[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[February 26, 1998]
[Pages 295-298]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Technology '98 Conference in San Francisco
February 26, 1998

    Thank you very much. I also want to thank whoever turned the lights 
on. [Laughter] When Sandy and I first came 
out, you were all in the dark, and the lights were very bright. And I 
thought there was something rather anomalous about my coming to a high-
tech conference and you being in the dark. [Laughter]
    Actually, I had to fight with the Vice President to see who would get to come here today. Here's a guy who 
lives and breathes to talk about teraflops and gigabytes. But I pulled 
rank. [Laughter] And so here we are.
    Thank you, Sandy, for your leadership 
and your kind remarks, and thank you for your friendship and your wise 
counsel. I'm very grateful.
    I am delighted to be here. In many ways, I think my trip here today 
would be sort of like a President going to Pennsylvania in the 1890's to 
see the people who first struck oil, or transformed iron ore into steel, 
the people who built our great industrial-revolution America, for you 
have mined the myriad possibilities of the silicon chip and, likewise, 
have transformed America.
    For those of us, like Congresswoman Pelosi 
and others who serve in the National Government, it's a very interesting 
challenge trying to assess where we are, where we're going, make the 
right decisions, and do it in a way that enables us to make the most of 
all this change while being true to our most fundamental values.
    These are good times for America. Sandy talked about it. We are 
almost now up to 15 million new jobs in the last year and one month. We 
have the lowest unemployment in 24 years; the lowest crime rate in 24 
years; the lowest welfare rolls in 27 years; the lowest inflation in 30 
years; we're about to have our first balanced budget in 30 years; the 
highest homeownership in the history of America. These are good times.
    The economic strategy that we have embraced, to balance the budget 
but to invest more in our people and their future and to trade more 
around the world, is working. But I think everyone who has studied this 
economy believes that at the dawn of a new century the strength of our 
economy, the health and prosperity of our people, indeed, the very 
security of our Nation will depend more than ever on the scientific and 
technological revolution that so many of you have helped to set in 
    Today, over 4 million Americans work in technology-related 
industries, earning 70 percent above average incomes. There are 70 new 
companies a week that start here in northern California alone in high-
tech areas. There are new industries, biotechnology, super computers. 
But some of the most profound revolutions have occurred in old 
industries. Indeed, a great deal of information technology research and 
development is taking place in real estate, in services, in wholesale 
and retail trade, in construction, in transportation. The Ford Taurus 
that you drive today has more computer power than the Apollo 11 did that 
Neil Armstrong took to the Moon. It's an interesting time.
    I came today to talk about what we can do to build on this progress 
by, in particular, promoting and expanding the fastest growing social 
and economic community in history: the Internet. Ten years ago, it was 
still the province of scientists, an obscure project developed by the 
Defense Department. Five years ago, the World Wide Web barely existed; I 
think there were about 50 sites. Today, there are 1 1/2 million new 
webpages created every day, 65,000 every hour. This phenomenon has 
absolutely staggering possibilities to democratize, to empower people 
all over the world. It could make it possible for every child with 
access to a computer to stretch a hand across a keyboard, to reach every 
book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever 

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    The next big step in our economic transformation, it seems to me, is 
the full development of this remarkable device and the electronic 
commerce it makes possible. One of the things that I have focused on 
very much lately is with the unemployment rate at 4.7 percent and the 
inflation rate very low and stable, the question arises from all 
conventional economic analysis, can we continue to grow robustly without 
new inflation? The answer is, if we're productive enough and we have 
enough technological advances, we probably can.
    The second thing is, can we grow and finally extend the benefits of 
this explosion of enterprise to the isolated communities and people who 
have not yet felt this remarkable economic upsurge, the inner-city 
neighborhoods, the remote rural areas? I am convinced that the answer to 
both those questions can be yes if, but only if, we maximize wisely the 
potential of our technological revolution.
    A new study, soon to be released by our working group on electronic 
commerce, documents the remarkable growth of the Internet. Within a 
single year Amazon.com, an on-line bookstore, increased its sales nearly 
10 times selling 6 1/2 million books in 1997. In a year's time, Internet 
airline ticket sales nearly tripled and is expected to grow sixfold, to 
$5 billion a year, by the year 2000. By 2002, electronic commerce 
between businesses in the United States alone will exceed $300 billion. 
And of course, as with everything on the Internet, that is just the 
    This explosion of real commerce has the potential to increase our 
prosperity, to create more jobs, to improve the lives of our people, and 
to reach into areas that have not yet felt prosperity. But it raises new 
and serious issues as well: How can we further its growth and foster its 
magnificent freedom without allowing it to be used as a tax haven that 
drains funds our States and cities need to educate our children and make 
our streets safe?
    Thirty thousand separate taxing authorities in the United States--
I'll say that again, there are 30,000 separate taxing authorities in the 
United States--all struggling to come to grips with this phenomenon, 
with only their existing old tax methods to apply to a very new world. 
There should be no special breaks for the Internet, but we can't allow 
unfair taxation to weight it down and stunt the development of the most 
promising new economic opportunity in decades.
    I think America should adopt a moratorium on discriminatory taxation 
so that a bipartisan commission of elected officials, business leaders, 
consumers, and representatives of the Treasury Department can carefully 
study the matter and come to a resolution. Therefore, I support the 
``Internet Tax Freedom Act'' now before Congress, because it takes into 
account the rights of consumers, the needs of businesses, and the 
overall effect of taxation on the development of Internet commerce. The 
legislation does not prevent State and local governments from applying 
existing taxes to electronic commerce, as long as there is no 
discrimination between an Internet transaction and a traditional one. It 
does give us time to work through what is a very, very complex issue.
    I'm committed to listening to the concerns of the Governors, the 
mayors, other officials and businesses, and to achieve a consensus that 
will establish rules that are progrowth, nondiscriminatory, but will 
provide appropriate revenues our communities need to meet vital public 
purposes. I think this legislation will have the support of both 
parties. And I look forward to working with many of you to pass it and, 
along the way, to reach a greater consensus in our Nation about how to 
go forward from here.
    To ensure that electronic commerce can flourish across international 
borders, I've also asked the Secretary of the Treasury to work with our 
international trading partners to block new or discriminatory taxes on 
global electronic commerce. Already, we've fought off a bit tax, a tax 
on every unit of data consumers download from the Internet. And we're 
working with the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development to 
prevent such discrimination and streamline tax administration in 
    There are other ways our Nation must work to harness the potential 
of the Internet. We want to work with you to meet our goal of connecting 
every classroom and library in America to the Internet by the year 2000. 
Just this morning in Washington, Vice President Gore announced that we have now connected nearly 80 percent of 
our schools to the Internet; more than twice as many as were connected 
in 1994 when we had the first NetDay here in California under the 
leadership of many of you in this room. He also announced new private 
and nonprofit efforts to connect underserved communities to 21st century 
technology, bringing us closer to ensuring that a child from the poorest

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inner city, the most isolated rural area, or the most affluent suburbs 
all will have the same access to the same universe of knowledge in the 
same real time.
    We want to work with you to make certain that cyberspace is a 
healthy place for our children in a way that does not overregulate the 
Internet or stifle the growth of electronic commerce. We will work with 
you to make sure that consumer protections and laws that promote 
competition remain strong in the new economy at the dawn of the new 
century, just as we built competition into the old economy at the turn 
of the last century.
    We will work with you to make sure that the Internet never becomes a 
vehicle for tax evasion or money laundering. We will work with you to 
build a new Internet that operates up to a thousand times faster than it 
does today. My balanced budget includes $110 million to develop the next 
generation Internet in partnership with leading U.S. high-tech companies 
and universities. Today I'm pleased to announce new National Science 
Foundation grants that will connect 29 more universities to help create 
the next generation Internet, bringing the total now to 92. And we will 
work with you in every way we can to lift our eyes to the remarkable 
potential of the Internet for learning, for the arts, as a means to 
spread our shared values.
    The First Lady and I launched the White House Millennium Program to 
help our Nation honor our past and imagine our future as we come to this 
new millennium. In the State of the Union Address, I announced a public-
private partnership to preserve our historic treasures for future 
generations and to help make them more accessible to more Americans, 
including the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the 
Constitution, the Star-Spangled Banner. Putting our treasures on-line 
will help us to do just that. Our balanced budget will make 3 million 
objects from the Smithsonian Institution, the National Archives, and 
other collections available on the Internet by the year 2000. And 
together with the private sector, we'll help museums and libraries and 
communities all around our country to do the same thing.
    Two weeks ago, thanks to Sun Microsystems, we launched the first-
ever cybercast from the White House, when historian Bernard 
Bailyn from Harvard gave the first in a 
series of our Millennium Lectures. We started this special program to 
bring some of our greatest thinkers, writers, historians, and scientists 
to the White House to talk about our Nation's history and our future at 
this pivotal time. Next week, the world-renowned physicist Stephen 
Hawking will be with us to talk about 
human knowledge in the 21st century and the innovations it will create. 
I hope you will join us on-line at www.whitehouse.gov. [Laughter] We'll 
be there. And this time, we will have the capacity not to shut down like 
we did last time.
    This is a truly exciting time to be an American. The qualities of 
the digital revolution, its dynamism, its curiosity, its flexibility, 
and its drive, they're at the core of our character and the legacy of 
our original revolution. By once again adding the fuel of interest to 
the fire of genius, as Abraham Lincoln once said, our country is leading 
the world to new heights of economic and human development.
    I ask you to think about these things together. The economic 
development is largely the means by which we seek to expand the quality 
of human life, not only for the people who directly participate in it 
but for those who benefit indirectly.
    As I think more and more about a new century and a new millennium, I 
also think more and more about how we began. All of you are here today 
committed to an incredible entrepreneurial way of life and work as the 
descendants of a group of people who came here believing that free 
people would nearly always get it right. They came fleeing societies 
where people like you, with good ideas in the 18th century, were subject 
to absolute, arbitrary, abusive government power. And they forged a 
Declaration of Independence, a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights based 
on the simple idea that freedom worked better and that people ought to 
be free to pursue happiness within the context of a more perfect Union.
    If you look at the whole history of this country, that's what it has 
been about. You think about every single period of change and crisis, 
whether it was the Civil War, the industrial revolution, the civil 
rights era, or the present information age, and the advances have come 
when we have deepened the meaning of freedom and expanded it to more 
people, widened the circle of opportunity and prosperity, and found a 
way across all of our myriad diversities to be a stronger, more united 
    That is really what you are a part of, to a degree that would have 
been unimaginable to

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the people who founded this Nation. But I believe it would make them 
very, very proud.
    Thank you for what you do and for what, together, we will do to make 
our country stronger in this new era. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:30 a.m. in the ballroom at the Ritz 
Carlton Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Sandy Robertson, chairman, 
Robertson Stevens.