WASHINGTON — A hefty portion of the national broadband planthat saw first light Tuesday morning is devoted to the use of communications technology for what Congress dubbed “national purposes” — policy areas like clean energy and health care where high-speed Internet connections could reduce costs or improve outcomes.
For Bill Clinton, global purposes might be a more suitable target.
While the Federal Communications Commission was meeting to discuss the broadband plan it delivered to Congress today, the former president was delivering a speech across town at a conference commemorating the 25th anniversary of the .com domain.
Introduced as the nation’s first Internet president (the White House Web site went up on his watch, a 1996 executive order directed federal agencies to engage the public using the Internet), Clinton gave an emphatic salute to the potential for Internet-enabled communication to address some of the world’s most urgent challenges.
“What is the role of information technology in dealing with the capacity problems of the poor and the rigidity problems of the wealthy? Those are the big questions that have to be answered in order for the 21st century to be the most prosperous, interesting, positive time in human history,” Clinton said.
Save for the occasional political engagement, Clinton has devoted most of his working time since leaving office to his foundation, which focuses on issues like global health, climate change and childhood obesity.
Clinton has also been active in relief efforts following natural disasters, such as the 2004 tsunami and the recent earthquake in Haiti. With each successive crisis, the scale of online contributions has increased dramatically, he said, adding that the response to the earthquake in Haiti was especially noteworthy for the success groups like the Red Cross had raising money through text-messaging campaigns.
Earlier this month, Clinton was on hand for the U.S. launch of the Millennium Foundation’s MassiveGood initiative, a global project run in concert with the United Nations to raise money for medicine to treat impoverished patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis. Through the program, the U.N. partners with hotels and travel agencies to place a box on their Web sites that travelers can check when booking a flight or a room to make a small contribution to MassiveGood, one of the novel ways that technology can help improve people’s quality of life, Clinton said.
“None of this would even be conceivable if it weren’t for the Internet,” he said. “If it weren’t for online purchases this would be unthinkable.”
But it cuts both ways. For all the philanthropic ventures born from the Internet, one needs only to consider the continued rise of cyber crime or terrorist groups’ embrace of the Web to recruit and train members and the picture becomes much darker.
Clinton acknowledged that trade-off in his remarks today, though he expressed a general faith in technology as a path to greater freedom of expression. Even in nations with restrictive Internet policies like Iran and China, citizens have been turning to new social media tools to communicate and share information.
“The more secure a political system feels the more they can facilitate this, but the more insecure a political system feels the more they try to stop it, but in the end, I think the march of technology will prevail,” Clinton said.