Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama today doubled the number of candidates aiming not only for support in the Internet and technology community, but also for anyone else interested in maintaining a free and open Internet. Far out front, until now, was former Sen. John Edwards.
The Edwards campaign for months has been talking about Net Neutrality and telecom policy. The campaign has a fairly comprehensive platform built around the concept of “open media” that talks about issues such as keeping the Internet open and allowing interoperability for wireless devices.
Even more impressive, he sent a letter to the FCC in May as part of the proceeding to decide on rules for auctioning spectrum now held by TV stations, endorsing concepts raised by public interest groups, including PK, for ways to allow more entrepreneurs to have access to valuable spectrum.
Given the importance of the Internet to presidential campaigns, as well as to society as a whole, it was somewhat mystifying that Edwards was the only one to stake out a position. Granted, it's not the war or health insurance and it's a given that the policy issues can be dense, but it would be nice for candidates to recognize that there are serious disagreements that would call for new policies.
So it was nice to see Obama join the club with a nine-page paper on “Connecting and Empowering All Americans Through Technology and Innovation.”
He certainly hits all the high points, starting with a pledge to “Protect the Openness of the Internet.” The campaign document says: “Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.” You can't get much clearer than that. On the other hand, Obama to his credit did cosponsor the legislation by Sens. Byron Dorgan and Olympia Snowe to iinstitute a Net Neutrality regime. He just hasn't made it a big part of his campaign pitch until now.
As part of the tech platform, Obama pledged to “deploy a modern communications infrastructure,” including a platform plank that America should “lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access.” His five-point plan for accomplishing that includes: (1) A new definition for broadband. (2) Evolving universal service to support broadband deployment. (3) Maximizing use of wireless spectrum. (4) Making certain schools, libraries, households and hospitals have broadband access. (5) Encouraging public/private partnerships to deliver broadband.
Obama also endorsed the need to “update and reform” copyright and patent systems to make certain innovation and investment continue while making certain that owners of intellectual property are fairly treated. He split the difference on this one, also promising to take care of protecting intellectual property in foreign markets where counterfeit DVDs and CDs are produced.
Other parts of the plan talk about using technology to make the processes of government more transparent and to allow citizens to participate more easily than is done today. Obama also wants to strengthen enforcement of antitrust laws.
All in all, it's a dynamic, progressive platform. It would be nice if other candidates weighed in on these issues.
Full Disclosure: Public Knowledge President Gigi Sohn, in her capacity as a private citizen, contributed to the plan and has endorsed Obama's candidacy. Public Knowledge as an organization does not and will not endorse any candidate. In fact, not all of the staff agrees with her endorsement, but that's her business.