Today, Obama is throwing down the gauntlet on a internet freedom, telecom lobbyists, and on opening up government in general to the public. It's some genuinely radical stuff, and it includes the use of blogs, wikis, and openness in government hearings. Significantly, Larry Lessig has endorsed Obama's platform.
Specifically, Obama wants the public to be able to comment on the White House Web site for five days before legislation is signed.
Several well-known local figures are expected to announce their support for Obama's plan, including two former FCC chairmen under President Clinton: Stanford University legal expert Larry Lessig and John Roos, chief executive of Palo Alto law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
Roos, one of Obama's top fundraisers, said Silicon Valley start-ups will be encouraged by Obama's call this month for a clean technology venture capital fund backed by a whopping $50 billion in federal money over five years.
In the plan, Obama also calls for more aggressive government support of broadband access. Specifically, he says subsidies for phone carriers should be given only to those offering both regular phone service and Internet broadband to rural areas. To date, carriers offering merely phone service have been able to claim subsidies from the so-called Universal Service Fund, giving them little incentive to roll out out broadband.
Obama also calls for reviewing the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to open the wireless spectrum for competition. He thinks the FCC may not have gone far enough with its recent ruling, according to campaign managers who asked not to be named. He wants to conduct a multiyear review but is leaning toward pushing for the opening of some spectrum on the 700 MHz band so third parties can lease it on a wholesale basis.
This is to ensure that the winners of a pending auction for the spectrum - expected to be large phone carriers like Verizon - don't just sit on the spectrum and not use it. Some fear they may do that to block others from competing with them.
Obama's proposals are supported by Google, which is expected to bid on the wireless spectrum.
The candidate also is in favor of network neutrality, a policy that would prevent Internet service providers from charging companies like Google extra to ensure the speedy transfer of data over the Internet.
It's a little difficult to discuss just how significant these proposals are, since we don't have a great frame of reference. Take the Universal Service Fund, and his plan to move the money that is currently subsidizing rural phone service and ensuring that broadband is subsidized as well. High speed broadband is a core tool for citizens to engage politically; it's not an accident that Color of Change emerged in 2006-2007, after massive growth in broadband to African-Americans. Building this network out, as Obama is putting forward, and opening up government could create organizing opportunities the likes of which we haven't dreamed. Imagine the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley combined with the power of government and the movement building organizing capacity of the netroots, and that's a start. Of course, what's possible is not necessarily what will happen, and it's all in the execution, but this is reaching for something bold.
And then of course there is spectrum and net neutrality. Both Edwards and Obama have made it clear they will break the power of the wireless gatekeepers, the telecom lobbyists who gut our laws, and the Comcast traffic shaping tyrants. Clinton, though, has been a noted absence in the debate about spectrum, mumbling about it incoherently at Yearlykos, and her plan for broadband was written by the telcos and doesn't include net neutrality. She still hasn't come out clearly on retroactive immunity, as her campaign's ties to telecom lobbyists are not trivial, and it looks from her possible FCC choices that her administration would be a continuation of the Clinton-Bush years of media and telecom deregulation.
But don't take my word for it, take the word of Scott Cleland, the most notorious telecom shill, as he writes about Clinton's 'innovation agenda'.
Understandably, the glaring exclusion of net neutrality from the Senator's Innovation agenda -- after the radical left's rhetoric claimed net neutrality was essential to "innovation" -- signals to me that the Senator and her campaign have a pretty solid, practical and intuitive understanding of sound broadband policy.
In the face of this set of challenges, Obama has thrown down a big gauntlet, policy-wise. He is pushing to break up the wireless gatekeepers, net neutrality will be a strong priority in his administration, and open government will allow citizens to generate new sources of political power. I don't trust Obama's politics and I find his post-partisan rhetoric problematic, but I believe in organizing, and I believe that if he is willing to put the government on an open level playing field for all citizens while protecting our ability to access it, good things will happen. That's more than I can say about Clinton. It is tough to figure out where these candidates really do disagree, but on open networks, it seems like this is a clear line of demarcation.
I am now leaning towards Obama in my choice for President, with a second choice of Edwards, who has had an excellent set of policies out there on media and internet policies. And of course, none of this is to say that Clinton is firmly set on her reactionary path, since she did come out for net neutrality as a Senator.
The Bush administration has created a veil of pessimism around our relationship to the public sphere and the government, but it's worth remembering that the internet is the greatest set of collaborative tools ever invented. Fully unleashing these within the executive branch, as well as protecting and expanding open networks, will be a game-changer.