In advance of President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union address, the White House provided the public with “spoilers” prior to the speech. This is unusual; new proposals are kept secret until the last minute as a political tactic to maximize the power of the speech.
From free community college to enhanced cybersecurity protocols, a few of these issues will have direct impact on our nation’s first responders:
Cybersecurity legislation is a first step toward protecting citizens
In recent years, many political figures from both major parties argued for increased protection of our digital information. Major retailers fell victim to data breaches in 2014. In particular, the hacking of Sony Pictures in November—which led to the leaks of several high-profile films and violent threats from the suspected attackers—underscored the need for heightened cybersecurity protocols across the U.S.
According to CNN, President Obama met with bipartisan Congressional leaders prior to the State of the Union address to discuss a range of issues, including opportunities to protect national security. The commander-in-chief and the Federal Trade Commission plan to coordinate efforts on executive actions to address identity theft, Internet privacy and technology in schools.
President Obama is proposing legislation to Congress that will include several new stipulations, including modernizing law enforcement authorities to combat cybercrime. This regulation would help allocate public and private resources necessary to investigate, prevent and prosecute instances of online illegal activity.
According to Homeland Security Today, many experts welcome this as a first step toward addressing digital security. Adam Kujawa, head of Malware Intelligence at Malwarebytes, said that any inconvenience is a trade-off for protecting personal information:
“The arguments against this proposal will no doubt be what it means to the small business owner: Will the security requirements be too expensive or difficult for a small business to comply with and would that be fair to them? At the end of the day it’s not about the business, it’s about the people. If a business can’t afford to apply decent security on their networks that store private customer information, they should consider using a pen and paper.”
Dr. Mike Lloyd, CTO at security analytics company RedSeal, added that awareness of the terrain is just one of the key disciplines needed to fight a cyberwar. Organizations need to take a holistic approach, combining external warnings with internal knowledge of their own weak points.
Community-owned ISPs will bring the Internet to more citizens
President Obama unveiled his latest Internet initiatives while speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa—home to a community-owned utility that provides one of the fastest broadband services in the nation. According to The Washington Post, the White House intends to introduce legislation that will help facilitate the creation of municipal Internet services in cities that want to provide their own access to online resources.
Discussing the nature of American technology, the president criticized laws that prevent smaller start-ups with high-speed connectivity from competing with bigger Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon. Obama stated that 19 states have regulations in place that limit Americans’ access to competitive online services. In meeting with the FTC and state officials, the president hopes to push back on these outdated regulations and provide more breathing room to smaller businesses.
“When more companies compete for your broadband business, it means lower prices,” said Jeff Zients, director of the National Economic Council, as reported by The Washington Post. “Broadband is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity.”
If criticism can be addressed—some leaders fear the project will be plagued by high costs, uneven performance and privacy concerns—community-owned Internet providers can make online access more affordable and more widely adopted than is currently accomplished through a few large private ISPs. This could bring huge benefits to veterans transitioning into civilian careers, as well as other first responders whose dedication to their mission often comes without much financial reward.
Free education helps build a larger emergency response force
Perhaps the biggest announcement was a proposal to make two years of community college free, benefiting 9 million students per year. This could save full-time community college students an average of $3,800 in annual tuition, provided they earn good grades and stay on track to graduate.
The White House projects that, by 2020, 35 percent of available jobs will require a bachelor’s degree, and another 30 percent will require some college experience. By making community college available to any students willing to work for it, future employees can learn the skills they need without being buried in student debt.
For those seeking trade jobs, where an associate degree is sufficient, programs with high graduation rates will become fully funded for qualified students. Subsidies will come with a requirement by colleges to allow all credits to be transferred to four-year institutions, to encourage successful community college graduates to continue to pursue more advanced degrees.
Pew Research Center speculated that this program could help Hispanic students most, as 46 percent attend a public two-year colleges and comprise 22 percent of all community college students. Obama’s proposal would cover three-fourths of the cost of tuition, with states expected to pick up the remainder.
Thanks to the GI Bill, military veterans have long had an opportunity to get help earning a college degree. The number of veterans or their dependents using GI education has almost doubled since 2008. For other first responders, however, community college is a personal investment.
Some states and local departments have created tuition reimbursement programs, such as FASNY’s Higher Education Learning Plan (HELP), to help recruit more volunteers to fire service. The national free tuition initiative may boost emergency resources by making it more affordable to train as an EMT or other public safety worker, shifting the burden of financing this perk away from local communities.
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