Will Obama be good for the IT industry?

So Barack Obama has become the new President of the United States – but what’s the success of the Democratic-candidate-for-change going to mean for the technology industry?

Tags: PoliticsPresidential election
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By  Mark Sutton Published  November 5, 2008

So Barack Obama has become the new President of the United States – but what’s the success of the Democratic-candidate-for-change going to mean for the technology industry?

Both runners in the presidential race made plenty of statements about the importance of technology during their campaigns, although a Google search for 'Barack Obama technology' got 14.8 million hits against 'John McCain technology', which got 12.7 million. Obama’s manifesto also spells out some of the directions he might take once he’s in the White House.

The manifesto says Obama is for net neutrality; for improving the US communications infrastructure, including spectrum reform and broadband for all; and for more investment in education at both school and university level, with a focus on science and mathematics.

He’s also in favour enforcing intellectual property rights at home and abroad, and reforming the patent system. He also wants to make the US more competitive in technology, including making the Research and Development tax credit permanent so that US companies will be encouraged to make multi-year R&D investments.

His technology manifesto also includes a pledge to restore ‘Scientific Integrity’ to the White House, by making decisions based on the best scientific evidence available, which seems more sensible than the current resident.

Obama also wants to see better use of technology in tackling issues like healthcare, the environment and public safety networks. All of which seems good for the technology industry in terms of investment and encouraging growth. Of course these are all manifesto promises, and promises don’t necessarily translate to policy.

In terms of actual track record, CNET have done their own analysis of voting patterns of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives on ‘tech issues’. Being a relatively new member of the Senate, Obama hasn’t had that many opportunities to vote on some of the hot button issues for the industry, although he’s missed half of all the tech votes that he was in office for.

In fact, the President Elect scored just 33% on CNET’s rating. He missed the vote on extending the number of H1-B visas issued, and voted in favour of granting amnesty to phone companies involved in President Bush’s phone illegal tapping program; and for the Real ID national ID card – all seen as ‘anti-tech’ moves by CNET.

Obama did apparently make more use of technology during his campaign, with students using social networking and SMS to campaign, although its probably no surprise that both candidates used any channels they could to get their messages out.

If you want to judge the man by the company he keeps, Google’s chief executive Eric Schmidt acted as an informal campaign advisor for Obama, (up against Carly Fiorina, one-time HP boss and Cisco’s John Chambers who were both high-profile McCain supporters).

On a more official basis, the Vice President-to-be, Joe Biden, is not exactly beloved of the more liberal end of the technology business, having supported the aggressively anti-file sharing Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and he has also proposed policing of peer-to-peer networks and wants to take strong encryption tools - PGP specifically - away from the public.

That said, there's no guarantee that the Vice President will drive policy. Possibly of more influence is whoever fills the role of National Chief Technology Officer, that Obama has promised to add to the White House Staff for the first time. The Nation's CTO will be responsible for driving broadband roll out and creation of technology jobs. Names that have been linked to the post include 'father of the Internet' Vint Cerf, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Amazon's Jeff Bezos. Whether they can manage a cabinet-level position and their respective day jobs, or whether the role just ends up as an occasional talking head remains to be seen.

In fact, whether Obama can deliver on his plans for technology, particularly big investments in infrastructure and education, and particularly in leaner times, remains to be seen - but there's no doubt that Silicon Valley voted for him - and not with votes, but with campaign cash.

Google employees were the single largest group of employee  contributors to his campaign in California, coughing up over half a million dollars in private contributions - against just $12,000 for McCain.

And the rest of the industry in California was equally one-sided - Cisco employees gave $163,000 to Obama, versus $43,000 to McCain, Oracle split $118,000 vs $18,000, Sun Microsystems was $90,000 vs $11,000 and Yahoo! split by a massive $153,000 for Obama against just $3,000 for McCain.

Microsoft and Adobe workers donated $61,000 for Obama but couldn't make double-digits for McCain, while the Apple gang found $67,000 for the new president, but didn't register a single contribution for McCain... once they've recovered from the party, all those tech Dems are going to be hoping to see some ROI from their new President.

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