By Paul Barbagallo
Republicans have adopted a party platform on technology policy that would
repeal the Federal Communications Commission's “net neutrality” rules, work more
aggressively than the Obama administration to encourage the spread of high-speed
internet access, identify government-controlled spectrum that could be auctioned
to commercial companies, and promote “internet freedom” on a global scale.
The new policy plank, approved by the full convention Aug. 28 in Tampa, Fla.,
represents an outgrowth of congressional Republican policy to roll back FCC and
Obama administration regulations.
In the House, Romney's presumptive running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has
been among the most outspoken critics of the FCC's net neutrality rules, which
prohibits internet service providers from discriminating against traffic that
travels over its network. In 2011, Ryan voted for a resolution disapproving the
rules and, in 2006, voted against a Democratic-sponsored amendment to a bill
that would have codified basic network neutrality principles in law.
Focusing on the FCC's net neutrality rules, the Republicans fault the
Communications Act, last updated in 1996, and blast the agency for “trying to
micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network.”
“The most vibrant sector of the American economy, indeed, one-sixth of it, is
regulated by the federal government on precedents from the nineteenth century.
Today's technology and telecommunications industries are overseen by the FCC,
established in 1934 and given the jurisdiction over telecommunications formerly
assigned to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had been created in 1887
to regulate the railroads. This is not a good fit,” they state. “Indeed, the
development of telecommunications advances so rapidly that even the Telecom Act
of 1996 is woefully out of date.”
Along these lines, Republicans also vow to “remove 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protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and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 data as they
become crucial components of the Internet ecosystem.”
Turning to other issues, the platform criticizes the Obama administration for
not doing more to free spectrum for commercial broadband networks, suggesting
that Republicans would introduce legislation to create an inventory of
government-held spectrum “to determine the surplus that could be auctioned for
The Republicans also make tacit reference to the FCC's National Broadband
Plan, released in March 2010, and the $7.2 billion allocated under the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. L. No. 111-05) to Commerce
Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the
Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service to distribute as grants and
loans for broadband deployment projects--policy initiatives they say have
Obama, the Republicans note, “inherited from the previous Republican
administration 95 percent coverage of the nation with broadband” and will “leave
office with no progress toward the goal of universal coverage.”
“That hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers, and small business
manufacturers need connectivity to expand their customer base and operate in
real time with the world's producers,” the platform said. “We encourage
public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural
areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy.”
For Obama's part, through the FCC's National Broadband Plan and the American
Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the current administration has tried to hasten
the deployment of broadband infrastructure through the United States, especially
in rural areas. The Commerce and Agriculture departments continue to disburse
loans for broadband construction projects, and the FCC has successfully
transformed the Universal Service Fund, a roughly $4.5 billion-a-year fund that
subsidizes the cost of providing telephone service in rural, into a
broadband-subsidy fund. More people can access high-speed broadband now than
when Obama first took office, the agencies have reported.
Obama has also made spectrum policy a key tech policy goal. In June 2010, he
issued an executive order calling on the FCC and the NTIA to make available some
500 MHz of spectrum to auction to wireless carriers.
Later this year, the FCC will begin writing rules for the first-ever
“incentive” auction of spectrum, in which TV broadcasters, who license their
spectrum through the commission, can voluntarily give some of it or all of it
back in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds. Obama lobbied Congress to
authorize incentive auctions as part the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation
Act of 2012 (H.R. 3630), approved in February.
Shifting to a more bipartisan issue, the Republicans in their platform said
they will “resist any effort to shift control away from the successful
multi-stakeholder approach of internet governance and toward governance by
international or other intergovernmental organizations.”
Later this year, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the United States will join
foreign delegates at the World Conference on International Telecommunications,
during which the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. agency, will
negotiate revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations, a
document last updated in 1988
Ambassador Terry D. Kramer, head of the U.S. delegation to the treaty-writing
conference, has said that the United States will oppose changes to the
International Telecommunication Regulations that would restrict the free flow of
content, impede the natural growth and evolution of the internet, or impose
uneconomic pricing or transfer-payment obligations on internet content providers
or backbone operators.
The first U.S. proposals indicate that the United States would not support
increased controls over internet governance or content.
“The internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom
more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human
history,” the Republicans said, in rare agreement with the Obama administration.
“Its independence is its power.”
For the final document outlining the GOP's party platform, visit http://op.bna.com/der.nsf/r?Open=palo-8xlsx2.