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Trump's State of the Union ignores 5G, privacy, net neutrality

The president says nothing about the ways tech is changing your world. But hurrah for American rockets.

President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019.

President Trump delivers the State of the Union address in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

Getty Images

President Trump hit on a lot of subjects during his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but if you were listening for some mention of technology, you got pretty much zilch.

In a speech that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes, Trump made only a passing reference to the long-promised infrastructure plan that's been a stated priority of his administration since he took office two years ago. And he neglected to mention any other major tech issues. No 5G, no cybersecurity, no net neutrality.

"Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure," Trump said during the speech. "I know that Congress is eager to pass an infrastructure bill, and I am eager to work with you on legislation to deliver new and important infrastructure investment."

That call for bipartisanship came just a week and a half after the longest government shutdown in US history ended. On Jan. 25, Trump and Democratic leaders agreed to reopen the government for three weeks. But they haven't yet been able to agree on funding for his promised wall along the US-Mexico border -- the key issue that led to the 35-day shutdown.

What Trump did talk about were issues ranging from the economy to criminal justice and from immigration to drug prices.

And, ever so briefly, US space exploration. Trump gave a shout-out to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who was in the crowd. This July marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first time humans set foot on the moon.

"This year, American astronauts will go back to space on American rockets," Trump said.

NASA's Commercial Crew Program has enlisted Boeing and SpaceX to launch astronauts to the International Space Station from US soil after years of relying on Russian rockets.

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Infrastructure has long been considered an area of potential compromise between Democrats and Republicans. And yet there was no detailed discussion in this year's State of the Union of what an infrastructure bill would include or how Trump would pay for it.   

If any progress does get made on infrastructure legislation, it was unclear from Tuesday night's address whether there would be a place for broadband technologies and bridging the digital divide, particularly for rural Americans. Today, 34 million Americans lack an affordable and reliable broadband connection. Of these, 19.4 million live in rural areas, according to a report from the FCC using 2016 figures. 

"Bridging the rural broadband gap represents a rare opportunity for bipartisan cooperation," Richard Cullen, an executive director for advocacy group Connect Americans Now, said in a statement. "We are disappointed President Trump did not raise this critical issue that impacts millions of rural Americans every day in this evening's State of the Union Address."

Trump's speech also came amid tension in the relationship between Silicon Valley and Washington. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill may be looking to rein in tech firms, especially when it comes to security and privacy matters. Up to now, tech companies have operated with little to no government regulation or oversight.

The president has also been critical of internet companies, including Google, which he has accused of "rigging" its search results so that they return "fake news" that's critical of him.

But he made no mention of data privacy, net neutrality or other major tech industry issues that have been in the headlines over the past year.

Technology and innovation were also largely left out of last year's State of the Union speech.

In December, the White House held a roundtable "listening session" on innovation with top tech executives as part of the administration's efforts to ensure US leadership in the emerging fields ranging from 5G to AI. Administration officials said the meeting was the first of many that the White House plans to have with a wide range of companies.

Following last night's speech, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a press release emphasizing a commitment to investing in what it has called the "Industries of the Future."

"President Trump's commitment to American leadership in artificial intelligence, 5G wireless, quantum science, and advanced manufacturing," Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to the president for technology policy, said in a statement, "will ensure that these technologies serve to benefit the American people and that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come."

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