Opinion

Promoting America’s Innovators

Technology is among the most powerful forces through which America’s timeless values have been transported into the 21st century. The open internet created by our country has, for instance, created a closer world where small businesses can reach new heights through a larger consumer base and ordinary citizens can realize extraordinary achievements through a louder voice.

U.S. technological innovation fosters economic opportunity and facilitates free expression. Just as one click can put a company in a new worldwide market, 280 characters can propel a cause to start a new worldwide movement. And during the dark depths of this pandemic, American technology has proven itself a particularly precious resource. At a time when much of society has been separated by social distancing, technology has been there to keep our country connected.

As foreign governments work to mimic such success and supplant our values with theirs – American enterprises with their state-run entities – the very same spirit that created the internet is now needed to help keep it free. Amid the flagrant encroachment of foreign-owned technology giants, it is more important than ever that we preserve America’s edge in the global technology marketplace. To achieve that, regulations and policies will need to preserve America’s edge in the innovation space and not threaten to form a vacuum that foreign nations with fundamentally different values will be eager to exploit.

Accordingly, the American Edge Project – a new coalition of organizations large and small – was recently formed to do just that: to help protect American innovation. The project represents a cross-section of U.S. innovators and businesses dedicated to ensuring that domestic technology companies can continue to compete – and that our country’s economy can continue to prosper.

The outsize role of technology and innovation in driving economic growth is perhaps best seen through small businesses. Per a 2018 study put forth by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a full 84 percent of small businesses are using at least one major digital platform to provide information to customers, while 75 percent are using these platforms for sales. And as Deloitte adds, 90 percent of small businesses find that “digital tools have helped foster innovation in their businesses.” Zooming out, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the digital economy accounted for a staggering 6.9 percent of the entire U.S. gross domestic product in 2017 – which translates to $1.3 trillion and 5.1 million American jobs. Preserving an open internet is very clearly a central component to preserving American prosperity and the critical infrastructure necessary to conduct commerce.

Meanwhile, in addition to powering our economy, American technology companies are also protecting the freedom of openness and expression so fundamental to the fabric of our country. Last year, the annual Freedom on the Net study of internet freedom placed the United States in its top tier with a score of 77. Other countries hoping to fill any vacuum created in the absence of American companies, for instance, received scores as low as 10. And of the 65 countries included in the study, nearly 50 have arrested citizens for political, social, or religious speech.

As policymakers prepare to debate potential regulations of technology, they should remain mindful that our values are too precious to be replaced by an unintended void leaving a closed or censored internet. Any new regulation or legislation in this space must therefore strengthen confidence in our country’s innovation sector and promote our values.

Policymakers should also consider the fact that fostering technology innovation within our borders is paramount to preserving America’s national security interests – particularly as countries continue to engage in intellectual property theft and endeavor to interfere in our institutions. The very technology companies that are developing systems to protect our citizens at home and our allies abroad are uniquely qualified to also play a key role in combating such threats through smart and cutting-edge systems ranging from data security to portability.

As foreign-owned forces with ideals that are entirely inconsistent with ours seek to erase America’s competitive technological advantage, the American Edge Project is proudly committed to redoubling the values that underpin today’s internet – open to all people, protective of free speech, conducive to innovation, and supportive of commerce. We look forward to playing our part in helping policymakers better understand the need to ensure that the internet of the future retains such critical characteristics rooted in our country’s rich history.

Chris P. Carney represented Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District for two terms and previously worked at the Pentagon for four years on strategic analysis of the global terrorist threat. Susana Martinez served as the 31st governor of New Mexico, the state’s first female governor and the first Latina governor elected in the United States. Bradley A. Smith is chairman of the Institute for Free Speech and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. All three are members of the American Edge Project.

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