Monday, January 11, 2010

Government, the technological late-adopter

The one thing I didn't get before doing this editorial on the Obama administration's efforts to give every single American access to broadband service, was an informed estimate of how long it has taken for broadband to spread to whatever percentage of Americans now have it, compared to the time it took for other technologies to spread. Since the computer age began, the fedgov has been scrambling to make this or that technology (Internet in schools, wireless service in cities) to more Americans, especially the "underserved," more quickly. In almost every case the government has been playing catch-up rather than hustling technology along. Every new computer technology has spread to the vast majority of Americans much faster than previous new technologies like the telephone or television -- almost entirely through private-sector efforts. By the time government decides this or that new technology is just the thing it ought to subsidize or hustle along, often enough a new technology has emerged, leaving government to subsidize something approaching obsolescence.

The swiftness of promulgation of new technologies might slow down if the recession lasts longer than most experts expect it will. Even if that happens, I suspect government will be congenitally behind. Government has wasted billions trying to get current on computer technology in its own operations and agencies, but its procurement processes almost assure that it is buying yesterday's technology, and not all that intelligently. It's probably beneficial that government doesn't understand IT very well. If it did, it would 0probably be surveilling all of us much more comprehensively and efficiently than it is now.

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