Technology Voters' Guide: Barack Obama

Staunch believer in Net neutrality says he'll push for infrastructure improvements so the U.S. can lead in broadband penetration. Special coverage: Election 2008

Iraq, immigration, taxes, and health care probably have been the four most pressing topics of the 2008 presidential campaign. Technology has made nary an appearance.

Sure, there have been the YouTube-ified debates , MySpace.com polls, record-setting fund-raising efforts, and the now-obligatory Google office visits.

But knowing where the candidates stand on high-tech topics like digital copyright, surveillance, and Internet taxes can be revealing, which is why we've put together this 2008 Technology Voters' Guide.

In late November, we sent questionnaires to the top candidates--measured by funds raised and poll standings--from each major party. We asked each the same 10 questions.

Not all candidates chose to respond: Republicans Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson rebuffed our requests, as did Democrats Joe Biden and Bill Richardson. In all such cases, we made repeated efforts to try to convince them to change their minds.

Read on for responses from Sen. Barack Obama, or check out CNET News.com's election coverage roundup , featuring other Technology Voters' Guide candidate reports.

Q: Politicians have been talking for years about the need for high-speed Internet access . Should this be accomplished primarily through deregulation and market forces, or should the federal government give out grants or subsidies, or enact new laws?
Obama: I believe that America should lead the world in broadband penetration and Internet access. As a country, we have ensured that every American has access to telephone service and electricity, regardless of economic status, and I will do likewise for broadband Internet access. Full broadband penetration can enrich democratic discourse, enhance competition, provide economic growth, and bring significant consumer benefits.

Moreover, improving our infrastructure will foster competitive markets for Internet access and services that ride on that infrastructure. Market forces will drive the deployment of broadband in many parts of the country, but not all. To get true broadband deployed in every community in America, we need to reform the Universal Service Fund , make better use of the nation's wireless spectrum , promote next-generation facilities, technologies, and applications, and provide new tax and loan incentives.

Congress has considered Net neutrality legislation, but it never became law. Do you still support the legislation that was re-introduced in 2007 (S 215), which gives the FCC the power to punish "discriminatory" conduct by broadband providers?
Obama: Yes. As I stated during my visit to Google on November 14, I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. The Internet is the most open network in history. We have to keep it that way.

I will prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet. Because most Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband carriers, carriers are tempted to impose a toll charge on content and services, discriminating against Web sites that are unwilling to pay for equal treatment.

This could create a two-tier Internet in which Web sites with the best relationships with network providers can get the fastest access to consumers , while all competing Web sites 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.

Accordingly, network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some Web sites and Internet applications over others. This principle will ensure that the new competitors, especially small or nonprofit speakers, have the same opportunity as incumbents to innovate on the Internet and to reach large audiences.

I will protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity, and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy.

Telecommunications companies such as AT&T have been accused in court of opening their networks to the government in violation of federal privacy law. Do you support with intelligence agencies or law enforcement, which was proposed by the Senate Intelligence Committee this fall (S 2248)?
Obama: No.

The section restricting the "circumvention" of copy protection measures is supported by many copyright holders but has been criticized by some technologists as hindering innovation. Would you support changing the DMCA to permit Americans to make a single backup copy of a DVD, Blu-ray Disc DVD, HD DVD, or video game disc they have legally purchased?
Obama: I would support, in concept, allowing Americans to make a single backup copy of a digital product they have purchased. And I think the market is moving in the direction of greater consumer freedom.

As policymakers, we are in a constant process of examining our laws to ensure that the protections we place on intellectual property are sufficient to encourage invention without hindering innovation that builds on previous work or unfairly limiting consumers from using the goods they purchase in a way that is fair to creators.

 

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