Transformative Proposals from Obama

by: Matt Stoller

Wed Nov 14, 2007 at 11:29

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.

Matt Stoller :: Transformative Proposals from Obama

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Wow (4.00 / 18)

I am now leaning towards Obama in my choice for President

I think you just broke the Internet with that statement.

I haven't been keeping up on telecom news, but I do like the idea of allowing the public to post their thoughts on legislation at the WH website. The idea of bundling subsidies in conjunction with broadband service is also a good idea.

That (4.00 / 2)
is breaking news. Stoller was writting obituaries a few weeks ago. But he has a right to his opinion...Can you say Americana.

I got to him props for telling us where he is leaning. A lot of A-list bloggers are scared to do that.

[ Parent ]
Seriously... (4.00 / 2)
I am speechless.

Sound of jaw hitting floor. (4.00 / 7)
"I am now leaning towards Obama in my choice for President"

Well Matt, I must say I am impressed.  I think you have shocked a lot of people who read this site.  Some are probably upset, others, like myself, are extremely pleasently surprised.  Thanks for supporting the best (although still flawed) candidate out there, and thanks for challenging our expectations and stereotypes.

Uh, wow (0.00 / 0)
As an Obama supporter I have been finding it difficult to read of lot of Matt's rather frequent posts damning Obama with arguments that didn't really seem that damning to me.  I was shocked and pleased to see a positive article about Obama much less a declaration that he is leaning towards Obama now.

Matt you have gained respect in my eyes, not because you suddenly agree with me, but because you show open mindedness.  I was mistaken it seems in concluding that you were very close minded about Obama and had some unspoken axe to grind, sorry.

My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington- Obama
Philly for Obama

[ Parent ]
revolutionary proposal (4.00 / 9)
this would allow simple folks like me with a computer; and more sophisticated folks like open left with a blog; to monitor government spending, programs, and evaluations in the same way that we currently monitor the press. it is truly revolutionary because it OPENS the democracy to analysis by regular smart people--regular smart people not interest groups or think tanks. talk about accountability. talk about transparency. talk about crashing the gates.

I just dropped my coffee cup, for real. (4.00 / 2)
Leaning Obama???  Matt, I thought YOU KNEW.

This from the man that wrote Obama is Dead!!!

The bottomline is this.  Don't we want and need a president who pushes and for open govenment and transparency?

Any progressive should have Clinton on the bottom.  And after her planting people for questions, what would you call that?  Surely not openess, nor transparency.

This matters more to you (4.00 / 1)
than a strong economy, an end to the war in Iraq and better health care coverage? 


Well Lucky for Matt (4.00 / 7)
Obama has a plan for all these things.

[ Parent ]
Makes sense (4.00 / 1)
If you're suspicious of all the nominees and reckon the best way to get better ones in future is to strengthen the open left and the netroots. And that would seems to be Stoller's position.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
this is KEY to a strong economy (0.00 / 0)
Telecommunications infrastructure is the nervous system of the 21st century economy. American manufacturing is for all intents and purposes dead. If we can't get our technology infrastructure free of the sclerosis of the incumbent actors (ie the telecom companies and their lobbyists) we're going to watch europe and east asia lead the way into the future while our economy chokes.
Ever hear of the ottoman empire? They banned the printing press in the 17th century or so. Things went downhill from there.

[ Parent ]
That is interesting (0.00 / 0)
This is interesting, but real processy goo-goo stuff.  It's the kind of thing that is great coming out of a reformist Senator, hardly the stuff a Presidency is based upon, IMO.

[ Parent ]
Universal Service Fund (0.00 / 0)

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;

Although that statement is certainly true, it is more like a side effect.  The key element of the position is education.  We are creating a new band of second class citizens - those who do not have broadband and the equal access to the wealth of information and development of skills that come with it.

Welcome aboard MATT (4.00 / 5)
The trend among the netroots seems to be the "undecided" bloggers are trending Obama's way. Even those with major problems with some of Obama's language such as BIG TENT are starting to realize he's the best choice we have for many reasons. It's fish or cut bait time now and the reality is if Obama doesn't stop Hillary no one can. The regret we will have with either a Hillary presedency or a brutal general election loss should get most of us on board.

Universal Service (4.00 / 2)
It's really good to hear the idea of using the Universal Service fund as a mechanism for extending internet access. It seems to me that this is the right way to do it.

Not to mention that it's important. Building out a 21st-centuty network for America is comparable to universal dial-tone, rural electrification, or the interstate highway system.

It's also a really good frame for extolling the virtues of public infrastructure. Just rolls of your tongue: "What we need in this country is Universal Service."

There's a larger argument you can make once the door is open that connects health care, consumer protection, higher education, social security, and a number of other areas where the Public interest is best served by establishing a Higher Standard for americans. I think it's something along these lines that will finally put the Norquest paradigm out of operation, but only if more leaders start jumping on the bandwagon.

Me | My Work | Future Majority

On rural broadband (4.00 / 1)
I'm all for network neutrality, and having a pack-leader indicate support for it strengthens my long-standing support for Obama despite the homophobic minister debacle from last month.

The USF proposal is a good one, because telephone is no longer a luxury and now an expectation. It is also in the telcos best interest to roll landline out to rural areas, because there is now a telephony technology (wireless) that can serve them -- where they were safe to avoid once, they are now "losses". So rewarding them for it is plain stupid.

But as for expanding rural broadband leading to exciting new opportunities for netroots... keep in mind that rural America isn't exactly progressive or even centrist.

That's ok. (4.00 / 1)
They're not K street big business lobbyists either.  If rural Nebraskans actually crash the gates of the Republican party, that is absolutely a good thing for the USA.  We'd have two middle-class driven parties then, instead of a half of one.

The only thing that could possibly be as good for the country as progressives taking back the Democratic Party, is middle-class conservatives taking back the Republican Party.

And I say that as a gay guy who has plenty to fear from the SoCon neanderthals. 

[ Parent ]
On the internet, nobody knows who you are (0.00 / 0)
Cultural contact is the absolute best way of changing somebody's views in a progressive direction. The internet tends to break down barriers between different communities, and when you know someone it's much harder to have a negative view of them.

In terms of economic views, internet use probably doesn't do much (although rural areas are often populist anyway) but I certainly think it helps move the debate in our direction on social issues.

Forgotten Countries - a foreign policy-focused blog

[ Parent ]
Maybe Obama CAN change how government works (4.00 / 2)
He knows it starts with transparency and access, he has a legislative record on the issue and now this.

Thanks for this (0.00 / 0)
Sounds very good. He's thrown down the gauntlet.

Lessig has more than endorsed Obama's (4.00 / 5)
the real meaning of net neutrality (0.00 / 0)
" ... the Comcast traffic shaping tyrants"

A little knowledge of network construction and management demonstrates that what Comcast is doing with its network management policies actually advances net neutrality, i.e., a fair and equitable online experience for everyone.

Bandwidth is a finite resource.  If a handful of users disproportionately consume that finite resource, the overwhemling majority of other users are either unable, or severely limited in their ability, to access and interact with blogs like this one.

The reality today is that a de-minimis fraction of those online are engaged in bandwidth-ravaging applications that typically occur automatically, at night or in the background, when those users aren't even at their computers or aren't actively participating in a cause/action of some sort.  Meanwhile, who gets punished?  The politically savvy and active who want to share information, sign petitions, email their Congressional officials, etc.

I guess I'm baffled that certain progressives would argue against what Comcast is doing, when what Comcast is doing is actually making it easier for you and your communities to more productively engage in your larger political goals.

Google is not an angel, and Comcast is not the devil.

Great proposal (0.00 / 0)
This is the boldness I craved from Obama.  I'm leaning towards him as well, but his Social Security plan seriously bothers me.

Obama on Social Security (0.00 / 0)
I don't have a problem with his plan on Social Security. Raising the cap is fine with me. What bothers me is that he's talking about it when there's *no* reason to be talking about Social Security at all. It could reinforce the Republican propaganda about a "crisis".  But it doesn't bother me enough that I find anyone else preferable. Obama continues to be my first choice.

[ Parent ]
No a crisis (0.00 / 0)
Obama has said that Social Security is not a crisis, and besides I think that it helps to damped the shrill Republican cries if we are actually addressing the issues.

Many younger people not believe that Social Security will be there for them.  By addressing the issue I think it will allay our concerns.  Sometimes our insistence that Social Security is fine, sounds like us covering our ears and shouting loudly, regardless of reality.  The lesson of the last decade of politics is that most of America and  its media is not grounded in reality.

The Republican claim that Social Security is failing sounds truthy, do we really know it isn't?  Never mind that US government bonds are traditionally a very sound investment and not paying them back would create a major worldwide economic collapse.

There are potential problems with Social Security and I would rather be told that he will address them and that he has ideas of how to close the "actuarial gap" than to be told not to worry my pretty little head as Clinton and many bloggers are asking me to do.

My job is not to represent Washington to you, but to represent you to Washington- Obama
Philly for Obama

[ Parent ]
Matt (4.00 / 2)
Wonderful post! Glad to hear you are finally coming around to Obama, or at least warming up to him. I don't think his alleged "anti-partisanship" is going to be as bad for progressives as you seem to think it is. I suspect it will make it easier for him to pass reforms, at least in certain categories.

Like I said I really like what Edwards is saying and I lean toward the populist end of the spectrum myself but I just think Obama is a better candidate for the Democrats, even if for no other reason than Edwards has already lost once and is seemingly less charismatic. Recently I've seen some interviews with Obama that gave me pause, specifically the one on Meet The Press where I thought he wasn't forceful enough and was too academic in the way he tried to answer tough questions, which I don't think will work very well on the general public (who probably doesn't watch Meet the Press). I think he needs a new communications director, bigtime, and this is not the only reason.

As for this statement I think it is wonderfully refreshing! I haven't heard anything this pro-internet freedom come out of such a big political figures mouth in this country.... ever (with the possible exception of Al Gore).

What's more I don't think Obama has much to gain politically by making such statements, as it doesn't seem to be high on the public's list of priorities. This is another reason I believe Obama to be genuine about this. Clinton has been notoriously bad about technology issues, just check out posts and comments on, the most popular technology news nerd blog, they hate her there.

The only group of people I could see this statement being helpful to Obama with is bloggers, who seem to be the only power players who care about this issue. For me it is a HUGE issue, if the EFF were to endorse a Democratic candidate I would probably vote for that candidate just based on their endorsement alone. Also taking this public position isn't going to help endear Obama to the big media moguls, which needless to say will surely try to exact their revenge through their media monopoly platforms. It may help him become of favorite candidate of certain corps like Google, who are pro-internet freedom, which I suppose could be of some benefit.

I am real glad to see the Obama campaign make this statement it solidifies my support for him. I never understood why you (Matt) seemed so against him. I understand the preference for Edwards but Obama seems like the clear 2nd choice to me, at least over Clinton. If Obama wins Iowa or the first few states and Edwards believes his chances to be gone completely I'd love to see him endorse Obama (before super tuesday) and them become running mates.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

i was saying.... (0.00 / 0)

["At Google Obama talks of shared experience" By Adam Tanner

MOUNTAIN VIEW, California (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama told Google employees on Wednesday his meteoric rise in politics mirrored the company's emergence as the lifeblood of the Internet and he surprised his hosts by answering a geeky engineering question.]

coincidence? I think not.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
I had no idea slashdot hates hillary. (0.00 / 0)
That means a lot to me, as I'm very sure those techies know their stuff.  That means on the real, obscure details where the rubber meets the road, Hillary is bad.  That's a disaster.

[ Parent ]
internet open left (4.00 / 1)
I still can't support Obama because I don't think he goes far enough on the economic populist issues.

History has been pretty clear, the stronger a labor movement in a country, the more progressive the country. Why do people think conservatives work so hard to break up unions?

Edwards is the only major candidate that gets this. And given that he also has a very progressive internet/telecom policy, I think it puts him head-and-shoulders above Obama at this point.

Until I see evidence that Obama views organized labor as an integral part of the path towards a more progressive society (and in grassroots organizing for that society), and not just as a constituency to stand with, I can't support him.

His health care plan leaves something to be desired too.

re: (4.00 / 1)
What bothers me about Edwards is he didn't seem to "get this" in 2004, if he did get it then he wasn't very vocal about it and I sure didn't notice. Edwards didn't seem to "get it" until this election campaign, when he saw that the Democratic primaries were wide open for a populist-leaning candidate. Maybe I'm being cynical but this is what I saw happen.

Sorry I just don't think Edwards can pull it off, and I want somebody who can defeat Clinton. I like what he's saying but its hard for me to jump on his bandwagon and believe him especially after the horrible humiliation we suffered in 2004 at the hands of the Kerry/Edwards campaign. Not sayin it was Edwards fault but still.

I hate to say it but I think one of the main reasons Edwards has found so much support among the blogosphere is because his wife has been so active (that and the union thing maybe?). God bless her for doing it, I think if it wasn't for her he would have never even stood a chance of being top tier.

I understand the reservations people have about Obama, I have many myself. I'm not going to quibble over whether a candidate is "qualified" because I care more if they are honest. Look at how unqualified Bush was and that didn't stop him, nor was it the main reason he was so horrible it was just one of many. I think Obama will surround himself with smart good people who know what they are doing and can take care of the policy in areas where he lacks experience. I just want someone who is 1/2way honest and not part of the establishment or some longstanding political dynasty.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]
Get Serious (0.00 / 0)
If anyone here is really serious about supporting Obama or anyone else it's time to make a sacrifice and go to IA, NV, NH or SC or raise big bucks.  Anything else is sort of mental masturbation.  This race is over soon.  Kudos to people who took a stand when & where it mattered, no matter who your first choice was.

nice troll.... (0.00 / 0)
Will you get serious? You cannot move somewhere and immediately vote there, and even if you could do that one would be insane to move just to have their vote counted in a different state.

I'll agree that this race is pretty close to being over and that if Obama doesn't build up some momentum very, very soon then he is in major trouble. Edwards candidacy is already over with. Obama still has a chance to defeat Clinton, but it's not as big of a chance as I'd wish it was. I understand why they do these polls, I have a BA in Pol Sci, but sometimes I really wish the media would chill out with the way they tend to anoint a winner before the election even takes places based on things like opinion poll and fundraising numbers. I know this is a fact of politics and its not going away anytime soon. Even despite this I believe Obama has a chance.

I think Bowers is right with his inflated Clinton poll theory, at least I hope so. I can even think of other reasons why Obama's actual primary polling numbers could be higher than some polls suggest. Obviously, even with myself buying into Bower's poll theory, even thinking he is underestimating how inflated her numbers are, I will still concede that Clinton is ahead nationally overall. While both candidates will benefit from a lot of first time, brand new primary (and general) election voters (with changing demographics), I believe Obama will benefit more significantly from this 'expected' phenomenon, at least in the primaries. Where I get this idea is from my observations of anecdotal evidence of Obama campaign enthusiasm combined with Obama's greater support amoung younger voters, even if he doesn't enjoy greater support amount women or minority voters.

End this war. Stop John McCain. Cindy McCain is filthy rich.

[ Parent ]

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