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The first Gen-X’er to be elected to the nation’s highest office, President-elect Barack Obama may be the most wired-in president ever. Among the many priorities on Obama’s To-Do list when he takes office this January, technology concerns will be paramount. Trading in his PDA for the Oval Office’s first laptop computer? Check. Weekly addresses to the American public via YouTube? Check. Appointing the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer to his cabinet? If he wants to, then yes he can.
Rebooting the nation won’t be an easy task. What’s next for Obama?
Chief on the agenda is pushing net neutrality regulation, an issue that has stalled repeatedly in Congress over the past eight years. Net neutrality is, quite possibly, the most important issue of the Information Age.
So what is it?
For the tech-challenged, some feel that today’s broadband providers are a de facto monopoly. Hence, net neutrality simply means equal access to the Internet. Net neutrality would essentially treat Internet providers like common carriers, and assure that broadband providers would not be able to block content.
For example, earlier this year Comcast settled an agreement after it was found to have blocked and delayed BitTorrent uploads on its network. In response to this incident, the Federal Communications Commission issued telecommunications guidelines. However, these FCC guidelines are merely advisory, while a House of Representatives bill that would establish an enforceable broadband policy has been sitting in subcommittee purgatory since last May.
Equal access to the Internet will not come without negative implications. To the chagrin of many in the entertainment and electronic gaming industries, net neutrality legislation could enable piracy to a certain extent. Yet with government Internet regulation, ISPs may become less liable. Furthermore, Obama adopted a vague stance on the state of current copyright laws while on the campaign trail, particularly regarding proposed changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. These policies and regulations could leave the future of copyright enforcement in a tenuous position.
In addition, Obama’s position on strengthening antitrust requirements stands to hinder free market development among ISPs. Government regulation of the Internet could stall innovation because there would be no incentive for ISPs to develop new content and technologies.
However, arguably the free market alternative does not even exist in today’s super information highway. Users are bound to their local market providers, with dial-up as a weak alternative. Therefore, some might argue that net neutrality does support free market principles because the Internet is increasingly vital to the nation’s economy.
Ultimately, despite its political and economic hiccups, net neutrality regulation would theoretically prevent broadband ISPs from interfering with their subscribers’ Internet access. If Obama can make good on his promise to push this bill through Congress, we may yet become one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, justice, and equal Internet access for all.
Now there’s some change we can believe in.
– Abbey Morrow