Sunday, July 22, 2007

NGA Conference / Update



Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty chat Saturday during the National Governors Association conference at the Great Lakes Campus of Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City.

Detroit Free Press

CEOs to governors: Promote schools, spread Internet access

TRAVERSE CITY -- States that educate children the best and provide broadband Internet service and other technology to the most people will do best in the competitive global economy, two of the nation's top communication executives told the nation's governors Saturday.

"The more efficient the communication, the greater the velocity of commerce," said Randall Stephenson, chief executive officer of AT&T.

He said the wireless communication boom is "achieving RPMs in commerce we never dreamed of."

Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt followed Stephenson and predicted consumers will acquire more communication devices, not fewer, as technology advances.

"I have my old cell phone, my iPhone, my Blackberry and now a camera, and I've got a Zip device that doesn't fit any of them," he said, drawing chuckles from the 35 governors and a few hundred others attending the National Governors Association conference.

Afterward, Schmidt told reporters he's pleased with Google's new operation in Ann Arbor, which he said he visited before heading to the conference at the Grand Traverse Resort.

"The energy level is phenomenal," he said, adding that with several hundred workers, it's the fastest-growing center in Google. He said the company has had no problem recruiting employees.

Schmidt said Michigan has much going for it because of its skilled workforce, adding: "The average person in Michigan is very educated. Education and motivation that comes with it are the key."

The two executives were the opening act for a three-day conference at which the theme is innovation and how it can help states and the U.S. economy.

Stephenson urged governors to eliminate as much telecommunications regulation as possible.

"Stay out of the way," he said. "The more truly competitive the market becomes, the less regulation you need."

Stephenson also said countries like India are passing the United States on some levels because of education.

"I don't think a kid in Korea wakes up in the morning wanting to study algebra any more than a kid in this country," Stephenson said. "Kids in Korea don't have a choice whether they study algebra."

He said poor urban areas are the most challenging because fewer people have access to computers or know how to use them. He said AT&T is working on a device that will cost only $100 or $200 and allow people to link to the Internet.

He also praised states that are clearing the way for more fiber optic lines.

"More fiber is a good thing," he said.

"It's a pro-fiber diet for telecommunications," quipped Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, chairwoman of the NGA.

Michael Flanagan, superintendent of public instruction for Michigan, said Stephenson may have been harsh in his assessment of public schools, but he has a point.

"Our kids will be left in the global dust if they don't reach higher levels," he said.

But the state is doing things to make that happen, Flanagan said, from raising high school graduation requirements for all students to making some changes in educating college students to produce more math and science teachers.

He also took exception to the comparison to education in places like India and China.

"A lot of CEOs don't get this issue of education in other nations," he said. "They're getting only the top kids in the schools. But it helps me remotivate and move the ball when CEOs are critical of us."

Contact CHRIS CHRISTOFF at 313-222-6609 or

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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