President Clinton talks about the iPhone, newspapers, broadband

On the 25th anniversary of .com, he describes how he gets information

WASHINGTON -- In a forum today marking the 25th anniversary of the first .com registration, former President Bill Clinton spoke about his favorite devices, the grim outlook for newspapers and the need for policies to improve Internet access.

It was a wide-ranging assessment by Clinton, whose administration (1993-2001) played a largely hands-off role when it came to e-commerce. The forum was organized by VeriSign Inc. to mark the anniversary of the March 15, 1985 registration of Symbolics.com, a computer company. The anniversary event ranged from sweeping to whimsical, all of which characterized Clinton's talk.

Clinton offered a grim take on mainstream media when asked by VeriSign CEO Mark McLaughlin about his favorite Web sites. In response, he ticked off several political sites, including Politico, The Daily Beast and Huffington Post, as well as a few "right wing ones" to get both sides of the political debate. . But Clinton said that many of the political sites "don't have to do what a newspaper does every day," which is why he is "really worried about our ability to maintain any newspapers" or anything that "serves as a standard of objectivity."

"It's almost impossible given the economics of the modern world for newspapers to continue...," said Clinton.

Asked by VeriSign CEO Mark McLaughlin what his favorite device is, Clinton named the iPhone, "because I can get so much stuff on it." The former president also has a Blackberry, but no e-reader.

"I don't even own a Kindle, yet," said Clinton, who still prefers physical books.

As for his administration's role in shaping Internet policy, Clinton said that its most important discovery was the realization "that this was going to be the dominant mode of the communication in the 21st Century," he said. "Realizing (the Internet's) importance led to everything else," he said.

The Clinton administration set out a federal role for the Net in a 1997 report, "Framework for Global Electronic Commerce." Its overarching conclusion: that "for electronic commerce to flourish, the private sector must continue to lead."

Even so, he said that the broadband access framework proposed by the Federal Communications Commission may be needed. The deregulation approach helped the U.S. move ahead quicker than some other nations, "but a lot of our competitors now have better cell phone coverage than we do because they had some regulation to guarantee a framework of universal access.

"In general, our entrepreneurial approach is the best one," said Clinton, but "there are limits to it and sometimes we need a framework to make sure the markets can continue to grow by having more universal access. So I'm hoping the FCC proposals will do that."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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