Washington takes center stage at Consumer Electronics Show

National Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra discusses some of the exciting new innovations at CES that allow the public to interact with the government as he walks the convention center floor Thursday in Las Vegas.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 9, 2010

LAS VEGAS -- The nation's top techie, the geek-in-chief, strode across the crowded floor of the Consumer Electronics Show like a high-roller in Caesar's Palace.

At the LG Electronics booth, executives rushed to have their pictures taken with him. At the Skype display, a crowd gathered as he looked at a teleconference demonstration. A representative at the Intel booth was giddy with laughter, tripping over her planned demonstration of Flikr photo applications.

Most Americans might not even know that the country has a chief technology officer, but at this year's CES, Aneesh Chopra is being treated like a celebrity.

Appointed by the Obama administration last year to be the first person to hold the post, Chopra is responsible for the White House's technology policy goals. That includes using cloud computing and social networking applications to make federal data more easily accessible, and the government more transparent. He's been charged with advancing the president's goal to bring broadband Internet to every U.S. home and spurring new Internet-based technologies in health care, energy and education.

Washington's new role

In Las Vegas, Chopra's presence -- and that of a host of other Washington luminaries, such as Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski -- has highlighted the new prominence that Washington has in the world of semiconductors, tech entrepreneurs and gadget hounds. Trade relations, immigration reforms, net neutrality and communications policies are topics in Washington that will have a direct bearing on the tech firms' bottom lines.

"What happens in Washington very much affects the future success of our industry," said Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Arlington-based trade group that sponsors the show, the Consumer Electronics Association.

While the tech firms may recognize the growing role of Washington in their industry, they don't always agree with the administration's policies.

Shapiro said at a news conference with Chopra that his members think that the federal government isn't working to address trade policies that hurt their companies. He thinks immigration policies need to change so that more highly skilled workers from nations such as China and India are allowed to work at U.S. companies and become permanent residents. He called the $787 billion stimulus package "panic spending."

"The government is often a barrier," Shapiro said. "High taxes and regulatory bureaucracy is a barrier."

Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have disagreed with Genachowski, who is crafting stronger FCC rules that would prevent them from blocking access to certain Web sites on their networks or favoring their own Internet applications and content over others.

The Internet service providers and the minority Republican FCC commissioners argue that new rules for Internet access could hamper investments in broadband networks. They also say wireless firms, which have constraints on bandwidth, should be allowed to manage traffic on their networks to ease congestion.

Adapting technology

With so much on the agenda, the swarm of federal regulators and White House officials used their presence at CES to make policy points.

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