Top 5 technology failures of government

The United States faces difficult problems, but these five threaten to derail the nation's technological and economic leadership

The human condition is such that we'll always have a vast array of opinions on matters great and small. But whatever our motivations, they should have some sort of reason at their core. Now, the United States is no stranger to problems, which range from welfare to health care, but those that confront us on technological terms are particularly galling since they are wholly the product of our own constructs. And in many ways those constructs are being openly subverted to funnel profits to a very select group.

The blood, sweat, and tears that generations of highly skilled and highly motivated people have devoted to making all these modern miracles work are being drowned in the deepening pools of greed and avarice. If we expect to maintain the march of technological advancement over the next several generations, we have to fix these problems post-haste. There is no other choice.

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Failure No. 1: Nebulous Net neutrality

The Internet is not a fad or a luxury, but a fundamental part of daily life. We need to acknowledge that there is no such thing as a free market when it comes to broadband Internet access, and Internet service providers should be regulated as common carriers.

The big ISPs have built out this infrastructure largely through the use of public funds. Allowing them to act as the gatekeepers of the Internet and determine which traffic may or may not reach their customers is equivalent to legalizing highway robbery. It'll snuff out nascent innovations, crush small companies and startups, and do permanent damage to our economy and our standing in the world. We can't let Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T turn the Internet in the United States into a modern-day America Online.

Failure No. 2: Broadband reach and speeds

We've all heard how broadband Internet access in many foreign countries blows the doors off of what we have in the United States, usually at cheaper prices. We've also heard the many excuses for why this is so, such as how the United States is larger and thus requires more infrastructure and all other kinds of nonsense. We've given the ISPs plenty of money to build out a suitable infrastructure to support significant broadband speeds to the majority of U.S. households.

But instead of fast broadband at low rates, we have lackluster speeds; throttling; shoddy support; threats of bandwidth caps; and collusion and oligopolies ensuring a rise in prices and a dearth of options. We should be enjoying a stable, steady increase in speeds and availability throughout the United States. But instead we have the opposite -- except in places where Google Fiber is exposing the seedy underbelly of the big ISPs and forcing them to actually toe the line or face expulsion.

Failure No 3: Frivolous software patents

It's a tumultuous time to be a patent troll, but it's still paying dividends. Until patent trolling is stopped, we'll be under the constant threat that vague and invalid patents can jeopardize innovation and progress. Just look at what online retailer NewEgg has gone through in the past year.

NewEgg lost a court battle against patent troll Erich Spangenberg, who claimed that NewEgg's use of encryption violated a patent controlled by Spangenberg. Even though legendary cryptographer Whitfield Diffie testified in favor of NewEgg at the trial, the jury awarded damages to Spangenberg on the order of $2.3 million. Conversely, NewEgg won a patent case brought by Soverain Software, wherein the complaint alleged that NewEgg and 50 other online retailers violated Soverain's patent on shopping cart software. Soverain sued several dozen companies for similar reasons, but lost to NewEgg when Soverain lost on appeal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, which ruled that the patent was too general. Soverain appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case.

We need to put a stop to this process, where an overwhelmed and overmatched patent office rubber stamps apparently any collection of technical terms assembled into a patent application. Once approved, those patents turn into ammunition in shotgun-style lawsuits that drag down everyone involved.

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