ARLINGTON, VA. —
Innovation is the lifeblood of the consumer electronics industry, inherently disrupting the status quo, and creating a level of tension to the industry’s inside-the-Beltway activities.
So it was encouraging to see President Obama embrace innovation a year ago in his State Of The Union Address and announce a “National Wireless Initiative’”shortly thereafter.
“CEA applauds the President for the focus on innovation in his State of the Union address,” CEA president Gary Shapiro said at the time. Shapiro, who calls innovation our “secret sauce,” maintained that the technology industry’s ceaseless innovation will drive our nation’s recovery and our economic future.
As always, the devil is in the details and this year CEA’s government affairs department focused on several fronts which – like everything in Washington – require constant attention, effort and vigilance. These include perennial issues like international trade, the spectrum crisis, balancing copy protection with fair use, and protecting the environment while conserving energy.
The CEA, its leadership and its members sounded the innovation clarion throughout the year educating our nation’s legislators and regulators. From visits to Capitol Hill by company executives, to Shapiro’s regular columns in Forbes Online and Huffington Post and his best-selling book “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream,” the CEA has been an advocate for innovation at the forefront of many beltway battles.
In the spring, as part of a series of industry events focused on Capitol Hill, members of the CEA’s Board of Industry Leaders met with members of the House of Representatives and congressional staff to advocate for action on these key issues and how they impact the health of the U.S. economy
These efforts paid off with successes particularly in the area of trade legislation and rules for accessibility of consumer electronics products. In the fall, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a notice of rulemaking on the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 that, thanks in part to input from the CEA, adopted a balanced approach for manufacturers to add accessibility features to devices for individuals with disabilities. Michael Petricone, CEA government affairs senior VP, said he was pleased to see that “Congress took a careful approach in drafting this law to promote the twin goals of increasing accessibility and preserving innovation. We made an effort to educate Congress that the best way to foster accessibility of new products, is trough industry-driven innovation rather than top-down government mandates. CEA is committed to continue to work with the accessibility community as the new rules take effect.”
A big win for consumers and the industry — the passage of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama — was particularly satisfying since the CEA had been advocating for these initiatives consistently for half a decade. American small businesses need free-trade agreements to restore their ability to sell products in foreign markets without imposition of high tariffs. “These bills faced some determined opposition but we and others kept trying and fighting with initiatives like the ‘Trade Bus’ and the ‘Innovation Movement’ that focused on the benefits of these agreements.” Petricone said. “We’re thrilled that they were passed and were signed by the President. They promote manufacturing and jobs, are good for consumers and the economy, and it’s good to see Congress do the right thing.” (The CEA’s Innovation Movement – more than 110,000 Americans strong – urges elected leaders to focus on policies that support innovation and entrepreneurship.)
The increased use of smartphones and tablet computers has underscored the need for more spectrum to be allocated to consumer use. Tablet computer sales have more than doubled in the past 18 months, fueled by the success of Apple’s iPad and a legion of competitors now in stores. Smartphones now represent more than half of all wireless phone sales and the use of these devices to access rich internet content is putting an increasing strain on the airwaves.
At the same time commercial television broadcasters are sitting on valuable but unused spectrum. The CEA has encouraged the Congress to allocate a portion of this unused spectrum to a public auction. “Spectrum is the oxygen of innovation,” Petricone said, and freeing up this unused spectrum for use by the rapidly growing array of wireless devices makes fiscal sense and is important to our Innovation future.”
There was a hope that the congressional “Super Committee” would move the ball forward on spectrum allocation. It seemed to be one of the few things that the committee could agree on but its failure to agree on just about anything else doomed that effort.
As this is written in December, there’s been no definitive timeline on a possible spectrum auction, but the CEA execs are optimistic that something will happen. Incentive auctions to redeploy underused broadcast spectrum for wireless broadband could generate $33 billion for the U.S. Treasury reducing the federal deficit and taking another step toward restoring the health of the American economy.
A positive step forward was made last month with the approval by the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet of the Jumpstarting Opportunity with Broadband Spectrum (JOBS) Act of 2011.
There is the ongoing struggle to protect consumers’ rights to use the products they’ve purchased and have unfettered access to the digital content available through those devices. Two bills recently in Congress, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the Protect IP act in the Senate, sounded good in name, but were overly restrictive as initially proposed and would have had a stifling effect on innovation. “We’re very supportive of a bill if it is done without overly broad definitions of piracy that are in the current one,” Petricone said.
Environmental issues continue to gain attention as the number of electronic products in American homes, autos, pockets and pocketbooks continues to rise. The industry has made tremendous strides on both the energy efficiency of its devices and on responsible recycling and disposal of products that are being replaced. The CEA continues to advocate for a national approach to recycling and disposal of ewaste rather than the patchwork quilt of state regulations that now exists.
The CEA launched in 2011 the first-ever industry-wide electronics recycling initiative to recycle 1 billion pounds of electronics annually by 2016, which would be a more than threefold increase over 2010.
The eCycling Leadership Initiative seeks to improve consumer awareness of the more than 5,000 collection sites currently sponsored by industry, increase the amount of electronics recycled responsibly, increase the number of collection opportunities available, and provide transparent metrics on eCycling efforts. One billion pounds of electronics, if not properly recycled, would fill about 88.9 million cubic feet, equivalent to an entire 71,000-seat NFL stadium. A major component of the initiative will be consumer education, including new online tools and mobile apps, to help make recycling used electronics as easy as buying new ones.
Another troubling issue arose this year when the Office of Government Ethics proposed rules that would severely limit the ability of federal government employees to attend event like International CES — sponsored by industry trade groups.
The efforts of the CEA government affairs department working on behalf of member companies and consumers who purchase and use these products will be more critical than ever this year, no matter what the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
Jim Barry, who has covered the industry for consumer and trade publications for years, is the media spokesman of the Consumer Electronics Association.