Thank you for your warm reception. I'm honored that you have asked me to join you as you meet in convention for the last time before the year 2000. The advantage of being chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is the extent to which my responsibilities involve me in communications issues that emerge at the hyper-speed of cyberspace. There is, I assure you, no more challenging experience in Congress.
Were I not privileged to be in this position, these extraordinarily interesting and complex issues would be lost on someone who graduated fifth from the bottom at the Naval Academy. Classes that dealt with such arcane subjects as ships boilers once proved a great challenge to me. You can see how fortunate I am to be exposed to many of the galvanizing issues of a revolution that has already proven to be as historically important as the industrial revolution. I surely don't have as thorough an understanding of these issues as all of you do, but I recognize their importance to the future of my children, my country and the world. And that recognition is a great blessing for a man of my years who still hopes to acquire a little wisdom while I can still put it to good use.
Your industry grasps the sweep of this revolution. You are its pathfinders. In the years since cable television service began, you have experienced an astonishing series of technological advances. From twelve analog channels to hundreds in digital, from microwave hops to satellite transmission, from automated local originations to cable modem service.
Cable has adroitly used technological change to expand our choices in television entertainment. You have succeeded beyond anyone's expectations and you have challenged the traditional basis of government regulation of mass media. Cable's multi-channel video capability has undercut the scarcity rationale that supports much broadcast regulation.
But the tempo of change in the past pales in comparison to the changes that digital technology and the appearance of advanced high-speed Internet service are poised to usher in. The multi-channel video pastimpressive as it isis but prologue to the Internet future.
Let me give you an example of what I mean. Low bit-rate video streaming and smart digital devices will soon enable people to call up virtually any kind of video programming they wish, whenever they wish to see it - on TV, on PCs or on hand held units. This service will be complemented by Internet-based wireless telephony, with Internet-ready wireless phones just around the corner.
Advanced Internet-based digital technology challenges us to rethink the way government currently regulates electronic media. Human progress made possible by new technologies should be confined only by the limits of our imagination. Unfortunately, we are still constrained by government policies that seek to control our advance rather than facilitate it. Just as the communications industry is remaking itself to meet the needs of a new century, government must reform itself, from dictator to steward, from regulator to referee, from paternalism to partnership.
The only thing that can slow the rapid pace of technological change is government intrusion. At this moment, special interests in Washington conspire to rein in growth and opportunity for their own competitive advantage. As most of you know, I don't believe in false competition. I am and will remain unyielding in my determination to encourage a wide-open, competitive telecommunications market where there are abundant choices, and where consumers and not bureaucrats pick winners and losers.
By the year's end, cable will have made high-speed cable modem service available to twice as many households as in 1998. Moreover, your deployment of high-speed Internet service is providing such a jump-start to other competitors that within two years the number of households subscribing to these services is expected to increase over tenfold.
Given the fact that one dollar invested in broad band infrastructure development produces three dollars in GDP growth, your deployment of high-speed Internet connections is an engine for tremendous economic growth. But that isn't all it does. In a much more fundamental and profound way, the proliferation of advanced Internet-based technologies is changing the way we live in and learn from the world around us.
I've lived through some pretty exciting times, but this is the most wonderful time to be alive. Information and capital move around the globe with lightening speed and at costs that shrink by the day, breaching the economic and political walls of the Cold War. Our principles of political and economic freedom have become the creed of many societies that had long lived in the shadow of tyranny.
Trade barriers are withering, markets are opening, more ideas, innovations and entrepreneurs are competing in the marketplace through a unifying communications network. The global economy and borderless competition are defining this new age. Maximizing this opportunity as a force for good demands American leadership. It requires that along with trade goods and services we export our values; and that we regard our principles as the most important information we have to communicate.
If America is to lead the technological revolution and use it as a great force for good, we must turn our hands to the most fundamental work of a successful society - educating our children. We aren't doing that as well as we should. Forty million Americans can't fill out a job application or read a menu in a restaurant much less a computer menu. High tech firms are begging for well trained, well-educated workers. A recent survey showed American high school students near the bottom worldwide in math and science and dead last in physics. America will remain neither prosperous nor proud unless we make the reforms necessary to rescue our education system from the disrepair it has fallen into.
The people most responsible for failing to prevent the decline of American educational standards are those of us privileged to be America's political leaders. The state of education is far too important to continue using as a partisan wedge issue. But that is what we do - both parties, and we need to knock it off now. When partisan ambitions take precedence over the good of our children, we squander their birthright as Americans; their opportunity to live better, more fulfilling lives than their parents.
Republicans have to acknowledge that there is a role for the federal government, not in issuing one-size-fits-all bureaucratic mandates, but by serving as a clearinghouse to share with states what is and is not working for students across the country and overseas.
It is important that we have a federal bully pulpit to encourage states and cities to improve local standards. But we shouldn't spend all our federal education money to pad government payrolls in Washington. We should insist that at least ninety cents of every federal dollar is sent to local communities to be used for purposes that local educators are in the best position to prioritize.
We should help parents finance their children's education. Last year, President Clinton vetoed a bill that would have helped families finance their children's education by opening tax-free education savings accounts. Republicans have opposed innovative ways to support school districts in desperate straits. And Democrats continually refuse to accept that competition breeds excellence in education no less than in the telecommunications industry. It's time to democratize educational choice. Today, families who have the means can send their children to the school that provides the best education. Middle and lower-income families should enjoy that same freedom. If one of the aims of education is to prepare children to enter an economy in which excellence is forged through competition, shouldn't their schools share the same principle? It is long past time for a broad national test of school vouchers.
Charter schools that feature a disciplinary specialty, operate free of regulatory shackles, and where enrollment is not defined by geography but by excellence were once considered a threat to the educational status quo. Today they are competing and thriving. Rather than lose students to charter schools, public schools must and will improve. That's competition, and as in every industry, the consumer is the ultimate beneficiary.
I would like to recognize a very special person with us today, a pioneer in the charter school movement and other educational reforms, Arizona's Superintendent of Public Instruction, Lisa Graham-Keegan. To me and a great many Arizona parents she is an American hero. Lisa, please stand up.
Republicans should also recognize the urgent necessity of paying teachers salaries that are commensurate with the invaluable service they provide. It is unconscionable that a bad politician is paid more than a good teacher. But Democrats must agree that pay should be merit-based, and that teachers should be periodically tested for competence by local authorities. By all means, we should reward good teachers. They have answered one of the highest callings in our society, and they should be honored for the sacrifices they make on our children's behalf. But we should also weed out problem teachers who have lost the desire to teach or who have failed to improve their teaching skills in this high tech age.
Teachers who refuse to demonstrate their competency, are probably not competent to teach.
Every child in every classroom deserves a teacher who is qualified and enthusiastic about teaching.
Some people just aren't meant to be teachers, and we should help them find another line of work.
Every child in America should have access to the technological wonders of our age, and I strongly support wiring all of our schools to the Internet. I commend the cable industry's contributions to this effort. The Internet is a powerful learning tool, responsive, interactive, and up-to-date. It can transcend the boundaries of geography, age, nationality and economic status that persist in dividing people.
The advent of advanced Internet-based learning technologies demands that we reconsider fundamental assumptions about our current educational system. New technology is going to change the learning process completely. In the years before computersthe process of learning was a largely teacher-dependent. Knowledge was accumulated in a mostly communal effort, in step with the maturity and skills of the students comprising the class.
Today, however, Internet-based learning is much different. Children can find information instantly with the click of a mouse. The good news is that the Internet can expose young people to subjects that increase their intellectual maturity so that they can advance apace with their potential. The bad news is that it can expose children to material that overwhelms their emotional maturity. And, perhaps most troubling, the Internet can provide a refuge for the most disaffected and a repository for expressions of alienation and rage.
One of our great challenges will be using the Internet as an educational tool, while protecting children from inappropriate material. Meeting that challenge will require the best efforts of families, the industry and all of us. As a first step, Congress should pass legislation to promote the use of Internet filtering technology.
The advent of new learning technology must be complemented by the advent of new attitudes towards education. It will be increasingly more important for adults to give children perspective rather than information, vision rather than facts and context rather than content. And that in turn presupposes an openness to rethinking what schools should be allowed to do and what parents should be expected to do.
In the end, however, the future of educationthe future of our kidsisn't in the halls of Congress, or in the labyrinths of educational bureaucracies, orfor that matterin a computer. It's in the classroom, at school, in the local community, and most importantly at the kitchen table.
The home is the first and most important Department of Education.
Nor will technology invent new truths for our children to learn or better principles for them to live by than the ones we were raised to uphold. Communicating the values of democracy and the virtues of good people must still be done parent to child, teacher to student, offered with love, and affirmed by our example and the example of all community and national leaders. The most important lesson we can teach any child is the happiness derived from serving a cause greater than self-interest.
I often ask young Americans at the start of their adult lives to take up a new challenge, a new patriotic challenge, to join together to defeat the cynicism that so many Americans, especially the young, feel about public life, and to help restore to Americans a sense of noble purpose. This is such an extraordinary time to be alive. Yet cynicism and boredom deny young people the conviction that there is a purpose beyond materialism to being an American. To encourage them to be patriots, we must first convince them that there are great causes left to serve.
My father's generation fought the depression and World War Two. My generation fought the Cold War. They were noble causes that gave even the most obscure lives historical importance. There are great causes waiting our service today. Employing new technology to help educators eliminate a two-tiered society of haves and have nots is a great cause. And I commend all of you for your efforts toward that end.
When I was a young man, I thought glory was the highest ambition, and all glory was self-glory. But no more. For in a difficult moment later in life, I learned how dependent I was on others, but that neither they nor the cause we served made any claims on my identity. On the contrary, they gave me a larger sense of myself. Nothing is more liberating in life than to fight for a cause larger than yourself; something that encompasses you, but is not defined by your existence alone. If we teach are children only that truth, we will have taught them everything they need to know to be happy.
We should use every resource we have to recall them to the faith that has made America the greatest force for good on earth. Let us prove once again that people who are free to act in their own interests will conceive their interests in an enlightened way, and will gratefully accept the obligation of freedom to make of our power and wealth a civilization for the ages - a civilization in which all people share in the promise of freedom.