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IT policy can spur economic growth, industry says

Representatives from the information technology sector urge lawmakers on Capitol Hill to integrate IT policies into energy and economic legislation.

WASHINGTON--Congress may be looking for some quick ways to prop up a stumbling economy as it heads into a lame-duck session this week, but members of the information technology sector are urging lawmakers to keep the bigger picture in mind as they craft economic and energy legislation.

As staffers on Capitol Hill know all too well, the growth of technology has created an economy increasingly reliant on energy consumption, as BlackBerrys, laptops, and other devices become everyday necessities. The right policies, however, can make IT growth a part of the energy solution rather than the problem, IT representatives said Monday at a forum, in a congressional office, hosted by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.

Information technology could reduce the expected growth in carbon emissions by one third over 10 years, said Daniel Castro, a senior analyst with the ITIF.

Link Hoewing, assistant vice president of Internet and technology issues for Verizon, tells an audience on Capitol Hill on Monday about the ways IT can reduce energy consumption. Stephanie Condon/CNET News

Information and communication technology has "great promise in driving economic growth as well as reducing emissions," added David Isaacs, director of government affairs for Hewlett-Packard, but "policy should drive these results."

The ITIF laid out policy proposals to spur short-term economic growth as well as long-term IT innovation in its October report, "Timely, Targeted, Temporary and Transformative: Crafting an Innovation-Economics Based Stimulus Package." The proposals include providing a tax credit for investments in health IT, a tax credit of 50 percent for investments in energy efficient equipment, and providing $735 million for computers and broadband for low-income families with children.

Congress can also encourage businesses to include IT solutions in their green energy policies by incorporating IT policies into cap and trade legislation, which is sure to be drafted next year, said Link Hoewing, assistant vice president of Internet and technology issues for Verizon.

Industry representatives at the forum also encouraged legislation creating more tax incentives for ICT, broadband deployment, and utility decoupling, among other things.

The government can encourage efficient energy use across the economy by leading by example, they said. The General Services Administration, Castro pointed out, set a goal of getting 50 percent of its eligible workforce to telework at least one day a week, thereby reducing the energy consumed commuting and at the office.

Cisco has already been working with governments at the municipal level to integrate smart technologies into the cities' infrastructure, said Jennifer Sanford, senior manager of international trade and environment, global policy, and government affairs for Cisco. She said the company has so far worked with Amsterdam, Seoul, and San Francisco city governments.

In San Francisco, for instance, Cisco worked with city officials to enable the bus system to wirelessly send out information about bus locations.

"One of the main reasons people don't use public transportation is they find it unreliable," Sanford said. "Now people can find out if a bus is near them and if public transportation is a viable option."

While President-elect Barack Obama has said he intends to include investments in clean-energy technologies within an economic stimulus package, there are policy pitfalls lawmakers will need to avoid, speakers on Monday said.

Green technology procurement standards should not focus on creating component efficiency that could possibly cause holistic inefficiency, warned Matt Krupnick, government affairs policy counsel for Dell. Additionally, policies that do not harmonize with policies elsewhere in the world may lead to less-than-optimal results.

"We're a global company with global sales," Krupnick said. "When we're designing to standards like Energy Star, if those are different than what Australia does, then we need to design to the lowest common denominator."