Obama talks about innovation, IT investments in speech

The U.S. president also calls for more efforts to improve the country's education system

Barack Obama focuses on innovation and education in his State of the Union address.

U.S. President Barack Obama called for Congress to focus on supporting innovation and support research in IT and clean energy during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night.

Obama also promised that his administration would create detailed Web sites showing how taxpayer dollars are spent and when lawmakers are meeting with lobbyists.

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The president focused much of his speech on encouraging innovation and improving the U.S. education system, although he also talked about cutting the government's budget deficit and defended health-care reform passed in Congress in early 2010. Obama called for U.S. schools to hire 100,000 new science, technology, engineering and math teachers in the coming years.

Improving the U.S. education system has been a top goal of several large technology vendors in recent years, including Microsoft, Intel and IBM.

"We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time," Obama said. "We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world."

Obama also pushed for immigration reform, saying that children of illegal immigrants educated in the U.S. and foreign students who graduate from U.S. colleges should be welcomed in the U.S. "As soon as [foreign students] attain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us," he said. "It makes no sense."

Obama also talked about continued investment in broadband networks. He didn't offer details about broadband, but seemed to refer to efforts at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to free up wireless spectrum for mobile broadband.

"Our infrastructure used to be the best, but our lead has slipped," he said. "South Korean homes now have greater Internet access than we do."

Within five years, broadband providers, with help of government, will deploy next-generation mobile broadband to 98 percent of U.S. residents, he said. Farmers in rural areas will be able to sell their crops all over the world, and firefighters will be able to download the layouts of burning buildings, he said.

Investing in broadband is "about connecting every part of America to the digital age," he added. "All these investments in innovation, education and infrastructure will make America a better place to do business and will create jobs."

Several tech groups praised Obama's speech.

"Tonight, President Obama laid out a clear, rational narrative that for America to win the future we must build a foundation of investments and policies that ensure our country’s leadership in the global economy," Rey Ramsey, president and CEO of trade group TechNet, said in a statement. "We applaud the president’s call for smart policies such as improved investments in research and development, education, clean energy and sensible tax reform to make our businesses more competitive."

TechAmerica, another trade group, also applauded the speech. “We heartily agree with the president that if we are to win the future, our nation’s focus must be on accelerating entrepreneurship, innovation, global competitiveness and job creation," Phil Bond, the group's president and CEO, said in a statement. "Much remains to be done to keep America at the cutting-edge, however."

Bond called for tax reform, a permanent research and development tax credit, broadband deployment, and improvements in cybersecurity, saying they are all "critical" to keep the U.S. competitive.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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