Cisco CEO says it’s time to regulate the tech industry and that capitalism is currently ‘broken’

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins (right) speaks at the EY Strategic Growth Forum (GeekWire Photo)

PALM DESERT, Calif. — Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins says the technology industry needs to be regulated, but that it’s going to take a new effort by the industry to build trust with regulators to make proper change.

“It needs to be regulated, for sure,” said Robbins, who was speaking Friday at the EY Strategic Growth Forum. Robbins, who leads the 77,000-person tech juggernaut, said technology is the “underlying infrastructure for the economy” and because of that it needs regulation.

“It’s no different than the criticality of the power grid or the telecommunications infrastructure or the banking systems,” said Robbins, speaking a day after Cisco’s stock sunk after the company cited global economic pressures. “The technology infrastructure today is as important as all of those things. I mean, if the Internet goes down in a country — could you imagine? But we don’t think about it the quite same way as the banking system, and so there is a need to regulate.”

Chuck Robbins (Cisco Photo)

Regulating the tech industry is no easy task, he said.

“The problem is technology is moving so quickly that I feel bad for the regulators,” he said. “Could you imagine if you are not in this every day, that’s not what you do every day and you have to try to figure out how to regulate it?”

In order to impose proper regulation — which Robbins called “super important” — he said the tech industry needs to build trust with governments to work together on key issues around privacy, data sovereignty and other issues.

“That is a real tough thing from where we are right now,” he said.

The comments echo those of other technology leaders, including Microsoft President Brad Smith who told GeekWire earlier this year that “the tech sector needs to step up and do more to address the challenges that technology is creating.” As part of that, Smith said companies need to work more closely with governments. Robbins’ remarks also come at a time when Democratic presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have called for the break-up of big tech companies.

Later in his remarks, Robbins returned to the need for tech industry cooperation and coordination with governments when asked about shifting political sentiment related to capitalism.

“I believe in capitalism, but I think the way things are working right now … it is broken,” he said. “There are too many people who are not participating, and it is about opportunity and we have to fundamentally figure out how we solve this problem.” He cited homeless families in Silicon Valley where the parents are working full time jobs, and schoolteachers who can’t afford to live in the region.

“That’s just wrong, and so we have to figure it out,” he said.

It’s not helping matters that the political climate is so polarized, but he said it’s going to take “bits and pieces” from both sides of the aisle to truly fix the problems, and likely a scenario where business and government work together.

“I think it is government with business, not government to business,” said Robbins, adding that Cisco is helping build a consortium to tackle issues related to homelessness, education, housing and hunger. “It is a complicated thing, but it is the problem of our time.”

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