Hillary Clinton has released her vision for the future of technology in America. The Democratic nominee wants to improve science and tech education in under-resourced schools, to delay student loan payback for graduates who launch tech start-ups, to get high-speed internet to the whole country, to set up free Wi-Fi at airports and train stations, along with a variety of other policies aimed at ensuring US competitiveness in a global, technology-focused economic marketplace.
Clinton’s focus on STEM education is in line with President Obama’s policies on making tech and science education available to all American school students, with a special focus on non-white and female students. Clinton wants to add up to 50,000 computer science teachers over the next ten years to America's schools. Less pottery, more Python.
A major part of Clinton's plan is to deliver broadband internet to all Americans by 2020. This has historically been a problem for the U.S. government; $3 billion allotted for bringing internet to rural areas in 2011 was, by Politico's account, wasted. But few of Clinton’s visions for a tech-forward future can get off the ground without basic access to high speed internet for all Americans.
Today 19 million people in the US lack broadband internet access and one quarter of the people who live in rural communities are living broadband-free. Where there is access, 100 million Americans are still not connected to broadband right now, meaning internet at slow speeds; turning that around in four years presents a giant undertaking.
This ‘close the digital divide’ section of the platform doesn’t detail how it will be paid for, but estimates have put the infrastructure costs incurred at up to $24 billion, much of it resting with private companies reluctant to foot the bill. Lack of access to broadband internet disproportionately affects poor, rural, indigenous and non-white communities, whereas almost 70% of the white US population has in-home broadband access.
Clinton’s ambitious broadband plan does not cite specific numbers, but mentions investing further in “Connect America Fund, Rural Utilities Service program, and the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program,” to achieve its ambitious goal in just four years. The Rural Utilities Service is the agency with the $3.5 billion budget that struggled at this in the past. Last year, Tony Romm of Politico wrote that, "when it came to funding broadband projects, RUS never found its footing in the digital age."
But Clinton also hopes to encourage private companies to help build out America's internet infrastructure. She intends to establish a $25 billion “infrastructure bank” which will seek to offer attractive incentives to “favorably change the economics of private capital investment in existing or new broadband networks.”
Beyond broadband access, Clinton plans to expand the reach of free public WiFi to “recreation centers, public buildings like one-stop career centers, and transportation infrastructure such as train stations, airports, and mass transit systems.” Here's to hoping we will one day get a WiFi signal on the New York subway.
Elsewhere, the policy plan contains initiatives expressly targeted at young people, including:
- Committing grants to further the Obama Administration’s “Computer Science Education for All” by doubling investment in the program to ensure all high school students have access to computer science classes within the next five years.
- A student debt deferral of up to three years for STEM graduates who found their own start-up, possibility also extending these condition to the first employees of these companies. She also proposes debt reduction of up to $17,500 for founders of start-ups able to “launch either new businesses that operate in distressed communities, or social enterprises that provide measurable social impact and benefit.”
You might think that last one is a little crazy. After all, don't founders of successful start-ups wind up rich? But the hope is to encourage millennial graduates to start businesses. Fewer of them are doing so than their predecessors thanks to being hamstrung by $1.2 trillion of student debt and no access to credit.
Other sections of the plan cover a laundry list of tech wishes including making sure that on-demand workers can get access to comprehensive benefits. You can read in full here: Hillary Clinton’s Initiative on Technology & Innovation.
UPDATE: In a conference call to media from Clinton’s office covering some parts of the platform announcement in more depth, there was clarification on the nature of the debt referral program: the three year loan repayment grace period is not only for recent graduates, or only for people looking to get their tech start-up off the ground. The initiative is for all graduates wanting to start their own business in any industry, and there is no age limit on who can apply. If you have outstanding student debt right now and a viable small business idea, you will be able to apply for the loan relief program.
Elmo is a writer with Real Future.