Before he set out to save the planet, Al Gore played a key role in cultivating the Internet that is often forgotten today. With the Presidential election less than two weeks away, it is instructive to look back at how properly directed government leadership can stimulate meaningful change - without spending billions of dollars.
Back in 1994, Al Gore was a newly elected Vice President with a lot of energy and a bunch of pet projects, including "Reinventing Government." As a part of his mission, Gore issued marching orders to all executive branch agencies to get a web presence by that fall. There were no excuses or exceptions accepted - every federal agency from the Consumer Products Safety Commission to the Central Intelligence Agency had to get a web site up.
I know you Millenials out there are thinking "What's the big fuss about?" But back in the Dark Ages, most ordinary people like your parents didn't even have an email address, and things like the world wide web and browsers were just getting off the ground. No home broadband either, we typically had to use 14.4 kbps dial-up modems. No, this is not a "I walked miles through the snow" tale.
Gore's commandment got a lot of government IT people worked up in a big lather, but the action ended up providing two benefits to the embryonic commercial Internet. First, it provided Internet startups with an array of "name" customers outside of the traditional university geeks and high-tech companies that had been using the 'net for email. Secondly, a lot of content appeared online that Joe Citizen could suddenly get for "free" (well, the cost of a dial-up account), ranging from IRS tax forms to SEC filings - this was a big deal.
I won't say that Gore "invented" the Internet, but through his actions, he helped fan the flames of growth.
A new administration would do well to remember that properly directed government leadership by example in technology and telecommunications is just as critical as government spending - and, it can be just as effective.