News

Talking the Plank

9/03/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

Republicans and Democrats are both for Internet
freedom.

We know this because the GOP added an Internet
Freedom plank to its platform at the Republican
National Convention in Tampa, Fla.,
this week and, not to be outdone, President
Obama took to the very Internet he was defending
— Reddit to be exact — to say he, too,
was for Internet freedom.

Obama added that his party’s platform
would contain that plank as well when it convenes
in Charlotte, N.C., next week.

We’re sure they are both for apple pie, mom,
and baseball, too. Party platforms, like the Federal
Communications Commission’s informal 180-day shot
clock, are hardly set in stone. It is easy to say you are for Internet
freedom. It is not so easy to define it and find a bipartisan
way to secure it.

In the Republican platform, “Protecting Internet Freedom”
is defined as “[removing] regulatory barriers 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protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation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 [and] data as they become
crucial components of the Internet ecosystem.”

The president said last week: “Internet freedom is something
I know you all care passionately about; I do, too. We
will fight hard to make sure that the Internet remains the
open forum for everybody — from those who are expressing
an idea to those to want to start a business. I won’t
stray from that principle — and it will be reflected in the
platform.”

But while it may co-opt the Democratic FCC’s buzzwords
of “innovation” and “ecosystems,” that does
not mean the elephants are suddenly stampeding
to the Democratic FCC’s version of
network neutrality.

“[T]he FCC’s net-neutrality rule is trying to
micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network,”
the Republican party said, painting the
Democratic approach as Luddite.

So, we have both parties appearing to support
the same thing, but in reality remaining in their
respective camps. It reminds us of the cybersecurity
bill legislation. The other side of freedom is
responsibility. That would be protecting the information
we want to remain freely exchangeable,
though not always freely exchanged, online.

While both sides agree that our broadband networks are
under constant attack from hackers, hacktivists and foreign
powers — and both sides agree it is imperative that industry
players have more freedom to exchange information about
those attacks without concerns about giving up any company
secrets, and that the government needs to be in the loop
as well — they have consistently failed to come up with legislation
that does not get bogged down in partisan baggage,
like the amendment on a cybersecurity bill from the Republicans
that would have gutted parts of Obamacare, and the
Democratic amendment on gun control that Republicans
would have had to vote on.

We applaud the planks on Internet freedom, but if the
parties just stand around on those platforms blowing horns
and playing with colored balloons and confetti, rather than
actually fi nding common ground on laws that protect cybersecurity,
information privacy and online content, that
applause will echo pointlessly in a policy vacuum.

September