One of the first things the Burmese government did to shut down the dissidents was shut down the internet. Writer's Guild rallies get scant coverage on local news channel KBNC, which is owned by a company negotiating with the writers. The largest set of environmental protests since Earth Day in 1970 was organized in 2007, and done over the internet. There is a new set of left-wing radical evangelical churches emerging, preaching about global warming and global poverty, soaked in the free culture of the web. Meanwhile, large telecom, broadcast, and cable companies seek to shut down and control the internet and our media for their own purposes, seeking to shut down the nervous system of modern American progressive culture and politics.
In other words, the internet and our media are not just issues, and they are not just tech issues, they are organizing principles around which we are shaping the very nature of our politics and culture. And that's why I consider the next FCC a core fulcrum for the election.
Chris's post on 'What to expect from a Democratic trifecta' is a useful jumping off point for post-2008 planning. He examines the legislative angle, but what about the administrative angle? That is, there's lots of stuff a new administration can just do with the rule-making authority it already has, including the Commander in Chief authority, political appointments across agencies and departments, and enforcement priorities. For instance, the President can simply withdraw us from Iraq, can begin negotiations with Iran, and can get the government to begin retrofitting its buildings for green standards.
But let's take media. The FCC can simply implement net neutrality by reclassifying cable modems, DSL, and fiber as a telecommunications service, the way the agency took net neutrality away by doing the opposite in 2002. The FCC can also shift ownership requirements for media conglomerates, even reversing media consolidation and mandating a certain number of television and radio stations be owned by minorities, women, and local groups instead of mega-death-corp-defense-contractor.
The reason I am leaning towards Obama is because in the area that I know fairly well, with the FCC, he is far better than Clinton. Clinton has been mostly opaque as to what she'll do with the FCC, but we do have hints. We know, for instance, how she'll select her FCC Chair. She'll sell it.
Ness has strong personal ties to Sen. Clinton that stretch back to her days as a campaign worker and fundraiser for President Bill Clinton, who rewarded her with the FCC appointment in 1994.
This time around, Ness has been actively campaigning for Hillary. More important, she is an official "HillRaiser"-a supporter who has bundled at least $100,000 for the campaign...
In 2004, Ness plunged into the Kerry campaign as a major fundraiser, hoping again to earn the FCC top job. But Ohio went to Bush.
And here are her priorities for the FCC.
Her campaign Web site says: "Among the issues she has fought for and will make a priority as president are: Protecting children against violence and sexual content in the media and studying the impact of electronic media on children's cognitive, social and physical development."
We are able to redefine the communications landscape for the first time in history with the most revolutionary technological and cultural set of tools ever created, and Clinton wants to... deal with TV violence. Her FCC Chair choice, Ness, is well-liked by broadcasters, a surefire sign of problems. And Clinton's plan for broadband is modeled off of Connect Kentucky, an industry-written plan that defines broadband at 200K, which is 500 times slower than the speed of broadband in Japan. Worse, it excludes net neutrality. And if Clinton has a position on media consolidation, it's not a priority in her campaign. She has been silent on wireless spectrum and won't even give a straight answer on retroactive immunity for telecom companies.
In other words, it looks like Clinton is going to go down the 1990s model of telecom deregulation and media consolidation that brought us to the deeply dangerous position we're in today, and she'll do it by selling political appointments to her fundraisers who will then make money lobbying and working in the industry they regulated. It's nauseating just to think about it.
Obama's plan is very different. I was on a call yesterday where the campaign's wonky advisers explained that political appointees will have to pledge not to lobby the government after their term is over. His plan covers media consolidation, pushing for more localism and diverse ownership requirements. It stakes out a wireless spectrum owned and operated by the public, with clear openness requirements. His FCC will define broadband as broadband, instead of playing corrupt telecom games. And I'm convinced that no one will be stronger on net neutrality than Obama, who signed onto the net neutrality bill as one of his first actions in the Senate.
The Obama campaign and Obama himself get these issues on a very fundamental level. Instead of nonsensical worries about violence on TV marring the children, Obama takes privacy very seriously in his plan. Instead of ludicrous discussions of fake public-private partnerships around failed models of broadband deployment that dance around net neutrality, Obama is clear and forceful on the issue.
It's really a generational split here. Obama gets, on a gut level, the importance of the internet and the open culture that has created much of our wealth and opportunity. Clinton is entirely about a 1970s and 1980s suburbanized corrupt form of politics, where you give everything important to industry while demagoguing on issues like violence on TV for the children (doing nothing about it, of course). It's an entirely fake and disgusting model of engagement on the media reform and internet freedom agenda.
Now, I could see Clinton changing her mind on these issues, of course. Mostly Clinton has been silent on media issues, preferring to make no decisions on any of it, or at least keeping what decisions should be made to herself and her close circle. She is also a net neutrality supporter, so she's obviously aware of the fight. It's just that, when a top-down media world comes into contact with an open source model of media, she's probably going to take the side of the top-downers. It's how she thinks and who funds her. It's how the Clintons did it in the 1990s, and I see no evidence that has changed.
I'll also note that Obama hasn't made these arguments in his campaign, and he should. The Burmese government shutting down openness, new internet-enabled churches, the empowering nature of broadband access, labor disputes and poor media coverage - all of these are stories that he needs to tell. Obama has put out the right policies, now he needs to make them come alive. Obama has alluded to a new world with his new and exciting policy platform, but he has not yet spelled it out in more than simply smart policy. He should tell these stories of radical openness, because they are alive with potential and excitement, and they are what he grasps.