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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 “Indeed, the development of telecommunications advances so rapidly that even the Telecom Act of 1996 is woefully out of date.”
Along these lines, Republicans also vow to “remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition, while preventing legacy regulation from interfering with new and disruptive technologies such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 taxpayers' benefit.”
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 failed.
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.
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