DNC 2016: Broadband Platform and Leaked E-mails

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Robbie’s Round-Up for the Week of July 25-29, 2016

This week, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party swept into Philadelphia (PA) for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The party unveiled its platform, which contains a plan for universal broadband, a commitment to an open Internet both here and abroad, and -- ironically, it turns out -- cybersecurity promises.

Just prior to the convention, Wikileaks released e-mails from top Democratic National Committee staffers, resulting in the resignation of party Chairwoman Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The shadow cast by the leaks was the backdrop to a convention that featured Clinton making history as the first woman nominated by a major political party in the U.S. to be President. Let’s unpack some of the most important parts of DNC 2016.

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform was released on July 21. Similar to the Republican platform adopted a week earlier, broadband plays a major role. In the “Create Good-Paying Jobs” section, Democrats promise to “build 21st century energy and water systems, modernize our schools, and continue to support the expansion of high-speed broadband networks.”

Back in October 2015, Hillary Clinton, now the party’s nominee, called for the creation of a national infrastructure funding bank to help pay for infrastructure projects including broadband. "We should establish an infrastructure bank to put Americans to work building our roads, our bridges, our airports, our rails [and] our broadband networks," the former secretary of State said in a speech. Now the platform says “Democrats will also create an independent, national infrastructure bank that will support critical infrastructure improvements. This bank will provide loans and other financial assistance for investments in energy, water, broadband, transportation, and multi-modal infrastructure projects. Democrats will continue to support the interest tax exemption on municipal bonds and will work to establish a permanent version of Build America Bonds as an additional tool to encourage infrastructure investment by state and local governments.”

Infrastructure investment will reach both rural and urban areas. “Democrats will spur investment to power the rural economy. We support strengthening rural water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure to make rural businesses more competitive. We will expand access to equity capital for businesses and expand the New Markets Tax Credit to better serve rural small businesses.” In addition, Democrats “will dramatically increase federal infrastructure funding for our cities—making significant new investments in roads and bridges, public transit, drinking and wastewater systems, broadband, schools, and more.”

The platform also outlines why broadband infrastructure is so important:

High-speed internet connectivity is not a luxury; it is a necessity for 21st century economic success, social mobility, education, health care, and public safety. Despite considerable progress and private investment in the last eight years to close the digital divide, there is more work to do. Democrats will finish the job of connecting every household in America to high-speed broadband, increase internet adoption, and help hook up anchor institutions so they can offer free WiFi to the public. We will take action to help America widely deploy 5G technology—the next generation wireless service that will not only bring faster internet connections to underserved areas, but will enable the Internet of Things and a host of transformative technologies.

In the platform, Democrats again voice support for a free and open Internet at home and abroad -- and they vow to oppose any effort by Republicans to roll back the historic network neutrality rules that the Federal Communications Commission enacted in 2015 and that a federal court upheld in 2016.

On the international stage, the platform says that trade agreements should protect a free and open Internet. Moreover, Democrats will “stand up to Beijing on unfair trade practices, currency manipulation, censorship of the internet, piracy, and cyberattacks.”

However, the platform’s privacy and cybersecurity portions did receive some criticisms. Karl Grindal and Jeff Landale, from think tank X-Lab, point out that the platform is rooted in the “same failed, hawkish approaches of the past that have turned our nation’s databases and networks into easy targets for criminal hackers and foreign governments.”

DNC Hack
Before the convention, on July 22, Wikileaks posted a massive trove of internal Democratic National Committee e-mails, in what Wikileaks dubbed the first of a new “Hillary Leaks” series. The cache includes nearly 20,000 e-mails and more than 8,000 file attachments from the inboxes of seven key staffers of the DNC, including communications director Luis Miranda and national finance director Jordan Kaplan. The e-mails span from January 2015 through late May and are presented in a searchable database.

The e-mails do not shine a favorable light on key DNC staffers. Top officials criticized and mocked Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the primary campaign, even though the DNC publicly insisted that it was neutral in the race.

The e-mails also show that DNC staffers were quick to combat the media whenever it was critical of Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz . For example, Miranda asked Wasserman Schultz whether they should call CNN to complain about a segment the network aired in which Sen Sanders said he would oust the Chairwoman if he were elected. “Do you all think it’s worth highlighting for CNN that her term ends the day after the inauguration, when a new DNC Chair is elected anyway?” Miranda asked. Wasserman Schultz responded by dismissing the senator’s chances. “This is a silly story,” she wrote. “He isn’t going to be President.”

The e-mails also reveal that Wasserman Schultz and her staff were angry at “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, who suggested Wasserman Schultz should step down because she had favored Hillary Clinton over Sen Sanders throughout the primary. Rep Wasserman Schultz pressured MSNBC to make Brzezinski and partner Joe Scarborough tone down their criticism, though it seemed this was to no avail.

In light of the e-mail leaks, on July 24, just prior to the start of the convention, Wasserman Schultz abruptly said she was resigning. Soon after, Hillary Clinton named Wasserman Schultz as honorary chair of her campaign’s 50-state program to help elect Democrats around the country.

The Russian Connection
There has not been any definitive information about who leaked the e-mails, but American intelligence agencies have told the White House they now have “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the hack. Intelligence officials have cautioned that they are uncertain whether the electronic break-in at the committee’s computer systems was intended as fairly routine cyberespionage — of the kind the United States also conducts around the world — or as part of an effort to manipulate the 2016 presidential election. Asked about the matter at a news conference, Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

This would be, according to the New York Times, “essentially urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage against a former secretary of state.”

A day later, in an interview on “Fox and Friends”, Trump said he was joking. He said, “Of course, I’m being sarcastic.”

Trump backer and former-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani offered the same explanation later on CNN: "No. He was telling a joke. When he got off the plane, he tweeted out the e-mails should be sent to the FBI. He was joking around."

A Clinton Presidency and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler intends to stay in his job until the middle of 2017, if Hillary Clinton wins the White House. Bloomberg reported that staying until mid-2017 would give Chairman Wheeler a better shot at wrapping up several big-ticket agency initiatives, sealing his legacy as chairman. Projects Chairman Wheeler is hoping to finish include reforming the business broadband market (also known as ‘Special Access’), broadband privacy, and the incentive spectrum auction.

Technically, Chairman Wheeler’s full five-year term doesn’t end until Nov 3, 2018, but, according to convention in DC, he would offer his resignation after the new President arrives in January 2017, allowing a Clinton or Trump loyalist to take the helm at the FCC. If Clinton wins the election, Chairman Wheeler’s continued service through a transition period would provide Clinton sufficient time to see her own nominee through the Senate approval process.

With the end of the conventions, we’ve officially moved on the general election. For those interested in universal broadband, we can now compare the Republican and Democratic platforms. The GOP says, “We intend to facilitate access to spectrum by paving the way for high-speed, next-generation broadband deployment and competition on the internet and for internet services.” Democrats say they “will finish the job of connecting every household in America to high-speed broadband, increase internet adoption, and help hook up anchor institutions so they can offer free WiFi to the public.” What’s comforting is that both parties have broadband on the agenda. What’s unknown is how we’ll achieve universal, affordable broadband.

We’ll be covering all the telecommunications policy issues as the 2016 elections continues, and as always, we’ll see you in Headlines.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
coffee iconPodcast: Internet access is now a human right (The Guardian)
coffee iconICT Facts and Figures 2016, More than Half of World’s Population Still Offline (ICT Report)
coffee iconClosing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations (Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas)
coffee iconIn Secret Battle, Surveillance Court Reined in FBI Use of Information Obtained From Phone Calls (The Intercept)
coffee iconTech Is Prominent in GOP Platform, but Trump’s Silence Speaks Volumes (Morning Consult)
coffee iconWeb People vs. Wall People (Tom Friedman, NYT)
coffee iconThe Trumpian Dreams of Silicon Valley (Noam Cohen, NYT)

Events Calendar for Summer 2016
Aug 1 -- Spectrum Management Advisory Committee Meeting, FCC
Aug 2 -- Net Neutrality in Court: What’s Next?, Open Technology Institute panel
Aug 4 -- FCC Open Meeting

ICYMI From Benton
benton logoRNC 2016: GOP Platform, Media Coverage, and Notable Moments, Robbie McBeath

By Robbie McBeath.