Innovation Files has moved! For ITIF's quick takes, quips, and commentary on the latest in tech policy, go to

Archive for December, 2011

The Maker Movement

As a recent Economist article notes, there is a quiet but potentially revolutionary transformation taking place in how things are manufactured.  The “maker” movement, with meetups and online SIGs of one sort or another, combines crowdsourcing, open-source or otherwise open hardware platforms, 3d printing, and a “Mechanical Turk”-style world organization of small handicrafters and manufacturers to create a new manufacturing system (dare we call it a paradigm) which will turn the idea of “economies of scale” on its head.

I have friends who prototype small systems — mainly, today, small systems for manufacturing other small systems, such as precision X-Y milling platforms, or Arduino-based controllers — at home, using a growing infrastructure of free or cheap prototyping platforms.  When they are ready, they farm these systems out to small manufacturing boutiques (in Eastern Europe for the most part, although I have no idea if this is an authentic regional specialization or an accident of my friends’ Rolodices.  If any of these systems took off, my friends could scale up to Tier 2 contract manufacturers.  This kind of easily-scalable manufacturing allows all kinds of long-tail ideas to be tried; only

Read the rest

2012 Federal Budget: Omnibus Halts Further Cuts to Energy Innovation Investments

The FY2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill, passed through the House and Senate conference committee last week, provides a small 2.5 percent increase in DOE energy innovation investment-related Offices and programs compared to FY2011. The budget includes key investments for new Energy Innovation Hubs, next-generation small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) RD&D and licensing programs, as well as a boost in funding for ARPA-E. Compared to the roughly $800 million cut to energy innovation investments in FY2011 and the additional cuts sought in the House version of the appropriations bill, the FY2012 budget provides renewed, albeit modest, government support for developing affordable and viable clean energy technologies.

To be clear, the 2012 federal budget still falls short of FY2010’s peak in energy innovation investments made through the Stimulus and represents only 72 percent of what the President requested for next year. It’s vital that more work is done to increase public investments in clean energy innovation, as the government must play an energetic role in supporting the development of next-generation technologies. However, the FY2012 budget does take steps to stabilize, and in some cases boost, high-impact clean energy investments (Figure 1, below).

Read the rest

DNS Filtering is an American Innovation

Paul Vixie and some of his fellow DNS experts have published a blog post in The Hill’s “Congress Blog” denouncing the DNS blacklisting feature of the rogue site bills currently working their way through Congress, PROTECT-IP and SOPA. In their view, DNS blacklisting is un-American:

[T]he debate over what we as a society ought to do about online piracy and infringement has gone into the weeds – so much so that bills now pending before both houses of the US Congress (S. 936, PIPA; and H.R. 3261, SOPA) seek to compel American Internet Service Providers to alter fundamentally the way their connected customers access the Domain Name System.

This type of mandated filtering is not an American innovation. Strong governments around the world use DNS filtering to signal their displeasure over all kinds of things they don’t like, whether it be untaxed online gambling, or pornography, or political dissent.

It’s interesting to contrast the view in this new blog post with a post Mr. Vixie published last February announcing the addition of a domain blacklisting feature to the Internet’s most popular DNS server software, BIND, a product maintained by

Read the rest


Let’s Shelve the Drivel: Boosting Energy Innovation to Reduce America’s Three Deficits

Robert Solow, Nobel laureate and father of neoclassical economic growth theory, says that policymakers’ current economic solutions are nothing more than “drivel” and that spurring innovation – especially energy innovation – must be a central goal of public policy moving forward.

As ITIF and the Breakthrough Institute recently reported in Taking on the Three Deficits, policymakers of all stripes largely ignore the role innovation must play to break America out of its current economic rut and restore budget balance in Washington. The top-line message – only targeted public investments in programs that boost innovation, productivity, and next-generation industries combined with targeted cuts in consumptive spending will put the United States on a long-term path to sound fiscal footing.

But the importance of spurring innovation hasn’t hit home yet. The crashed-and-burned Congressional Super Committee – given significant power and leverage to comprehensively address the flailing economy – never once mentioned innovation in its public deliberations. And actions taken in 2011 to address the budget deficit have targeted the federal discretionary programs, a relatively small contributor to the national budget deficit and home to the most productive, innovation-oriented programs.

Thus, the

Read the rest

Horse with Blinkers

Live Different: Susan Crawford’s Broadband Blinkers

An op-ed by Susan Crawford in last weekend’s New York Times Weekend Review paints a very peculiar picture of America’s broadband networks. Crawford claims, as she has for many years, that American broadband is a dire mess that can only be fixed by the government’s enacting sweeping new regulations on the way the networking business is structured. In particular, she wants Congress to require each network owner to sell wholesale services at a price set by the FCC under a system of “structural separation” that depresses investment in next-generation networks. Her diagnosis is faulty and her snatch-and-grab analysis – motivated more by a desire to reinforce an existing point of view than to understand current developments – causes her to misconstrue major new trends in network adoption, usage, and deployment.

The polemic begins with a superficial look at on-line retailing, arguing that the poor are unable to enjoy shopping deals because they lack wired broadband connections in their homes. The fact that the poor are not notoriously big spenders doesn’t perturb the conclusion: Crawford insists that poor people’s relatively high reliance on mobile networking cuts them off from digital shopping’s

Read the rest

Cop Cars Crashed Into Each Other

An Endowment for Public Safety Networking

The Public Safety network that’s been under discussion since 9/11 exposed the lack of interoperability between New York City’s police and fire networks remains a hotter topic of debate in Washington than of implementation in Omaha, but a détente of sorts has been reached between the two sides. The latest spectrum bill from the House Republicans reverses the old consensus in favor of auctioning the D Block spectrum in order to fund nation-wide mobile broadband services for public safety in favor of simply assigning the D Block to public safety for the same purpose.

Depending on the next steps, this could either be a good thing or a bad thing. The decision to assign rather than auction is based on faulty assumptions about the best way to meet public safety needs, but sometimes good things can happen for bad reasons. The public safety lobby insists that they have unique requirements that standards-based commercial networks can’t meet – especially for reliability and security – but also insists that it will embrace the LTE standard for the construction of a new network. We’ve examined the “unique requirements” previously, and have found

Read the rest