President Obama views Washington policymaking from a wide lens that doesn't distinguish between individual lobbying communities or committee jurisdictions on Capitol Hill. His State of the Union call for more investment in infrastructure had a decidedly high-tech feel. He said he wants to connect the nation through high-speed rail and high-speed wireless connections. His ideas about infrastructure span the transportation and telecommunications sectors, and they touch on all of the business community in terms of job creation. For Obama, it doesn't matter that transportation and telecommunications firms are subjected to different government regulations or that traditionally, they answer to a different set of lawmakers in Congress.
Still, it's an inspiring vision. Some thinkers argue that investing in telecommunications is the next logical step in the public transportation and utility system. Certainly, the administration's efforts to blanket the country with Internet access carry echoes of earlier presidents who built interstate highway systems or extended electricity throughout the country. Besides, doesn't it just make sense to invest in high-tech solutions anyway, be it NextGen air traffic control or wireless sensors that gauge traffic lights according to congestion patterns?
But does the vision clash with reality? Isn't it hard enough to win support for basic infrastructure like highway repair or bridge supports? How do traditional transportation companies that are oriented toward government dollars work together with private-sector telecom companies that put in the lion's share of investment towards Internet access? Is Obama's vision of a totally connected nation -- through rail and Internet -- a bit too futuristic? If so, what needs to happen in government and in the private sector to make it a reality?