Exec: Leave backbone to business
Private industry, not government, should provide Internet access, Intuit CEO says

By Jeff Smith, Rocky Mountain News
Tuesday, August 23, 2005

ASPEN - Governments are going beyond their appropriate role when developing high-speed Internet networks and other revenue-generating businesses to compete with private enterprise, a business executive said Monday.

Steve Bennett, chief executive of Intuit, a developer of such financial management software as Quicken and Turbo Tax, said the government shouldn't be directing taxpayer money to endeavors where consumer demand can be met by private companies.
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"There's no disagreement that the government must adopt new technologies to carry out its mission and objectives," Bennett said at the Aspen Summit, a communications summit sponsored by the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

But, Bennett added, "the government's role in a digital society should be very similar to its role in a bricks and mortar society."

Bennett's speech came amid a nationwide debate on the growing number of municipalities deploying broadband networks to serve their residents.

Municipalities and some consumer activists argue such networks are needed because private companies haven't done enough to provide affordable access to high-speed Internet to all citizens, particularly in poor or rural areas.

Close to home, the city of Denver recently issued a request for proposals to build a wireless broadband network covering the city. But city officials argue the network primarily would be to improve public safety and communications among city agencies and entities.

Bennett referred to the philosophy of America's forefathers that government shouldn't interfere with private enterprise and said there's a need to codify those principals into law given the potential conflicts-of-interest emerging in the new digital age. He said government-owned communications networks also can raise privacy issues and can undermine the country's foreign policies. He noted the U.S. for the last decade has been trying to persuade foreign governments to get out of government-owned communications networks.

Bennett also criticized some efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to get into e-commerce as a way to offset revenue loss, rather than focusing on becoming more efficient.

He said the government and private sector must work together to find new ways to meet public needs. He said the Amber Alert program is one example of such collaboration, as well as electronic tax filing targeted to help lower-income taxpayers.