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Obama’s Pick: Hope for the FCC?

Posted: January 22nd, 2009 | Author: Agitationist | Filed under: social media | No Comments »

The festivities are over, and we have our 44th President. And if you’re technology geek keeping an eye on the signals out of Washington, you might be feeling a little bit of Hope.

Among the many agenda items Obama laid out during the campaign was a plan for technology and the internet. In it were numerous signals to the free-information activist community that this was a candidate who “got it”. Technology was not just to be a tool to advocate for change, is was to be a big part of the change itself. The key: he was in favor of Net Neutrality (background from Lawrence Lessig).

But now that the rubber is actually on the road, the policy papers will either fly out the window in favor of political expediency, or for once we can actually look forward to the public interest being served. I’m happy to report that for once it might well be the latter.


Julius Genachowski (credit: WSJ)

Julius Genachowski (credit: WSJ)

Not only is Obama set to appoint a national Chief Technology Officer, but it is reported that his choice to head the dreaded FCC will be his campaign’s technology adviser, Julius Genachowski. Genachowski co-wrote the Obama campaign’s Technology and Innovation Plan (pdf) which advocated “the Full and Free Exchange of Information through an Open Internet and Diverse Media Outlets.”

Genachowski and Obama believe in net neutrality and media diversity.

From the plan:

Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans. But these guarantees are not enough to prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet.

Because most Americans only have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against websites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment. This could create a two-tier Internet in which websites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers, while all competing websites remain in a slower lane.

Such a result would threaten innovation, the open tradition and architecture of the Internet, and competition among content and backbone providers. It would also threaten the equality of speech through which the Internet has begun to transform American political and cultural discourse. Barack Obama supports the basic principle that network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some web sites and Internet applications over others.

So how serious is Obama about Net Neutrality? For a start, he has made parts of his stimulus package contingent on the big telecoms accepting neutrality provisions. That’s called putting your money where your mouth is.

As for Genachowski, where is he on the other issues to face the FCC? As Mediageek points out, we can infer from his experience as assistant to FCC chairman Reed Hundt during the Clinton administration. It may be difficult to remember such a time, but back then corporate America didn’t have a rubber stamp at the FCC. Hundt opposed lifting nationwide radio ownership limits (which were unfortunately lifted after his tenure, leading to the culture-killing Clear Channel/NewsCorp era). In the written plan, Genachowski and Obama express support for rules that encourage diversity in media ownership, as well as deployment of affordable broadband to under-served areas.

If Genachowski is indeed the FCC pick, his confirmation hearings will be the first indication how serious he is about the agenda. But if he’s committed to the plan – and the long, hard work of chipping away at corporatist control over the media – that would be change we could believe in.

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