I’m at the National Association of Telecommunications Officers annual meeting in Portland. I’m quite impressed with the people, and with what I see many of the cities and counties here doing to keep some level of local and free press available, and to build community networks for everything from economic development to closing digital divides.
But I’m also a little worried. For whatever reason – I think because people want something different than this administration is willing to provide — cities, counties, and states are often acting locally to fill gaps in federal response with local laws that really should be following federal strategies. I can think of a few core areas where this is happening:
One is health care. Many states have their own plans because their citizens are demanding help. Yet we should be dealing with this on a national level, lest we create situations where families can’t easily move between states because they lose health care. A mobile work force is important for the economy, especially for one stressed by as much change as ours.
Another is civil rights around gay partners and sexual orientation. Will couples who are married in one state be willing to move to a state where they have no rights?
A third is immigration. USA today had an article on the front page about some states giving illegal immigrants official ID such as driver’s licenses. The Federal government has expressed its displeasure, by the way, but my guess is that it’s too impotent to do anything about it right now. Imagine a US where immigration is handled significantly differently state to state, remembering that first-world population is generally falling and world population growth is slowing, so we may have a different immigrant problem (attracting immigrants rather than managing them).
Connectivity to the Internet is partially handled state by state. A key message of this conference is that the current strategy we’re using to get broadband to people who need it is failing (the US is 15th to 21st worldwide now, and falling. Internet access here is slower and more expensive than in many other countries). Governments are good players to step in and help, creating competition and lower barriers to entry by owning the infrastructure like we own the roads, and maintaining an open playing field for service providers. States have widely varied rules about government’s role, and many issues are being decided in contentious court battles.
Climate change is being addressed state by state as states are setting standards, such as miles per gallon on cars, which would be much easier for the affected industries to manage on a federal level.
All of these fronts need at least a national strategy if not national laws. Some, like climate change, actually need global strategies. We will slow ourselves down in tackling major problems if we can’t get something that looks more like leadership out of the coming elections. We’ll have a thousand points of light that can’t join together effectively enough to really illuminate the opportunities before us.