Broadband Helps Move America Forward

Last week we took a quick look at the GOP’s 2012 platform. This week, we look at Internet-related planks of Moving America Forward, the Democratic Party’s 2012 platform adopted at its national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The policies are largely a continuation of promises made by Barack Obama during his 2008 campaign and initiatives launched during his administration.

I. Expanding Broadband Deployment
In 2008, then-Sen Barack Obama (D-IL) called for policies to encourage next-generation broadband deployment, including to rural areas and inner cities. He supports government programs to bring broadband to schools, libraries and hospitals, and called for public/private partnerships to help roll it out in areas without service.

In 2012, Democrats stress that the United States must preserve its leadership in the Internet economy. Under the header “Out-Innovating the Rest of the World,” the platform reads, “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 that 98 percent of the country has access to high-speed wireless broadband Internet access. We are finding innovative ways to free up wireless spectrum and are building a state-of-the-art nationwide, interoperable, public safety network.”

Democrats see broadband as an essential infrastructure needed to reclaim the security of the rural middle class. The platform reads:
We support strengthening rural water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure to make rural businesses more competitive. We have expanded broadband access to nearly seven million rural Americans, including rural businesses, creating new jobs.

Since President Obama took office, the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) was established in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The primary goal of the Recovery Act was to provide a fiscal boost to the nation during the economic crisis. Providing access to broadband services will increase economic development and improve the quality of life for all Americans. BIP funding for loans, grants, and loan/grant combinations will assist with addressing the challenge of rapidly expanding the access and quality of broadband services across rural America and to meet the objectives of the Recovery Act. By September 30, 2010 there were 320 awards obligated that total $3.529 billion. The total awards were 285 last-mile projects that total over $3 billion, the 12 middle-mile awards total $172.6 million, four satellite awards for $100 million, and 19 technical assistance awards for over $3.4 million. Awards were made in 45 states and one territory. The awards will provide access to 2.8 million households, 364,000 businesses, and 32,000 anchor institutions across more than 300,000 square miles. The projects also overlap with 31 tribal lands and 125 persistent poverty counties. The projects will create more than 25,000 immediate and direct jobs and are expected to contribute to the long-term economic development opportunities in each rural community where a broadband project is launched.

In addition, in June 2012 the President ordered the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to collaborate with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make available a total of 500 MHz of Federal and nonfederal spectrum over the next 10 years, suitable for both mobile and fixed wireless broadband use. The spectrum must be available to be licensed by the FCC for exclusive use or made available for shared access by commercial and Government users in order to enable licensed or unlicensed wireless broadband technologies to be deployed.

Before the 2010 election, President Obama proposed a plan to spend at least $50 billion on long-term investments for the country’s infrastructure – including broadband Internet access. The 2012 Democratic platform reiterates that call:
We will give our businesses access to newer roads and airports, and faster railroads and Internet access. We will fight for immediate investments for highways, transit, rail, and aviation and for the creation of a national infrastructure bank to help modernize our infrastructure, put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back on the job, and help businesses grow.

II. A Commitment to Network Neutrality
In 2008, candidate Obama voiced his support for a network neutrality law or rules. "A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history," the 2008 Obama campaign tech paper said. At a 2007 visit to Google’s headquarters, Sen Obama promised he would “take a backseat to no one” in his commitment to network neutrality. This week, the Democratic platform reads, “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.”

In December 2010, the FCC adopted rules to ensure that Internet openness will continue, providing greater certainty to consumers, innovators, investors, and broadband providers, including the flexibility providers need to effectively manage their networks. The rules require all broadband providers to publicly disclose network management practices, restrict broadband providers from blocking Internet content and applications, and bar fixed broadband providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic. The rules ensure much-needed transparency and continued Internet openness, while making clear that broadband providers can effectively manage their networks and respond to market demands.

The FCC’s rules currently face a court challenge.

III. Protecting Internet Freedom
On August 14, Demand Progress launched a campaign to urge the Republican and Democratic parties to include a commitment to protecting Internet freedom in their party platforms. Numerous other advocacy groups recently unveiled declarations of Internet freedom and urged lawmakers to sign them. The aim is to protect the “right of Americans to share information and communicate with each other free from censorship and surveillance."

The Democratic platform includes the following:
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. The administration has built partnerships to support an Internet that is secure and reliable and that is respectful of U.S. intellectual property, free flow of information, and privacy. To preserve the Internet as a platform for commerce, debate, learning, and innovation in the 21st century, we successfully negotiated international Internet policymaking principles, support the current multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, and oppose the extension of intergovernmental controls over the Internet.

In January 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Internet companies to "take a principled stand" against countries that restrict online communications and free speech. She also talked about the growing economic importance of having unfettered access to the Internet, whether it be through a computer or mobile phone, calling the Web the "new nervous system" of the world. In February 2011, Sec Clinton called for common global standards to guide the use of the Internet, while increasing pressure on countries like Iran, Syria and China to allow the free flow of information in their societies. She hailed the role that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have played in organizing a recent wave of political protests that have targeted dictatorial regimes in the Middle East. "Finding the proper measure for the Internet is critical because the qualities that make the Internet a force for unprecedented progress -- its openness, its leveling effect, its reach and speed -- also enable wrongdoing on an unprecedented scale," said Sec Clinton. She was particularly critical of the governments of Iran and Syria for denying citizens unfettered access to information. At the same time, Michael H. Posner – the Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the Department of State – summed up the Administration’s policy saying, “the subject of internet freedom for us is about an open media, open internet. We put ourselves on the side of free speech, free expression, free assembly, free association. And in today’s world, the new means of electronic communications give people a greater ability to talk among themselves within a country and to speak to the world. So we’re putting our money behind, and our diplomatic power behind, the notion that a free, open, neutral internet across borders in the world’s interest.”

IV. Addressing Cybersecurity
Like the GOP, the Democrats address cybersecurity in their platform – noting that “we have also sought to bolster homeland security and head off emerging challenges.” The plank warns that cybersecurity threats represent one of the most serious potential national security, public safety, and economic challenges the U.S. faces. “The very technologies that empower us to lead and create also empower individual criminal hackers, organized criminal groups, terrorist networks, and other advanced nations to disrupt the critical infrastructure that is vital to our economy, commerce, public safety, and military,” the platform reads.

The platform notes that the Obama Administration: 1) created the first military command dedicated to cybersecurity and 2) conducted a full review of the federal government's efforts to protect U.S. information and infrastructure.

The plank concludes:
We will continue to take steps to deter, prevent, detect, and defend against cyber intrusions by investing in cutting-edge research and development, promoting cybersecurity awareness and digital literacy, and strengthening private sector and international partnerships. President Obama has supported comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that would help business and government protect against risks of cyber attacks while also safeguarding the privacy rights of our citizens. And, going forward, the President will continue to take executive action to strengthen and update our cyber defenses.

John Brennan, the president’s adviser on homeland security and counterterrorism, first raised the prospect of using existing powers to protect critical infrastructure in August. The previous White House cyber advisor Howard Schmidt and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have urged such action, following their failure to pass permanent reforms in Congress.

Although a number of reporters note that the parties’ platforms are long on philosophy and short on details, our reviews of the platforms do make one thing clear: The Internet is now part of the political discussion. This may both brighten and frighten some observers, but it illustrated how important the Internet has become to our economy and everyday lives. As always, we’ll stay focused on how Internet service is deployed, used and regulated – and we’ll see you in the Headlines.

By Kevin Taglang.