The good news is that the 2012 platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties give prominent play to Internet and Privacy issues. The bad news is that while the Democrats take a comprehensive approach to Internet policy, their online platform is also remarkably vague on the subject, whereas the Republicans are just as remarkably specific to the extent of being myopically one-sided.
The overriding generality of the Democratic Internet policy is relieved only by the militant repetition of the words cybersecurity and cyber attack a half-dozen times in the space of a 193-word segment about Cybersecurity. The Obama administration, we are told, regards “Cybersecurity threats [as] one of the most serious potential national security, public safety, and economic challenges we face.”
In sharp contrast, the GOP platform never uses the words cybersecurity or cyber attack, but does speak prominently of “Internet freedom” and “independence.” At first glance, as far as Internet policy is concerned, the two platforms thus seem the products of Superman’s Bizarro World, that comic-book planet where “Us do the opposite of all Earthly things!”. It’s the Democrats who preach defense and security while the Republicans proclaim freedom and independence.
But look more closely at the Republican definition of Internet freedom and independence. In this, the GOP is as specific as the Democrats are vague. The Republican platform defines these words in terms neither of security nor free speech, but as freedom from government regulation—most specifically, liberation from “the FCC’s net neutrality rule.” Moreover, the platform points out, the FCC was established back in 1934 to assume “jurisdiction over telecommunications formerly assigned to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which had been created in 1887 to regulate the railroads.”
The GOP argument is that the Obama administration “is trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network” and that net neutrality is really frightfully out of date—by 78 years (1934, the creation of the FCC) or even 125 years (1887, the creation of the ICC).
No wonder a party so often unapologetically science-denying and dominated by a “Tea Party” faction ideologically wedded to America’s eighteenth century origins, feels entitled to condemn as “Luddite” (yes, the word is in the GOP platform) the Obama administration’s management of the broadband spectrum.
Now let’s return to Planet Earth.
The net neutrality concept is the principle that no entity—neither the government nor Internet service providers—should be permitted to restrict consumers’ access to networks on the Internet. One might trace this to mid-nineteenth-century U.S. telegraph legislation mandating the impartial transmission of messages across any company’s lines in order of reception, so that no user is ever given priority over another. Of course, it is also true that the origin of the Internet can be traced to—oh, I don’t know—Ben Franklin flying his kite in a thunderstorm. Both, after all, involve electricity.
Who cares? The specific, modern concept of net neutrality, which the FCC now upholds, dates to “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination,” published in 2003 by Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. Today, net neutrality is a principle that is contemporary, not Luddite, and liberating, not constraining.
The GOP platform explicitly links “Internet freedom” to dumping “the FCC’s net neutrality rule.” It is undeniably true that net neutrality requires the protection afforded by government regulation, but that is the price we pay to prevent particular ISPs from owning the power to deny actual Internet freedom to certain providers and certain consumers in order to bestow it on others.
You may name a Trojan Horse “Internet Freedom” and paint it red, white, and blue, but it a Trojan horse it nevertheless remains.