Broadband, Internet Freedom & the US Presidential Election

The US presidential campaign is in full swing, and President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney are running in one of the most watched races in recent history.  Jobs, health care, Iran, Wall Street reform, energy independence and the middle class are all buzz words we will continue to hear for the next two months, but what about broadband and Internet freedom?

While the last two issues may not be a priority for most Americans, the reality here is that they are connected to all the top policy issues this year.  Full connectivity and protected online speech supports a vigorous economy and provides a space for learning and innovation.  Luckily, both Obama and Romney agree on these principles; so much so that this is the first election year both major political parties have a platform discussing Internet freedom.  But clearly the two campaigns have different approaches to these matters.  Since we’re on the topic of Internet freedom, the Obama administration supports net neutrality, the Internet Privacy Bill of Rights and Do Not Track options and came out recently against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

From the Democratic National Committee’s platform:

…The Obama administration has led the world to recognize and defend Internet freedom—the freedom of expression, assembly, and association online for people everywhere—through coalitions of countries and by empowering individuals with innovative technologies. The administration has built partnerships to support an Internet that is secure and reliable and that is respectful of U.S. intellectual property, free flow of information, and privacy. To preserve the Internet as a platform for commerce, debate, learning, and innovation in the 21st century, we successfully negotiated international Internet policymaking principles, support the current multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, and oppose the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet…

However, Romney supports less government regulation.

From the Republican National Committee’s platform:

…We will remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition, while preventing legacy regulation from interfering with new and disruptive technologies such as mobile delivery of voice video data as they become crucial components of the Internet ecosystem. We will resist any effort to shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties; the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector…

The GOP platform goes on to highlight President Obama’s lack of progress on creating universal broadband nationwide, which he promised during his 2008 campaign.

…The current Administration has been frozen in the past. It has conducted no auction of spectrum, has offered no incentives for investment, and, through the FCC’s net neutrality rule, is trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network. It inherited from the previous Republican Administration 95 percent coverage of the nation with broadband. It will leave office with no progress toward the goal of universal coverage – after spending $7.2 billion more. That hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers, and small business manufacturers need connectivity to expand their customer base and operate in real time with the world’s producers. We encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy…

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s annual broadband report, 19 million Americans still lack access to wired broadband.  However, there are many factors that continue to block universal access that might be out of Obama’s control or misunderstood, such as the FCC’s new stricter standards for kilobytes per second and understanding the difference between broadband access and broadband adoption.

“Getting to 100 percent is going to be a very difficult long-term goal, given the size of the U.S. landmass and the huge expense to reach those final couple of percentage points,” said John Horrigan of the Joint Center Media and Technology Institute to the Washington Post.  “We’re not going to close that gap in five years.”

But it seems like both Obama and Romney agree on the one issue that the Internet should not be controlled by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the United Nations’ agency in charge of telecommunications.  The ITU will be meeting in December to discuss this matter.  It is believed that the United States is against this change of hands because the countries supporting this change – mostly countries known for repressing free speech – want to use the protocol to block more Internet freedoms in their respective countries.   Those supporting the UN and ITU claim that the United States wants to keep control of cyberspace by using the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which they say is equally dangerous.

So as you can see, there are many issues on the table this election year that not only affects the American way of life, but also everyone else around the world.

Upcoming Webinar:

  • US Elections & Online Activism: Now What? – Saturday, November 10, 2012 Noon ET

The contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney is possibly the most politically divisive race in U.S. history.  How did online activism play a role in this year’s elections, and what lessons have we learned going forward?  Join the staff of Global Wire Associates and other guest speakers from both campaigns to talk about the “now what.”  Space is limited and priority will be given to current and past GWA clients.  Price: US$10. Email info[at]globalwireonline[dot]org to register.

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