Democratic Platform Backs ‘Open Internet,' Defends FCC, Calls for Cybersecurity Action

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By Paul Barbagallo  

The Democrats steadfastly defended rules adopted in 2010 by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure open access to websites and online services--broadly referred to as “net neutrality” rules--and called for new cybersecurity legislation as part of its party platform adopted on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Sept. 4.

Though not mentioning the FCC rules explicitly, the platform indicates President Obama's “strong” commitment to protecting “an open internet that fosters investment, innovation, creativity, consumer choice, and free speech, unfettered by censorship or undue violations of privacy.”

The policy plank does not comes as much of a surprise. During his 2008 presidential campaign, Obama made net neutrality a central component of his technology platform. As a campaign aide, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski helped draft that platform.

In the House, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has been among the most outspoken critics of the FCC's net neutrality rules, which prohibit 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. Last week, as part of their platform, the GOP said they would repeal the rules.

But, beyond being open, the Democrats say the internet should be “secure and reliable” and “respectful of U.S. intellectual property, [the] free flow of information, and privacy.”

The platform highlights the Obama administration's efforts on cybersecurity, noting that the president has supported “comprehensive cybersecurity legislation that would help business and government protect against risks of cyber attacks while also safeguarding the privacy rights of our citizens.” They president, the document adds, will “continue to take executive action to strengthen and update our cyber defenses.”

In contrast, the GOP party cybersecurity plank argues that Obama's policy on cybersecurity is too regulatory-focused and dependent on defense infrastructure.

“The very technologies that empower us to lead and create also empower individual criminal hackers, organized criminal groups, terrorist networks, and other advanced nations to disrupt the critical infrastructure that is vital to our economy, commerce, public safety, and military,” the platform says. “Defending against cyber threats requires networks that are secure, trustworthy, and resilient.”

FCC Broadband Plan Boosted.

The Democrats were also quick to trumpet the FCC's National Broadband Plan, released in March 2010, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. L. No. 111-05)--efforts designed to hasten the deployment of broadband infrastructure through the United States, especially in rural areas.

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, and the Commerce and Agriculture departments continue to disburse loans for broadband construction projects.

More people can access high-speed broadband now than when Obama first took office, all three agencies have reported.

“Democrats know that the United States must preserve our leadership in the internet economy,” the Democrats note. “We will ensure that America has a 21st century digital infrastructure--robust wired and wireless broadband capability, a smarter electrical grid, and upgraded information technology infrastructure in key sectors such as health care and education. President Obama has committed to ensuring that 98 percent of the country has access to high-speed wireless broadband internet access.”

The Democrats will also continue to “free up” wireless spectrum for commercial mobile broadband networks, which has been one of Obama's key technology policies.

In June 2010, he issued an executive order calling on the FCC and the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration 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 (Pub. L. No. 112-78), approved in February.

The Republican platform criticized Obama for not doing more to make additional spectrum available to the wireless industry, such as identifying underutilized government-controlled spectrum for auction.

The GOP platform also rebuffed Obama's efforts to encourage the spread of high-speed internet access.

Intergovernmental Control Issues.

But where the parties did agree was on opposing new intergovernmental controls over the internet.

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 regulation of internet governance or content.

“The Obama administration has led the world to recognize and defend Internet freedom--the freedom of expression, assembly, and association online for people everywhere--through coalitions of countries and by empowering individuals with innovative technologies,” the platform states.

“To preserve the internet as a platform for commerce, debate, learning, and innovation in the 21st century, we successfully negotiated international internet policymaking principles, support the current multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance, and oppose the extension of intergovernmental controls over the internet.”

Text of the Democratic Party's 2012 platform is available at

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