China, business groups, experts push Biden administration for digital policy

(Reuters) – The Biden administration needs to develop an aggressive, coherent digital policy to counter China’s growing technological power, industry groups and former U.S. officials say.

The White House should increase broadband access in the United States, help U.S. companies sell abroad and take the lead on global data and technology policy worldwide – or risk U.S. tech companies being overtaken by Beijing, they say.

“The Biden administration must seize this moment to launch a comprehensive, whole-of-government digital strategy, providing good jobs for workers sidelined by automation and upgrading U.S. competitiveness,” the American Leadership Initiative (ALI), a think tank led by former U.S. trade negotiator Orit Frenkel, said in a report to be published on Thursday.

The report follows a Jan. 27 recommendation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the biggest U.S. business lobby, urging Washington to partner with like-minded governments and the tech industry to set global tech standards.

Business groups and others are pressing for a reset of U.S. efforts to counter China’s tech prowess in areas like artificial intelligence, which they say were poorly coordinated and overly politicized under former President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration is reviewing Trump’s approach toward China on trade, technology and other areas.

One critical step, ALI said, would be to set up an “Office of Global Digital Policy” at the White House, which would work more closely with U.S. allies.

ALI’s report, based on six months of meetings with experts, business leaders, academics and elected officials, including Antony Blinken, now U.S. Secretary of State, includes dozens of specific recommendations including expanded access to broadband, connected devices, digital training and education to address existing racial, socioeconomic and geographic disparities.

“Forty million Americans do not have reliable internet service, or none at all, and among low-income households, 30% don’t have a smart phone,” Frenkel, a former General Electric Co executive, told Reuters.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission estimates it would cost up to $80 billion to achieve universal broadband.

Frenkel said the effort could be part of an infrastructure investment plan that Biden officials plan to unveil later this year after securing passage of a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

The White House had no immediate comment on the proposals.

ALI also called for a “Digital Marshall Plan” that would provide export financing and support for U.S. companies competing against Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and other Chinese technology providers abroad, Frenkel said, estimating the cost at around $60 billion.

Frenkel said she witnessed China’s aggressive push to sell its technology while still at GE, noting it raised critical security concerns. Chinese technology also gave developing countries more refined tools to monitor and censor their populations, she said.

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