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Archive for May, 2012

Obama speaks at Alcoa

Time to Turn NNMI from Concept to Reality

Why do we need a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a $1 billion initiative the Obama Administration has proposed to facilitate public-private collaboration to enhance manufacturing competitiveness?  Why not just reduce the tax and regulatory burden on companies and let free enterprise work its magic?

That question was the basis of some skepticism of NNMI voiced by members of the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation at a public hearing today. As one Member put it, why not do it the “old-fashioned” way?

Well, in a way this is the old-fashioned way.  When it came to innovations such as the Internet, “fracking” in the energy sector, advances in biotechnology that have extended our lives, and other breakthroughs, the government played a modest role in undertaking initial costs and risks of R&D or in harnessing the nation’s talent and resources in ways the private sector could not or would not do. This has been true since land grant colleges were created in the 19th century and helped make America the world’s breadbasket. That’s one reason why NNMI makes sense.

That’s not say that

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US Navy F-A-18 Super Hornet

The Military Plays an Important Role in Biofuel Procurement

The military’s FY2013 budget is playing out to be a hot-bed of debate over the role of government in supporting clean energy innovation. Both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Armed Services Committee passed Department of Defense (DOD) budgets that bans the department from developing or purchasing advanced alternative energy fuels that cost more than traditional fossil fuels. While most of the resulting media focus has been on weighing the possible advantages associated with biofuel use relative to its cost, too little attention has been paid to the important role the DOD can play as a technology-first adopter.

The ban came about in large part due to controversy over the U.S. Navy’s investments in advanced biofuel RD&D, which ITIF has previously covered. The Navy’s efforts are primarily centered on making the service less vulnerable to oil price fluctuations and potential disruptions in oil supplies, which also falls under the DOD’s broader goal of developing more energy efficient, non-fossil-fuel fuels and technologies in order to increase war capabilities. As Navy Secretary Ray Mabus claimed last year, the Navy is pursuing alternative energy sources “primarily for one reason: it

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THAAD Launcher

China’s Systemic Counterfeiting and IP Theft Undermine U.S. Economic and National Security

On May 21, 2012, the Senate Committee on Armed Services released a disturbing report on the extent to which counterfeit electronic parts had infiltrated the U.S. defense supply chain. The report, which looked at just one part of the defense supply chain from 2009 to 2010, documented 1,800 cases of suspected counterfeit electronic parts being deployed on a wide range of weapons systems, including anti-submarine aircraft and helicopters, cargo planes, and missile defense systems such as the Terminal High-Altitude Missile Defense (THAAD) system. Regarding THAAD—a short- to intermediate-range missile defense system designed to shoot down ballistic missiles (think SCUDs in the Gulf War)—the investigation found that the mission computers that controlled the missiles contained suspected counterfeit memory devices, which if they failed while deployed would have comprised the entire missile defense system, placing the lives of U.S. service members (or even U.S. or foreign citizens) at risk.

The Senate’s report found that the overwhelming majority—at least 70 percent—of the suspected counterfeit parts originated in China. This conclusion was not surprising. While the Senate’s report was limited to assessing counterfeit electronic parts in the defense supply chain, a broader report by

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Library of Congress reading room

We Need More than a “Good Samaritan” Law for Cybersecurity Information Sharing

With the Senate planning to vote on cybersecurity legislation in early June, opponents of the legislation are stepping up their opposition. During the Memorial Day recess a coalition of groups plan to pressure members of Congress to oppose the two Senate cybersecurity bills: S. 2105, the Cybersecurity Act and S. 2151, the Secure IT Act.  These groups assert that the information-sharing measures included in the bills will violate individual privacy rights. While much of the debate about information sharing has focused on the privacy aspects, some have basically argued that information sharing has little to no value for improving cybersecurity. For example, Jim Harper at Cato Institute has complained about “the fetishization of information sharing on Capitol Hill.” In his view, the government should have a minimal role, if any, in promoting information sharing for cybersecurity purposes. Instead we should “let competitive pressure drive cybersecurity, rather than collective, government-run cybersecurity information sharing programs.”

While I agree that information sharing is not the only, nor even close to the most important, aspect of improving cybersecurity, it is still highly relevant. For example, although the number of zero-day attacks was down in

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Too Many Networks, Not Enough Sharing

At the LTE World Summit, Orange Spain CTO Eduardo Duato said that Europe has too many mobile networks and not enough network sharing:

Network sharing is the only way forward for European operators, he said, comparing Europe – with more than 100 operators – to the US, which is a comparable size and has only a handful of carriers with nationwide network deployments. “It doesn’t make sense to have this many networks [in Europe]” he said “we have to move to LTE network sharing.”

via Orange Spain CTO makes plea for network sharing » – telecoms industry news, analysis and opinion.

Shocking? It shouldn’t be. Europe lags the U. S. in the deployment and adoption of LTE (the 4G mobile technology that makes Internet Protocol a key element of the network) is regulatory restrictions on the use of spectrum only for specific technologies such as 2G and 3G GSM. When the same pool of spectrum is divided into too many pieces, none of the pieces is big enough to support a high-performance network technology such as LTE. This leads to a slower rate of adoption of newer and

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The European War on Cookies

On May 26, the new EU-mandated “Cookie Law” will go into effect in the UK.  This law requires that websites give users the ability to opt-out of all tracking. The UK and Ireland took this a step further and require users to opt-in.  Website owners in the UK that fail to comply with the law will face fines up to £500,000.

What does this mean for Internet users? In practical terms, it means users will now start seeing pop-ups or splash screens that require them to give consent to receiving cookies before they can access a website that uses cookies (which is the vast majority of websites on the Internet).  Not only will this annoy users and slow them down from visiting sites, but after seeing this on every single website they visit, users will likely grow accustomed to these notices and click “Accept” without giving it a second thought.  After clicking a few thousand of these, the law will likely have conditioned most users to accept any privacy notice they receive. So much for the strategy of teaching users to be more privacy aware…

Over time, I also

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Transphorm Power Electronics

Public Investments Spurring Breakthroughs in Power Electronics

The use of power electronics is extensively involved in the clean tech industry. Power electronics control and transform electric energy from the large-scale transmission level to the conventional consumer electronics level. While this conversion process does not receive as much attention as solar panels or wind turbines when referring to clean energy innovation, power electronics technologies are central to everything from transferring energy from intermittent renewable sources, to energy storage, to re-charging electrical vehicles quickly and safely. Significant innovations in these technologies are largely necessary for future development of next-generation electrified transportation systems and smart energy distribution.

To address this need, the federal government – through DOE’s office for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), in collaboration with the National Labs – is focusing specifically on the capabilities of power electronics in connection with increasing the efficiency of hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles.

Improvements in the size, reliability, and capacity of power electronics components including capacitors, inverters, and converters, have implications for decreasing electric vehicle charging times and reducing costs to both the producer and the consumer. These steps are all necessary

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Sen. Warner Speaking about Startup Act 2.0

Startup Act 2.0 Even Better Than 1.0

Yesterday, Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Mark Warner (D-VA) unveiled the Startup Act 2.0, bipartisan legislation that builds on the Startup Act introduced by Senators Moran and Warner last December. The new variant – which the Senators describe at length in a Politico piece – includes key provisions of the old bill that were highlighted in a previous blog post, such as creating STEM and entrepreneur immigrant visas to attract and retain human talent. A new provision, however, makes the Startup Act 2.0 even more potentially beneficial to the national clean energy innovation agenda.

Just as political circumstances compelled the original act’s sponsors to promote it as a vehicle for job creation, the new act has been characterized in some quarters as an “immigration bill”. To be sure, it does include several high-skill immigration reforms that would be a boon to the economy in general and the clean economy in particular. After all, immigrants with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) and/or an entrepreneurial spirit are essential to driving innovation at clean companies. Section 7 of the bill,

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VoIP Provider Files Net Neutrality Complaint Against a Government Utility

Irony of ironies: The very first complaint filed with the FCC under its Open Internet rules comes from an innovative VoIP provider against a government-owned municipal utility:

A Florida VoIP carrier has filed a net neutrality complaint against a Georgia utility and broadband provider, after the utility accused the VoIP firm of theft of service for using its network to deliver voice service without paying for it.
via VoIP Provider Files Net Neutrality Complaint With FCC | PCWorld Business Center. At David Isenberg's Freedom To Connect conference in Washington this week, advocates of Internet Openness Susan Crawford, Vint Cerf, and Michael Copps have been touting a public utility model of network ownership while real public utilities are stifling real innovation in the real world. Don't look too close. This case mirrors the Madison River complaint that led the FCC to adopt its initial Internet Policy Statement in 20006, except that the rural phone company that has committed the alleged offense in this case is publicly owned.

Laid-Back Higher Ed

More often than is warranted, Washington embraces consensus positions based on the view “we all know this to be true.” One of these is “well, while K-12 education is a mess, we all know that American higher education is the best.” There is increasing evidence the last half of this consensus view is not true.

The latest evidence of this is an article in today’s Washington Post that relies on data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) showing today’s college students spend about 40 percent less time studying than they did a half century ago. While everyone focuses on getting 6 years olds to spend every waking moment doing homework and giving up summer vacations so they can go to school (a great idea if we want to rob children of childhood), we are going in the opposite direction when it comes to college.

As I wrote in a blog on Huffington Post, “The Failure of American Higher Education,” American higher education is no longer adequately educating students – not just on STEM as we have written about, but on the broad capabilities of being

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