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 Home > News & Policies > June 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 24, 2004

President Bush: High Tech Improving Economy, Health Care, Education
Remarks by the President on Innovation
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, D.C.

2:08 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for the warm welcome. And it's good to be here at the Commerce Department. Today, I want to talk about how to make sure America is the best place to do business in the world. How do we make sure that we're always on the leading edge of change? And how do we utilize technology to improve the lives of our fellow citizens? That's what we're here to talk about.

Richard Russell Discusses Innovation

White House Senior Director for Technology, Richard Russell discussed the President's "Innovation Agenda," which includes universal broadband availability.
Click here to read the full transcript.

Our economy is strong today. People are getting back to work. There's an excitement amongst the risk takers, and capital is moving. I'm confident it's going to get stronger as the days go on.

The fundamental question is, what do we need to do to make sure we're not only strong today and tomorrow, but for the decades to come? That's the real challenge that those of us in government face. One of the things that's important for us to always remember is the proper role of government is not to try to be the generator of wealth. The proper role of government is to create the environment so that the entrepreneurial spirit is strong and vibrant and alive and well in America. That's the proper role for those of us who have been given the high honor of serving the American people.

If you have an environment in which the entrepreneurial spirit is strong, innovation will follow. I equate innovation with entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs are innovative people. They have to compete in order to stay in business, and in order to stay in business, in order to stay ahead of the competition, you've got to innovate. But government can help. We can encourage innovation in smart ways. We're going to talk about some specific measures in which we can encourage and help the innovators succeed.

President George W. Bush discusses the benefits of broadband and wireless technology during a demonstration of such technologies at the U.S. Department of Commerce Thursday, June 24, 2004. One thing we've got to do as we think about how to make sure America stays on the cutting edge of technology is always remember good tax policy helps innovation. See, if we want to be a nation of innovators, we don't want to over-tax industry and commerce and the entrepreneurial spirit. It's very important for Congress to understand this. It's important for Congress to make sure that the tax relief we passed stays in place and not raise taxes on the American people.

Secondly, if we're going to have an innovative society, we've got to have good legal policy. Frivolous and junk lawsuits make it awfully hard for people to feel comfortable risking capital. It's one thing to have good and fair justice, which we all support, but the legal system must be balanced and fair. We don't want to run capital away from the United States. We don't want to discourage the innovators and those who take risks because they're afraid of getting sued by a lawsuit.

We need tort reform. And Washington, D.C. is a good place to start with tort reform. We need class-action reform, asbestos reform, and medical liability reform now. (Applause.)

But we've also got to be competent in our trade policy. In order to be a nation of innovation, we've got to be willing to keep our markets open and insist that others open their markets to us. It's that free-flow of goods and services and ideas that will make sure America stays on the leading edge of technological change.

So here are some ways that we can work with Congress through good legislative policy to make sure the environment is such that people are willing to take risks. Fortunately, we've got some members of Congress who understand exactly what I'm talking about. One would be Senator John Ensign from Wyoming. I appreciate you coming, Senator. (Applause.) And the other would be my friend from the great state of Texas, Lamar Smith. Congressman, it's good to see you. Thank you for coming. (Applause.) He's a rancher. (Laughter.) He's got innovative cows. (Laughter.)

I'm sorry the Secretary is not here. He is a -- he knows what I'm talking about. He understands the proper relationship of government and risk-takers. I understand he's in China. Good. Glad he's working. (Laughter.)

I want to thank Ted Kassinger for welcoming us here. I appreciate Ann Veneman, Secretary of Agriculture. She's here for a reason, which you'll hear about in a second. Plus, she wanted to hear the speech. (Laughter.) Sam Bodman is the Deputy Secretary of Treasury, is here. You might remember him from the Commerce Department, he was the Deputy Secretary of Commerce. Sam, I'm sure they gave you a -- welcomed you back here.

I announced some measures that will keep our economy on the leading edge of innovation; I want to share some of those with you. The reason I want to share them with you is I want people to understand we're serious about these proposals we have made, we expect and will continue to have good cooperation with the Congress on these measures.

President George W. Bush views a demonstration of broadband and wireless technologies at the U.S. Department of Commerce Thursday, June 24, 2004.First, long-term growth depends upon energy. You know, we need Congress to pass the energy plan I submitted. It's a plan that says loud and clear, for the sake of economic security and for the sake of national security, we must be less dependent on foreign sources of energy. And we can find energy at home in environmentally friendly ways. We can do a better job of conservation. We can come up with alternative sources of energy. I constantly say to people, gosh, wouldn't it be wonderful to be the President and say, how good is the corn crop, Madam Secretary? Oh, it's really good -- that means we're going to have more ethanol to take the place of -- (applause.) I mean, I'd like to grow our way out of dependence. Seems to make a lot of sense to be able to try to do that. And we're working toward that end.

As well, I talked about a $1.2 billion, five dollar -- five year project on research into hydrogen fuel cell technology for cars and trucks. I want to thank the members of Congress for working together on that. This is the kind of project where government can spur innovation. It seems like a good use of taxpayers' money to encourage this kind of new innovation. Imagine what hydrogen fuel cell technology will mean for our dependence upon foreign sources of energy. Imagine how -- what a positive effect such technology will have on our environment. This is a very important technology. And I look forward to working with the Congress to make sure it's well-funded and members of my administration to move the project forward.

We also talked about an interesting way to make sure health care costs are contained. In order to be a competitive environment, in order to be a place where people can do business here, in order to be a place where small businesses can flourish, we need to do a better job of controlling health care costs. There are some smart things we can do with association health plans, health savings accounts.

But one of the things we can do is use our technology in a better way to promote cost savings and quality of health care by the utilization of personal electronic medical records. It seems to make a lot of sense, doesn't it, that instead of having people walking around with -- not necessarily proverbially walking around with -- (laughter) -- but imagine a patient who has been to a hospital a lot of times and there's paperwork for every time the person goes. And if they would have to carry their own files around, it would become a cumbersome task, wouldn't it.

President George W. Bush discusses the benefits of broadband and wireless technology during a demonstration of such technologies at the U.S. Department of Commerce Thursday, June 24, 2004.Think about the overhead if you multiplied the task of filling out paper to satisfy information requirements at a hospital. Think about the overhead nationwide because our health system doesn't use information technology properly. And think about how bad a doctor's handwriting -- (laughter). And there's no wonder sometimes there's medical errors.

And so, therefore, I laid out a plan to ensure that most Americans have got electronic health records within the next 10 years so that our system is more cost effective, so we take out needless overhead costs and, at the same time, promote better quality medicine in America.

To achieve the goal of Tommy Thompson's outfit, the Health and Human Services has developed a language, a common language, so that health care providers can now speak more clearly across the Internet. We've developed new standards. We're funding demonstration projects. We're using programs such as Medicare and the veterans health -- the veterans hospitals to promote a better use of information technology to make sure that health care is a -- adopts the habits of the 21st century.

Today, I want to talk about the need, as well, to make sure that leading technology is available all across the country. Sometimes the problem we face here in America is that technology is available in maybe just the big cities. And you get out to rural Wyoming or rural Texas, and people try to figure out what you're talking about when it comes to new technologies. What we're interested in is to make sure broadband technology is available in every corner of America by the year 2007. I mean, all over the nation is what we're interested in. (Applause.)

Broadband, or what they call high-speed Internet, is critical in making our high-speed economy even more productive. That's what people have got to understand. You see, some people say, what do you mean when you say, broadband? Well, broadband is the capacity to move information a lot quicker and to move more information a lot quicker. As a matter of fact, broadband is four to 100 times faster than dial-up access. So in other words, if you -- if you have your -- if you're on a -- just a dial-up phone for your computer, imagine information getting to you a hundred times quicker. That means more information can move quicker.

And that's important in order to make sure the economy and our citizens are more productive. Broadband saves costs throughout the economy. In other words, it makes the economy more efficient. Imagine how efficient businesses will be when they're that far away from their customer. That's what broadband technology will enable us to do.

Listen, we've been a very productive economy, a very productive society. What I'm telling you is we can be more productive for the good of our citizens. And the more productive of work there is, the more productive a person is, the higher standard of living they will achieve. It's essential for our citizens to know, when you hear the economists say, we're productive, or this worker is more productive, that means better pay, and when you cut their taxes, it means better after-tax pay. (Applause.)

And we're seeing the spread of broadband throughout the country. Access has gone from 7 million subscriber lines in 2000, to 28 million last year. That's rapid growth. Yet, on a per capita basis, America ranks 10th amongst the industrialized world. That's not good enough. We don't like to be ranked 10th in anything. The goal is to be ranked 1st when it comes to per capita use of broadband technology. It's in our nation's interest. It's good for our economy. (Applause.)

The spread of broadband will not only help industry, it'll help the quality of life of our citizens. We saw some really interesting projects. I want to thank those who came to show me some demonstration projects today. We saw a -- I met a -- where's the doc? Doc, there you are. Good. He's a heart doc -- cardiologist, I think, is a more sophisticated way of putting it. (Laughter.) Probably liked it when I talked about medical liability reform, too. (Laughter.) He worked at -- he works at Washington's Children's Hospital. And so he had a patient in -- Maryland? Yes. And he was able to -- they put a little scan on the little guy's heart, and he was able to assure the mom that this person who had a -- had a heart operation when he was a young child is doing well.

This healer was able to spread his compassion and talents and assure a mom across broadband technology. It's amazing when you think about it. Imagine what's going to happen in Texas when Alpine or somewhere down there, they're looking for a specialist, and a parent is panicked about whether or not their loved one is going to receive the care needed and they don't have -- they can't drive 600 miles to a local hospital. They call up this guy via broadband technology and he is able to analyze the child from afar -- it's very sophisticated software -- and give the reassuring words to the parent, everything is okay. And whether it be cardiology or ear infection, any other aspect of medicine, we'll be able to make sure health care is available throughout the country by using this technology. The quality of life for our citizens is going to improve dramatically as we spread this technology all across America.

I saw what broadband technology can mean for education. I mean, if you've ever been a governor of a state, you understand the vast potential of broadband technology, you understand how hard it is to make sure that physics, for example, is taught in every classroom in the state. It's difficult to do. It's, like, cost-prohibitive. But it's not cost-prohibitive when you can wire your classrooms and have a physics professor from the University of Texas/San Antonio give a lecture in a real-time basis to kids out in rural Texas or anywhere else in America. It's a fantastic way to take information and spread it on a real-time basis.

We saw a project there today in northern Pennsylvania, a school in northern Pennsylvania, and it's exciting. Think of the vast potential this will mean for the public school systems of America. It means that some who go without certain subjects can now gain access to those subjects. It will mean we've got a more educated population when we get broadband technology spread throughout the entire country.

This effort, by the way -- the reason Ann is here, Ann Veneman is here is because the effort was launched by the Department of Agriculture. That may be a hard one to explain at home. (Laughter.) But the reason why is, is because her job is to give grant and loan programs for rural development. And it makes sense to -- (applause.) And she spanked out $2.5 billion of loans and grants for rural development. A lot of people in rural America like living there. (Laughter.) The quality of life is really good. You walk down your street and know who you're looking at, and, generally, they'll say, how are you doing? It's good to see you. I hope you're having a wonderful day. What can we do to help you?

And it makes sense to be able to take the potential of broadband to rural America. People are going to be able to find work there, and be able to live in their -- where they're raised, or where they want to raise their kids in a rural setting. I also saw what broadband technology can do for our borders. I know this is a particular concern for Lamar. He's -- your district doesn't go all the way down to the border now, does it? Well, it has. He's got about five different configurations of his district. (Laughter.)

But we've got a big border in Texas, with Mexico, obviously -- and we've got a big border with Canada -- Arizona is affected. And this is a good chance to -- to have broadband technology deliver information to those who are responsible for guarding borders, guarding plants, and equipment. It's amazing with the software that has been developed these days that enable a camera to distinguish the difference between a squirrel and a bomb. And, yet, I saw some software today that is very sophisticated, and at the same time will enable people to better do their duty in securing that which needs to be secured.

Remember, we're still in a battle against ideological extremists who use terrorism as a tool to frighten, scare, kill people such as us who love freedom. And, therefore, what I'm telling you is as broadband expands, it's going to enable us better to protect our homeland, which is a vital concern of any of us in our government.

We're going to -- so somebody says, that's great, it sounds good -- how are you going to achieve the goal? It's one thing to set a goal, how do you achieve it? Here's some things we can do that make sense, to make sure that broadband is available to everyone by 2007, and that there is a choice shortly thereafter. It's one thing to make sure broadband is spread out in America, but we want consumers -- in this country, we believe in giving consumers alternatives. If you have an alternative, you're likely to get a better price and a better quality. We like to respond to demand in a market-oriented economy, which is what we're going to do.

First, we've got to make sure that broadband access is affordable and, therefore, it should not be taxed. It's essential that we not tax -- (applause.) There has been a federal ban on Internet access taxes. I want to thank the members who work there on that issue. I think that's why these two guys are here, by the way. (Laughter.) And states now, because the ban has expired, states have started taxing broadband access. And that's going to make access less affordable. If the goal is to spread broadband, it doesn't make any sense to tax it as we're spreading it.

And so, therefore, I support -- strongly support reestablishing the ban on Internet access taxes. The Congress needs to act on this. I know these two members want to act. We look forward to working with you to make sure that the Internet access tax ban can be signed into law soon. (Applause.) Taxes can stop the spread of broadband, and so can burdensome regulations. (Applause.) And sometimes government has a way of imposing burdensome regulations. And we look forward to working with industry, investors and entrepreneurs as to how to get rid of those burdensome regulations that defeat the goal of spreading broadband.

For example -- well, one way to look at it is our regulations for the telephone were established years ago. And I don't think those regulations should apply to a 21st century technology. (Applause.) I thought the Federal Communications Commission did a smart thing, in a recent decision, by telling communications companies they don't have to give away use of their fiberoptic broadband lines. I thought that was a smart thing. (Applause.)

In this case, the FCC provided regulatory certainty, and by doing so created incentives for communication companies to build out their fiberoptic broadband lines to more homes. It's a good decision. I think the decision will benefit American consumers, as well. (Applause.)

Another issue we face is that broadband providers have trouble getting across federal lands. And that's why I signed an order to reduce the regulatory red tape for laying fiberoptic cables and putting up transmission towers on federal lands. You see, if you can't put up towers and lay cable, you can't get broadband to all corners of America by 2007. And so hopefully we've reduced that regulatory burden. If we haven't reduced the regulatory burden enough, we need to hear from those who are stymied. We want to meet the goal. There's a practical reason why we want to meet the goal: It'll improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

Thirdly, we want to help consumers find more ways to obtain affordable broadband access. I just told you that. I told it to you again. (Laughter.)

Most people who have broadband access now obtain it through a cable wire or telephone wire. A small percentage obtain it through a satellite. But most of us who have got broadband go through the telephone or your cable.

We need to get broadband to more Americans and so, therefore, I want to talk about two other ways to get broadband to the consumer. We need to use our power lines better. They go everywhere. It seems to make sense, doesn't it, if what you're looking for is avenues into the home. Well, electricity goes into the home. And so one great opportunity is to spread broadband throughout America via our power lines.

And one of the problems we've got here is that the Commerce Department has had to develop technical standards that will make sure that our broadband can go across power lines without unnecessary interference. So it's a technological problem. It's a technological issue. It turns out that sometimes the competition of broadband and electricity just doesn't go too good across one line. And so -- if I could put it in simple vernacular. And so, therefore, the Commerce Department is helping to sort through these issues so that broadband access will be available through -- by our power companies.

And as I understand it -- as a matter of fact, was shown a little thing you plug in your wall that will give you broadband access at 30 times -- you told me? Sixty times? Sixty times the current speed of a dial-up. And that's now available in Cincinnati and parts of Kentucky. There's a power company in that part of the world that's been innovative, that's diversified the product to the home, and now can provide broadband across the electricity lines -- which is a fantastic innovation.

And so our job in government is to help facilitate the use of electricity lines by helping with the technological standards that will make this more possible. And I want to thank those in the Commerce Department who have worked hard to do this.

The other promising new broadband technology is wireless. The spectrum that allows for wireless technology is a limited resource. In other words, it's not -- it's not endless spectrum. And we need to use it wisely. And a wise use of that spectrum is to help our economy grow, and help with the quality of life of our people. And after all, that's why we're here. We're here because of -- we want to enhance the quality of life of the American people. We want them to live better lives, we want them to be healthier, we want them to be smarter. We want them to be able to find work easier. And so one of things we need to do is unlock the spectrum's value -- economic value and entrepreneurial potential without -- without, by the way, crowding out important government functions. And we can do both. That's what's important for our citizens to understand. And so we're helping to promote new wireless technologies without crowding out the Defense Department's capacity to defend America.

There are two kinds of wireless technology. One is called wi-fi. It works with a regular broadband connection. If you use that kind of connection, someone from their home or their office can set up a wireless network that covers the home or the office. For example, I was shown a wi-fi hookup today that enables somebody to load a system in their home that when their child comes home, if it's set up properly, they will be able come in, it'll trigger a noise, the person will look on their phone and see a picture of their kid coming in the home. It's pretty imaginative, isn't it? It's a -- it's just an illustration of what is possible -- of what is possible with this new broadband technology.

And so the problem with this kind of technology is that we can actually interfere with government uses, like radar. We want to make sure our radars work well. (Laughter.) And so we took the necessary steps to make sure these wireless broadband applications could work within the same spectrum as the government functions, without interference. It took some awfully smart people to figure that out. But you know something? Our government employs awfully smart people. And for those of you who have been working on this project, I want to thank you very much. It took some innovation. (Applause.)

And people are going to take advantage of this -- like, cities are. Spokane, Washington, yesterday established a wi-fi hot zone that allows users within a hundred block area of the city to obtain wireless broadband access. Imagine if you're the head of a chamber of commerce of a city, and you say, gosh, our city is a great place to do business or to find work. We're setting up a wi-fi hot zone, which means our citizens are more likely to be more productive than the citizens from a neighboring community. It's a great opportunity.

Another kind of wireless broadband would be more wide-ranging. It would be based on mobile wireless. It wouldn't depend on a physical connection to an existing cable or telephone modem as wi-fi does.

This -- to me, this is a very exciting opportunity for the country, when you think about it. The problem is, it requires a spectrum that is not now available. And so Congress needs to make the spectrum available. If we want to -- if we want to achieve the goal of broadband in every corner of the country by 2007, and shortly thereafter, people will have more options and more choice, we need to -- we need to make more spectrum available.

There's a bill called the Commercial Spectrum Enhancement Act. It is a bill where we can take spectrum that is currently allocated to the government and auction it off to the private sector without diminishing our responsibilities in government. In other words, it will be an auction process. Taxpayers will not only benefit because broadband has been expanded, the taxpayers will benefit because we're not going to give the spectrum away. We'll let them pay.

And so these are some of the policies that will help us achieve the goal. What I'm telling you is, there's a role for us here in Washington to help the entrepreneurs and innovators of the country succeed and, thereby, help make the quality of the life of our fellow citizens the best it can possibly be.

I am here at the Commerce Department because a lot of the work to make sure the entrepreneurial spirit is strong is done here. And I'm here to thank those of you who work here for your hard work. I appreciate what you're doing. Keep doing it. We have a -- we have a responsibility to fulfill our missions and our goals on behalf of the taxpayers of this country.

There is no question in my mind with the right policy and right incentives that we will be the leader -- instead of being the tenth per capita in broadband use, we'll be the first. You know, we're the fastest growing major industrialized nation in the world today, and that's great. We want to be the fastest growing major industrialized nation in the world tomorrow and the next decade and the next decade. And one of the best ways we can do so is to always stay on the leading edge of technological change, and here are some practical ways -- by working with the Congress, working with our regulators, working with our Commerce Department, that we can do so.

Listen, thanks for your work. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless our country. (Applause.)

END 2:39 P.M. EDT