ARLINGTON, VA. — Last year’s International CES was described as a “virtual war room against PIPA and SOPA,” the proposed legislation that would have added new restrictions to the Internet.
The “Protect IP Act” (PIPA), and the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) were then pending in the Senate and House, respectively, and the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) government affairs department was at the forefront of the efforts to stop them.
In late January, votes on both bills were postponed — good news for the consumer electronics industry. According to CEA and other opponents, PIPA and SOPA were overly broad bills that would have hurt legitimate businesses, hampered innovation and cost American jobs.
It was a good way to start the year. Keeping the Internet open for innovation — while protecting privacy and copyrights — was just one of many items on the agenda in another busy year for CEA’s government affairs department, the industry’s leading advocate in Washington. Of course, 2012 was a presidential election year — one that saw billions spent to maintain the status quo, with the balance of power remaining Democrats in the White House and Senate and Republicans maintaining control of the House of Representatives.
Whatever the outcome of elections or the makeup of government, technology marches on, and issues including spectrum allocation, environmental protection, energy efficiency, trade regulations, immigration reform and more continue. The actions that regulators and legislators take have the potential to foster innovation or stifle it.
To that end, CEA launched the Innovation Movement, designed to be a platform to mobilize Americans in support of public policies that advance American business and shore up our economy for future generations. More than 200,000 have signed up at the movement’s website, DeclareInnovation.com, and thousands have signed the “Declaration of Innovation.”
CEA also took to the courts on behalf of innovation with an amicus brief in the Aereo case (in which startup streaming Internet company is being opposed in court by broadcasters), saying the case will hinge on basic principles from the 1984 Supreme Court Sony Betamax case, the “Magna Carta decision” of the electronics industry defining full recording of broadcast television as a fair use and allowing innovation in technology.
One of the biggest disappointments last year was the failure of a bill that would have allowed foreign graduates of U.S. universities to remain in the country after graduation rather than having to leave as is the case under the current immigration policies.
It is at the top of the agenda for CEA in 2013, according to Michael Petricone, CEA’s government affairs senior VP. “Strategic immigration is a ‘must do,’” he said. “If we’re serious about immigration reform, we should start by not throwing out the innovators.” There are a lot of tough issues the new Congress and the re-elected president are dealing with, Petricone said, but the need for this (immigration reform) is “lowhanging fruit” that is self-evident and certainly important.
In the heat of the presidential campaign, CEA signed onto a letter to both the Republican and Democratic National Committees urging the parties to resist international efforts to expand U.N. authority of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA), a multi-governmental body, over the Internet. Both the RNC and DNC heeded CEA’s request and included such language in their platforms. CEA also supported the efforts of the administration and the U.S. Trade Representative to update and expand product coverage in the agreement.
During the presidential debates, CEA and Google collaborated on “Insights from the 2012 Debates,” a joint effort to use technology to provide voters information about the presidential and vice presidential debates. The effort provided snapshots of how citizens are using technology to engage with and learn about the candidates and top issues. A state-of-the-art digital wall — located near the debate hall in the media gathering area — displayed search and video trends, insights and consumer research.
The explosive growth in use of mobile devices continues to put pressure on the available space in the airwaves. There was a bit of progress on freeing up some much needed spectrum with the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) adoption of a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking “(NPRM) last fall regarding voluntary auctions. CEA’s position is that additional spectrum is key to our national competitiveness and needed for creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
The FCC’s notice is a first step toward ensuring that smartphones and tablets and other wireless devices can continue to connect to networks, while unleashing countless innovative products and services that need more spectrum to flourish.
CEA continues to work in partnership with local, state and federal governments and other industry advocates to educate consumers on the availability and accessibility of electronics recycling locations. The industry’s eCycling Leadership Initiative has issued a Billion Pound Challenge to recycle responsibly 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016.
As of September 2012, the industry’s initiative had arranged for the responsible recycling of 460 million pounds of CE products, a 53 percent increase over the 300 million pounds recycled in 2010.
CEA also launched a website, GreenerGadgets.org, to educate consumers about e-cycling and energy consumption. By entering a ZIP code, anyone can locate the closest responsible recycling location.
This year CEA’s public policy efforts begin at the Innovation Policy Summit at 2013 International CES. (If you’re reading this at the show, you have an array of policy-related panel discussions to choose from. If not, you can follow CEA’s policy activities throughout the year in the pages of TWICE and at CE.org). The summit includes top government officials, entrepreneurs and policy experts who will explore the issues impacting American innovators including strategic immigration, copyright policy, e-waste policy, energy efficiency, safe driving and the use of consumer electronics on airplanes.
This year won’t have the hoopla and uncertainty of a presidential campaign, but CEA will focus on finding ways to make innovation work best for all citizens by educating regulators and legislators about the newest technologies, working with them to develop regulatory and legislative framework to let innovation flourish.
Jim Barry, a longtime CE industry journalist, is the media spokesman of the Consumer Electronics