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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

October 21, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Spectrum politics: Inslee, McKenna face-off

It’s not billed as a political event, but a Technology Alliance policy luncheon today includes a face-off of sorts between the state’s two gubernatorial candidates.

The event is focused on federal and state spectrum challenges, giving U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee and Attorney General Rob McKenna a chance to show their stuff on an important topic for the region’s tech industry.

“A day without broadband is a day without sunshine when it comes to the U.S. economy right now,” Inslee said in the opening presentation.

Inslee said he’s working on rules for spectrum efficiency and for reallocating broadcast spectrum through an auction process, which could be pushed ahead by the deficit Super Committee.

In the state, 40 percent of job creation is associated with the high-technology industry, which is dependent on access to spectrum, he said.

Among the successes he listed were the NoaNet, a stimulus-funded effort to extend broadband to rural areas that has connected 14,000 businesses across the Northwest. Inslee said his work to preserve unused “white space” spectrum that tech companies are interested in using for new products drew praise “out of the blue” from Microsoft’s Chief Research Officer Craig Mundie.

Inslee declined to take any swipes at McKenna, and said that spectrum issues reach across the aisle.

“There is a thing I really like about this field — it’s a place where we can be bipartisan,” he said. “That is a very highly rated virtue in the U.S. congress. I love working with Republican friends to really find the sweet spot to thread the needle and get these things done.”

McKenna recalled how his position required him to develop expertise in coffee and software.

On the latter, he’s made privacy and security one of his signature issues and built up the “high tech unit” that Gov. Gregoire first established when she was the attorney general. When McKenna called his first meeting with the unit, it turned out to be just one person.

McKenna said he’s “upgraded our capacity our capabilities” to take on these issues, hiring staff and setting up a computer lab and “honeypot” that’s used in part to attract targets to prosecute under the state’s consumer protection laws.

Washington is now the most aggressive state in pursuing computer fraud cases, second only to the FTC, McKenna said. He said the state’s showing “other states how to do the same thing.”

“If the Internet is still the wild, wild West, we want as many sheriffs out there as possible,” he said.

Asked by venture capitalist Tom Alberg about his experience working with legislators, including some who may take a “populist” view toward tech issues.

McKenna said he draws on business expertise when developing legislation and consulted with Microsoft and AOL on online safety, for instance.

McKenna said the approach has worked except for a privacy protection law applied to RFID chips. He opposed the law, in part because of its potential effect on Seattle RFID chip maker Impinj.

“We have a world leader in RFID technology right here in Fremont and I don’t want to jeopardize that,” he said.

(Alberg, by the way, was an early investor in Impinj and serves on its board of directors …)



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