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Obama platform: 'Open' internet, strong IP protection

Democrats duck specific net neutrality pledge

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The Democratic Party has published its platform for the coming election with a nod to net neutrality rules, support for tougher IP protection, and a commitment to get 98 per cent of the population onto wireless broadband.

The 40-page document devotes just a single sentence to net neutrality: "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."

Given the complexities of the issues involved, this covers a multitude of potential sins. Most telecommunications providers are very keen to sponsor new investment by slicing and pricing bandwidth to the bigger payers, for example, but that hardly constitutes "open" in the minds of many.

Supporting free speech and opposing censorship are noble principles, although hardly earth-shattering demonstrations of political courage – but the devil is in the details. There's no clear support for the current FCC net-neutrality rules, Chairman Genachowski's vaunted "third way" that the Republican platform, published last week, extensively trashed. In addition, the EFF will certainly be curious as to exactly what constitutes "undue violations of privacy."

In contrast to its brevity on internet freedoms, the platform document goes to comparatively great lengths to support the rights of intellectual property holders. While the administration wants to look at voluntary regulation that "supports the free flow of information," it's also promising an increasing crackdown on IP violations and the protection of America's trade secrets.

The platform says that seizures of fake critical technology are up 200 per cent, and that the Department of Justice is aggressively going after those who seek to steal or counterfeit. Kim Dotcom and the New Zealand police would certainly agree.

To be fair, the current administration has taken some interesting decisions on this front. White House disapproval with SOPA and PIPA was helpful in stalling those bills, and it has threatened a veto of CISPA cybersecurity laws over privacy protections. Then again, the administration still hasn't totally given up on ACTA yet, and the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations are worrying many.

On the infrastructure side, the platform commits to getting 98 per cent of the US population on wireless broadband, but no specific timescale is mentioned. The auction of spare wireless spectrum will be accelerated by having existing holders trade their allowances, as opposed to the Republican platform of selling spectrum off to the highest bidder.

"Democrats know that the United States must preserve our leadership in the Internet economy," the platform states. "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."

Meanwhile, on cybersecurity the platform points out that this administration has made positive steps, included creating the first military command dedicated to cybersecurity and auditing federal government vulnerabilities. The platform commits to setting up national and international security partnerships and doing more with private sector sources to lock down critical infrastructure.

Apart from that, there was very little mention of technology in the platform, which largely focused on ways to get the economy moving again. The next Mars mission, the static seismic InSight mission scheduled for 2016, will go ahead, and there'll be more support for science and technology teaching.

Based on the two party's platforms, neither has really made many firm commitments one way or the other – which is exactly what you'd expect with political commitments. The Republicans are vocal on what's wrong with the current system (pretty much everything, they say), and offer a few solutions in the form of public/private partnership projects with industry and "reform" of regulations – with a legislative chainsaw.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic world there are a lot of high ideals but very little in practical terms of how to get there, other than the spectrum trading system currently stalled in Congress. The cybersecurity stuff looks good, but one major hack and that could well turn into a liability. ®

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

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