Technology & the Beltway: How Things Have Changed

Capitol Hill used to be a forest killer, a place where business was conducted via towers of paperwork, where the clack-clacking of typewriters echoed throughout the halls. Much of the work— especially for Congressional staffers — was inefficient, repetitive, boring.

Even at the dawn of the Internet era, many offices still relied on typewriters and all offices created reams of paper to function. The offices that embraced PCs early on often found that their primitive machines did little to increase efficiency or lessen the paper load.

Then — sometime around the mid-nineties — a revolution occurred: an upheaval powered by email and electronic document transfer. Suddenly, paper started to vanish. Typewriters gathered dust. Pens met paper only for signatures and correspondence with constituents.

By the time I entered my 14th term, my office was using electronic communications for just about everything. My Congressional operations were able to disperse — in fact, my Chief of Staff worked 350 miles away from Washington — and the immediacy of email allowed me to engage more rapidly with constituents. The emergence of the BlackBerrys and other smartphones only added to our efficiency.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to imagine a time when Washington dealt with paper instead of bits. But truth be told, the Beltway was slow to realize the benefits of digital culture — and unfortunately, the halls of Washington are still lagging behind the speed of innovation. While many Congressional leaders have embraced the rise of social media, only recently has attention turned to the underlining spectrum infrastructure that increasingly powers things like Twitter and Facebook.

To be fair to my former colleagues, very few were able to anticipate the mobile broadband earthquake — or the spectrum shortage it has created. But with the FCC Chairman himself warning of a coming spectrum crunch within a few years, it’s critical for Washington to break out of its traditional slow-footing and act quickly to catch up with technology. The innovation and the billions in wireless network investment now needed to meet the ever growing demand for wireless services are far too critical for our country’s future to be slowed down by the molasses of regulations and process.

It took a while, but Washington eventually awoke to the opportunities of the Internet age. For America to continue to lead in this new mobile era, we can’t afford further delays. After all, who knows what’s coming next?

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