27 Mar U.S. risks third-world status in key technology
After nearly three weeks traveling throughout Europe, I can’t help making the obvious comparisons between technology implementations in the U.S. and in various European countries.
I’ve written before about Wi-Fi. In the U.S., you can hop onto a Wi-Fi network just about anywhere, and there is relative good will about sharing bandwidth. Here in Europe, with a few exceptions, Wi-Fi is not public and not inexpensive. I’m sending this report from a relatively “cheap” Wi-Fi network, charged out at about $18 per day.
If that doesn’t sound cheap to you, keep in mind that a “roaming” T-mobile subscriber such as myself pays 18 cents a minute to use the T-mobile wireless connections that are as ubiquitous in the Starbucks coffee houses in London and Paris as they are in the U.S. The notable exceptions I found were at the Vienna and Tel Aviv airports, where Wi-Fi was available and free. Overall, though, give a point to the U.S. for better and more affordable Wi-Fi networks.
U.S. cedes a point to Europe, though, around all things mobile. In Europe, the phones are cooler, the networks are better, the services are richer and the plans are more flexible. U.S. carriers lose another point for the usurious roaming charges they heap upon their customers who dare to venture aboard. May Skype bite into their greedy bottom lines deep and soon.
These, though, are common gripes perhaps because they are so evident to the U.S. business traveler abroad. Here’s one that is less obvious, and more worrisome. Today, I met a company that plunged me into a deep depression over the state of American technology implementation, not necessarily because U.S. companies can’t deliver the technology, but because U.S. officials don’t have the political will to do so.
Scytl is a Barcelona-based software company that holds worldwide patents on the cryptographic technology to insure secure electronic voting. The company has partnered with the likes of HP, Accenture and Oracle to bring electronic voting – either at the polling place or online – to regions throughout Latin America and Asia Pacific. (Interestingly, the company also has a huge market opportunity in non-governmental voting activities, including shareholder meetings and union elections.)
Scytl spun out of the university research program that produced the first Ph.D. thesis on e-voting security. Perhaps not coincidently, the company took root only months after the 2000 U.S. presidential elections in Florida, recognizing that its cryptographic technology and electronic voting software would have averted the fiasco that was the month-long recount in the Sunshine State.
Ironically, however, it’s not likely that this technology will see action in U.S. elections any time soon. Even as our government sends monitors to observe voting and ensure “free and fair elections” in emerging nations around the world, our own voting system is engulfed in so much controversy that innovative companies such as Scytl are glad to steer clear of the U.S. market and focus instead on other opportunities. “We’re too small to get caught up in the politics,” said Pere Valles, Scytl’s CEO, adding that even large IT companies don’t have the stomach for the publicity that might come were they to make forays into the U.S. market.
Meanwhile, Scytl presses, finding traction in markets where the company’s technology ensures that complex ballots are properly submitted or where travel to local polls is burdensome or even dangerous. There’s plenty of market to serve in the rest of the world, Valles assures me.
Until such time as the mostly empty arguments that surround electronic voting and the controversy and finger pointing around the party affiliations of providers, U.S. voters will have to suffer with third-world voting technology. All the while third-world countries are leveraging e-voting technology to ensure freer, fairer and more honest elections.
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