Where the Party Platforms Stand on Internet Issues

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With less than 10 weeks to go before the election, Republicans and Democrats released party platforms outlining their visions for the future. Below is a comparison on where the parties stand on broadband adoption, net neutrality rules, spectrum auctions, and intellectual property protections.

1. Internet Freedom-

D- “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.”

R- “The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power. The Internet offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention.”

PK- While both platforms highlight “Internet freedom” as a priority and recognize its capacity for innovation, they differ on how that freedom is defined and how it should be maintained. Both parties have led and opposed efforts to expand and limit aspects of the Internet. "Internet freedom" has meant a variety of different things to different people, including freedom from government censorship and surveillance; freedom of users from intermediary control; and freedom of intermediaries from government regulation.

2. Open Internet-

D- “President Obama is strongly committed to protecting an open Internet that fosters investment innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy.”

R- “We will remove regulatory barriers that protect that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition, while preventing legacy regulation from interfering with new and disruptive technologies such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.”

PK- “Legacy regulation” is frequently used to refer to net neutrality rules enacted under the current Administration, which Republicans would overturn. 

3. Spectrum-

D- “We are finding innovative ways to free up wireless spectrum and are building a state of the art nationwide, interoperable, public safety network.”

R- “We call for an inventory of federal agency spectrum to determine the surplus that could be auctioned for the taxpayer’s benefit.

"The current Administration 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.”

PK- Although both platforms recognize the importance of wireless spectrum, the Republican platform supports the auction of public spectrum to communications companies as a revenue generator.  Republicans have tended to argue that conditions on the use of the spectrum reduces investment in infrastructure, while Democrats tend to argue that conditions are necessary to protect consumers from anticompetitive behavior by spectrum holders.

4. Broadband Adoption-

D- “We will ensure that America has a 21st century digital infrastructure – robust wired and wireless broadband capability, a smarter electrical grid, and upgraded information technology infrastructure in key sectors such as health care and education. President Obama has committed to ensuring 98 percent of the country has access to high-speed wireless broadband Internet access.”

R- “We encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy.”

“With special recognition of the role university technology centers are playing in attracting private investment to the field, we will replace the administration’s Luddite approach to technological progress with a regulatory partnership that will keep this country the world leader in technology and telecommunications.”

PK- The FCC has recently reported that broadband is not yet being deployed in a reasonable or timely fashion. 19 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband, including one-third of tribal lands. The public-private partnerships mentioned in the Republican platform include programs like Comcast’s Connect to Compete program. This program allows families to apply for low-speed discounted broadband services after showing that they meet certain criteria, such as their children being eligible for subsidized school lunches.

5. Intellectual Property-

D- “The administration is vigorously protecting U.S. intellectual property – our technology and creativity – at home and abroad through better enforcement and innovative approaches such as voluntary efforts by all parties to minimize infringement while supporting the free flow of information. Customs seizures of counterfeit drugs are up 600 percent and seizures of fake consumer safety and critical technology have increased nearly 200 percent; the Department of Justice has aggressively prosecuted the illegal overseas transfer of trade secrets.”

R- “Thus, a Republican president will insist on fully parity in trade with China and stand ready to impose countervailing duties if China fails to amend its current policies. Counterfeit goods will be aggressively kept out of the country. Victimized private firms will be encouraged to raise claims in both U.S. courts and the World Trade Organization. Punitive measures will be imposed on foreign firms that misappropriate American technology and intellectual property.”

PK- The Obama Administration has also seized domestic domain sites for indefinite periods of time under accusations of hosting infringing content. Members of both parties were also supporters of recent SOPA/PIPA legislation that was sold to Congress by the entertainment industry as a means to protect American content creators and profits. In emphasizing IP enforcement, neither party mentions the threat of overzealous enforcement impinging on free speech or technological innovation.

6. Trans Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements

D- "[We] are on track to finalizing track to finalize the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a historic high-standard agreement that will address new and emerging trade issues, lower barriers to the free flow of trade and investment, increase exports, and create more American jobs.

"Last year the President signed free trade agreements with Panama and Columbia -agreements that will significantly boost U.S. exports and support thousands of jobs here at home - while protecting labor rights, the environment, and intellectual property."

R- “A Republican President will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open rapidly developing Asian markets to U.S. products. Beyond that, we envision a worldwide multilateral agreement among nations committed to the principles of open markets, what has been called a "Reagan Economic Zone," in which free trade will truly be fair trade for all concerned.”

PK- The Trans Pacific Partnership, currently being negotiated in secret, contains a chapter on intellectual property. Leaked versions of the proposed language, and comparison with free trade agreements passed over the past several years indicate that the copyright provisions in the proposed treaty could require stricter interpretations of copyright law than is currently in U.S. law.

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