Hillary Clinton just unveiled a far-reaching plan explaining how her administration would approach technology issues, promising to connect all American homes to high-speed Internet by the end of the decade and revamping the country's education system to support foreign-born engineers and U.S. entrepreneurs.
The agenda released Tuesday reads like a Silicon Valley wish list. It calls for investing in computer science and engineering education, expansion of technologies like 5G mobile data and hooking up more public places such as airports and train stations with cheap, abundant WiFi. It would continue efforts to curb abusive patent lawsuits, which the tech industry says are stifling its ability to innovate. And it commits to defending the government's net neutrality rules, which were recently upheld by a federal appeals court and aim to ban Internet providers from unfairly manipulating Internet content.
The proposal from the presumptive Democratic nominee also promises to give recent college grads a three-year reprieve from their student loan payments, as long as they spend that time creating new startups and small businesses. And it includes an extra incentive that allows young entrepreneurs to wipe out up to $17,500 in student debt if they launch their businesses in "distressed communities."
Clinton's tech policy recommendations shed light on a much wider economic strategy, in recognition that many of the industry's innovations are leading to disruption for millions of Americans. An idea to guarantee flexible and portable workplace benefits for freelancers and contract workers, for example, is a nod to an ongoing national debate about the future of work amid increasing automation and the rise of the sharing economy.
Clinton has not publicly said how she plans to pay for her technology agenda, but campaign advisers say other proposals by the candidate on issues such as infrastructure and education will raise funds that would go toward covering the costs of the tech plan. Clinton also intends to raise funds by auctioning off more wireless spectrum, the invisible airwaves that carry mobile voice and data. Once that revenue is accounted for, the remainder of Clinton's tech agenda is expected to cost an additional $10 billion, according to one adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely.
The wide-ranging plan, whose full version spans roughly 15 pages, adopts both vague, lofty principles aimed at regular voters as well as wonky details that would stir only the passions of Washington policy nerds. It won early plaudits from software industry officials who said they hoped to hear something similar from the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump.
"A lot of the proposals that are in the Clinton initiative are consistent with the broad themes that [we] and other tech associations have been talking about, so we're very pleased," said Aaron Cooper, vice president of strategic initiatives for The Software Alliance, a Washington trade group representing software developers.
On many issues, Clinton appears to take a middle-of-the-road approach. She proposes to create a national commission to discuss how Silicon Valley and law enforcement can find common ground on encryption, a fight that was recently exemplified by Apple's high-profile court battle with the FBI. (From the document, Clinton does not seem inclined to support the tech industry's position right off the bat, but emphasizes the importance of privacy.)
Clinton has also taken up the banner of policy advocates who say government regulation has made it too difficult for Internet providers to build new networks. She backs what are called "dig once" policies that aim to make it cheaper to deploy high-speed broadband.
"Hillary hit the ball out of the park about making broadband deployment easier," said Berin Szoka, president of the right-leaning think tank Tech Freedom. "Removing government barriers is the best way to close the digital divide and increase speeds for all Americans."
The complexity of Clinton's plan, and the fact that it tries to thread the needle on many controversial issues, shows the campaign's political acumen, some analysts said.
"The blueprint sets up opportunities for key stakeholders to push their private agenda in the context of a much broader economic development plan," said Gene Kimmelman, president of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. "It's no surprise they'd know how to weave their way around some of these political minefields."
Some of Clinton's campaign advisers say it strikes a sharp contrast to Trump, who so far has not published any tech policy proposals.
"It really puts into stark relief the difference between the two candidates," said Karen Kornbluh, a former U.S. ambassador to the OECD who has advised the Clinton campaign. "If you think about this plan versus Trump's economic case — which is built on a policy that's anti-immigration and pro-censorship — those are poison for innovation and job growth."