Tags: '08 | Candidates | Split | Over | 'Net | Neutrality'

'08 Candidates Split Over 'Net Neutrality'

Monday, 18 June 2007 12:00 AM

How to regulate the Internet is emerging as a potential hot-button issue that could help determine who wins the presidency in 2008 -- especially now that tech-savvy and donor-rich states like states like New York and California have moved up their primaries to compete with New Hampshire and Iowa.

Arguments over net neutrality, a top priority among "new media" activists and liberal bloggers, haven't triggered a front-burner debate so far. Still, a quiet divide is brewing between the political parties, and within them, over a potentially explosive issue that has seen a resurgence of support among Democrats since they recaptured Capitol Hill last year.

Net neutrality legislation calls for prohibiting broadband providers from charging preferred content providers more money for access to so-called "fast lanes" on the Internet.

Supporters say neutrality protects the Internet from forces that would discriminate between those who can afford to access the Internet and those who can't.

Opponents say it's a not a problem, and so far there's little evidence that providers are discriminating in pricing and service. The real worry critics have is what net neutrality legislation will lead to. The critics say the proposed law is nothing more than a clever ruse to give the federal government regulatory authority over the Internet, in much the same way the Federal Communications Commission regulates radio and TV broadcasters.

The issue is clearly dividing the presidential race, with Democratic candidates embracing net neutrality legislation, and most Republicans opposing it.

During his meeting at Google, Edwards repeatedly cited a letter he wrote to Kevin Martin, chairman of the FCC, in which he urged the agency to "seize the chance to transform the Internet and the future" by requiring that as much as half of the soon-to-be-available public airwaves be reserved for open access. Edwards' letter made him an instant hero among some new-media voters, who also happen to be prime sources of campaign contributions.

"It's not just net neutrality," Edwards says. "If the Democratic Party is going to lead this country, we have to have a backbone. No more mealy-mouth. It's not ‘access to health care,' it should be ‘universal health care.' Net neutrality is a place where we could do that."

But Edwards is not alone in courting this new voter bloc. Obama says he supports the concept because he can release a podcast without paying an extra fee or worrying about censorship.

"But the big telephone and cable companies want to change the Internet as we know it," Obama says. "They say that they want to create high-speed lanes on the Internet and strike exclusive contractual agreements with Internet content providers for access to those high-speed lanes. Everyone who cannot pony up the cash will be relegated to the slow lanes."

"The open architecture of the Internet has been the critical element that has made it the most revolutionary communications medium since the advent of the television," Clinton says. Richardson, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and Sens. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also support the Dorgan-Snowe amendment.

Republicans are having a much tougher time grappling with the issue, squaring their ardent free-market principles with the complexities of the new-media marketplace.

"I'd let people charge for more Internet access … let the market and technology solve most of the problems," McCain says, in opposition of the Dorgan-Snowe amendment.

Also lining up against neutrality: Giuliani, Sen. Sam Brownback, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore, the former governor of Virginia, which considers itself the Silicon Valley of the East Coast.

Republicans are finding support from three Internet giants -- Amazon.com, Microsoft, and Yahoo – even as one GOP presidential candidate has left the reservation.

Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, has taken a firm stand in support of net neutrality. Huckabee, who has angered fiscal conservatives in the past by raising taxes in Arkansas and opposing some immigration and welfare reform measures, says he believes net neutrality raises issues of economic fairness.

"The Internet is a highway, and we don't restrict highways to 18-wheelers," Huckabee tells GOP blogger Kevin Tracy. "If it's a car, an SUV, or a truck, you use the same highway."

Huckabee's comments drew a feverish response from Scott Cleland, chairman of NETcompetition.org, a lobbying group that opposes net neutrality efforts. If Huckabee is really a true conservative, Cleland says, he'll realize the futility of supporting net neutrality.

"Don't believe this is his 'official' policy position for a minute," Cleland says. "When conservative Mike Huckabee learns both sides of this issue and is not blindsided on a conference call on a subject he was unfamiliar with, and which was then grossly misrepresented, I am convinced he will not ‘support' net neutrality … This is another in a long line of supposed 'endorsements' of net neutrality that result from net neutrality proponents, consistent misrepresentation of the facts, and gross use of unsubstantiated allegations of a problem."

Rep. Duncan Hunter and former Gov. Mitt Romney have not publicly taken positions on neutrality. But as they continue to court conservative voters, they might be listening to prominent voices who have also come out strongly against it.

"There are so many problems with so-called net neutrality that it's difficult to know where to begin," J. William Lauderback, executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, said in a letter to the FCC, "but probably the most obvious is that it is completely unnecessary.

"There is not a single instance of online discrimination anywhere in the country today! No provider is blocking or degrading unaffiliated content. In short, consumers are enjoying unfettered access to the legal content of their choice and the [FCC] has every reason to accept the success of its policies!"

Net neutrality has become a code phrase for government regulation of the Internet. Here's where the '08 candidates stand on whether that would be a good idea.

Hillary Clinton -- For

Barack O'Bama -- For

John Edwards -- For

Al Gore -- For

Rudy Giuliani -- Uncommitted

Fred Thompson -- Uncommitted

Mitt Romney -- Uncommitted

John McCain -- Against

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How to regulate the Internet is emerging as a potential hot-button issue that could help determine who wins the presidency in 2008 -- especially now that tech-savvy and donor-rich states like states like New York and California have moved up their primaries to compete with...
Monday, 18 June 2007 12:00 AM
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