It may be easy to forget that President Trump once called American tech companies our country’s “crown jewel.” Indeed, U.S. tech companies have led the world for decades in creating innovative new products and services to help consumers and support economic growth throughout the states.
So it has been disappointing to see officials attempt to address valid questions about technology — like consumer privacy — with talk of broad, undefined antitrust investigations and “breaking up big tech.” To be sure, government leaders are right to scrutinize corporations and ensure they’re following the law.
But given how dynamic the technology sector is today, they should also stay focused on enhancing government support for scientific research so the United States remains the global leader in technological achievement.
The Congress and Republican Party I served in for over a decade was committed to supporting American enterprise and innovation. It’s no coincidence that the U.S. technology sector has seen so much growth and progress. From AI and quantum computing to autonomous vehicles and voice assistants, America’s technology companies are advancing breakthroughs that not only result in better consumer gadgets, but also revolutionize health care, increase productivity and create entire new industries.
The success of U.S. technology companies is due in no small part to the fierce competition they face. In 2013 when federal regulators looked at allegations of unfair competition, they concluded decisively that a company like Google is successful because it has to compete against so many other companies saying: “While some of Google’s rivals may have lost sales due to an improvement in Google’s product, these types of adverse effects on particular competitors from vigorous rivalry are a common byproduct of ‘competition on the merits’ and the competitive process that the law encourages.”
The Supreme Court has wisely used the consumer welfare standard to judge all competition enforcement for decades. Without question, people derive real value from the free or low-cost digital tools they use every day. Today, we can book hotels on sites like Expedia, compare costs for flights on Kayak and then head over to Yelp and TripAdvisor to find restaurants and things to do.
An entrepreneur can raise money for a business on Kickstarter, showcase their success on YouTube, purchase digital advertising to compete against much larger corporations, and then sell the product to global consumers on Amazon or eBay. A recent study at MIT found that consumers value free internet tools like maps, email and search so much that they’d have to be paid thousands of dollars to give them up for a year.
Technology companies spend millions every month to keep up in this global competitive environment. In 2017, tech companies led the way in R&D investment, spending a total of $76 billion. By comparison, the National Science Foundation’s budget was $7.8 billion, and the National Cancer Institute’s was $5 billion.
The technology sector has also benefited our communities. Tech hubs not only bring higher paying jobs to those who work in the industry, but research shows that they also create local service jobs like teachers, nurses, carpenters, plumbers, and security officers at a ratio of 5 to 1 — raising salaries and standards of living. We need this rising tide to flow to more communities — and it is.
This success has fueled the U.S. economy across the country. The technology industry employs an estimated 11.8 million people in the United States. Only 14 % of internet jobs and value are located in cities like Silicon Valley, Manhattan and Seattle. That leaves 86 % of jobs and business spread throughout the United States.
In the last year alone, companies like Amazon and Google have announced plans to expand in states like Virginia, Texas, and Nebraska. These new investments include hiring tens of thousands of additional employees, and enable the creation of more than new construction jobs.
Government officials have an important oversight role to play, especially when it comes to solving challenges posed by new and emerging industries. But in doing so, it’s important they continue to support scientific research that has made the United States No. 1 in the world when it comes to technological achievement. With appropriate oversight and bipartisan support for innovation, we can ensure America’s “crown jewels” continue to deliver better products, bolster the economy, and create good-paying jobs for our citizens.
• Barbara Comstock, a former Republican U.S. representative, was chairwoman of the Research and Technology Subcommittee of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and also served as chairwoman of the Science and Technology Committee in the Virginia House of Delegates. She is a consultant to Google.
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