Obama: The Trifecta of Bad Timing on Technology Policies

Talk about your bad timing.

The outcome of the LightSquared/GPS controversy threatens to make President Obama a three-time loser in technology policy matters.

In March 2010, his administration proposed to open for drilling for oil and natural gas extensive expanses along the Atlantic coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and off the north coast of Alaska, many of those areas for the first time. Less than a month later the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion unleashed the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.


Talk about your bad timing.

The outcome of the LightSquared/GPS controversy threatens to make President Obama a three-time loser in technology policy matters.

In March 2010, his administration proposed to open for drilling for oil and natural gas extensive expanses along the Atlantic coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and off the north coast of Alaska, many of those areas for the first time. Less than a month later the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion unleashed the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

In his 2011 State of the Union speech he proposed to revive the nuclear power industry “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country” — inevitably by capping the liability insurance limits on nuke plants and thereby shifting the risks and costs to any affected citizens, companies, and governmental jurisdictions.

This initiative preceded by less than two months the current catastrophe at Japan’s earthquake and tsunami–stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, which far exceeds our own Three Mile Island incident of fading memory.

Now LightSquared and GPS.

In his State of the Union address, he managed to lift up both GPS and the rollout of wireless broadband services across the country. But, should the two enterprises prove to be technically incompatible, it remains to be seen whether the president’s political proclivities will trump the laws of physics. Consequently, uncertainty about the president’s intentions and fear of getting crosswise to a White House agenda item are leading to viewgraphs being pulled from presentations on the issue by agencies and their contractors.

In the course of two years, the Great Ambivalator has demonstrated a marked preference for talking about policy change in rhetorical terms while keeping all the existing equities of associated issues intact.

Guantanamo, warrantless wiretaps, Wall Street & banks, foreign wars, tax cuts for the super-rich.

On technology policy, his administration is doing some fancy footwork to get around the deep anxieties that recent events have raised on offshore drilling and nukes. But tap dancing is not the appropriate political exercise for facing up to these matters.

As for LightSquared, real doubts exist as to whether and to what extent, if any, the dense terrestrial network of 4G cellular transmitters will adversely affect GPS receivers.

That’s why a rigorous and careful phase of tests and evaluation should take place before any further development of the LightSquared system can occur.

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