Whatever the final results of this election night, nothing will be more shocking or sad for Public Knowledge and me personally then the defeat of Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va), the current Chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology & the Internet. Rep. Boucher, widely recognized as one of the most tech-savvy and intelligent members of Congress, has long been an advocate for consumers on a wide variety of communications and intellectual property issues.
Public Knowledge owes a debt of gratitude to Rep. Boucher for many reasons. First and foremost, he has been the best friend of fair use on Capitol Hill. In 2002, 2003 & 2007, he introduced legislation to allow consumers to break digital locks for lawful purposes – a fair use exception to the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Milennium Copyright Act. And while the odds against that legislation passing were always great, Boucher understood the symbolic importance of standing up for consumers’ rights to use technology lawfully. As important, he served as a moderating force both on the House Energy & Commerce and Judiciary Committees against those many members of Congress willing to give large media companies virtually everything on their copyright wish lists. Whenever I testified in front of the generally hostile Judiciary Committee, I know I could count on Rick Boucher and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to come to my rescue and ask tough questions of the copyright maximalists.
Rep. Boucher was also a good friend to Public Knowledge and its goals during his two-year chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Communications, Technology & the Internet. He weighed in on behalf of consumers in urging the FCC to promote competition in the market for cable set-top boxes. He had the right instincts in working to fix the broken Universal Service Fund and protect consumer privacy online. And while PK might have preferred that he be a stronger advocate for network neutrality, he did not interfere with FCC efforts and those of Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Henry Waxman (D-CA), and indeed was sympathetic to our calls for open Internet principles to be applied to wireless Internet access providers.
Above all, two things stand out for me in the 9+ years I’ve had the pleasure of working with Rick Boucher. The first are the conversations/debates I, my staff and colleagues had with him. Rapid fire, back and forth, it was clear he knew the law, the policy and the technology as well or better than you did. The second was his willingness to meet with me and my staff at any time. Though I am a mere public interest advocate, Rick Boucher’s door was always open, and he was extremely generous with his time, even after he became subcommittee chair.
So Public Knowledge and I will miss Rick Boucher terribly. It is a loss for us, for technology policy and for the country.