live while imposing interoperability on 700 MHz B and C block license holders: -8
  • Take DTV Channel 51 off the air: +8
  • Remove 800 MHz internal guard bands: +10
  • Convert government fixed point microwave to fiber backhaul: +10
  • Replace Military Tactical Radio Relay with fiber: +10
  • Move government video surveillance to a commercial carrier: +6
  • Adopt PCAST spectrum sharing recommendation: +5
  • Reassign LightSquared spectrum to wideband GPS: -1
  • Adopt FCC Medical Body Area Networks plan: 0
  • Allow Verizon to purchase SpectrumCo licenses: +7


Policymakers should generally strive for decisions that earn six points or more, and avoid decisions that earn less than three points in the absence of extenuating circumstances not captured by our grading system.

The spectrum agenda needs to proceed along two parallel time lines: In the short term, policymakers need to make more spectrum available for use by high-demand applications such as mobile broadband, and for the long term they need to support basic and applied research on spectrum to relieve capacity constraints. There is no downside in assuming that the spectrum crunch is real and that the long-awaited technical advances that promise to resolve it will not arrive for a very long time. There is an enormous potential downside in assuming that a technology solution that does not require re-allocating spectrum is just around the corner, however. The prudent course is to deal with today’s problem today while actively supporting the technology that we will use tomorrow.

ITIF Report Charts Path to Spectrum Reallocation Policy for Mobile Communications Revolution

WASHINGTON - Policymakers need to move beyond current approaches and reform the spectrum allocation system to maximize the economic opportunities created by the mobile communications revolution, according to Powering the Mobile Revolution: Principles of Spectrum Allocation, a report released today by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Read more »

Powering the Mobile Revolution: Principles of Spectrum Allocation

July 31, 2012
ITIF and select experts discuss ITIF's new spectrum allocation report and the issues policymakers face going forward.

Advances in mobile technology have spurred new business models, created 1.5 million jobs and improved education, health care, and public safety in the United States. For the United States to stay in the lead on LTE adoption, we need advances in semiconductor technology, software, and spectrum reallocation. Unfortunately when it comes to spectrum reallocation, recent and pending public policy decisions on re-purposing spectrum for more innovative uses lack consistency. Read more »

See video

ITIF's Bennett says PCAST Spectrum Report Impractical

WASHINGTON - Richard Bennett, Senior Research Fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, made the following statement on the report of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) on spectrum policy, "Realizing the Full Potential of Government-Held Spectrum to Spur Economic Growth:" Read more »

ITIF Comments on Privacy and Security of Information Stored on Mobile Communications Devices

July 13, 2012
| Testimony and Filings

The FCC should not extend its authority to regulate the software that is installed on mobile devices. The current uses of CPNI by carriers are appropriate and neither the FCC nor consumers advocacy group have identified any specific harms to consumers. While privacy is an important issue to consider, the potential negative impact of additional regulation on the mobile Internet, mobile devices, and mobile applications should be considered as well. The FCC should instead use its expertise to help identify issues that need attention and actively participate in existing multistakeholder efforts to improve consumer privacy.

More Spectrum Means More Innovation

Richard Bennett's recent blog post explained the heightened need to deal with the spectrum crunch.
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