Technology Voters' Guide: John Edwards

Former senator aims for universal broadband, supports Net neutrality, and pledges to "recharge" American innovation. 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, 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 former Sen. John Edwards, or check out CNET'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?
Edwards: There should be no neighborhoods in America where the lights of the Internet are not on. Yet--partly because we have never had a national broadband strategy--the country that developed the Internet is now 16th in broadband deployment, and America's competitiveness has suffered. The spread of broadband has been uneven and costly, too driven by the profits of a few entrenched companies and technologies to allow the nation as a whole to realize the billions in economic benefits promised by truly universal Internet access.

As president, I will set a goal of giving all U.S. homes and businesses access to real high-speed Internet by 2010. I will establish a national broadband map to identify gaps in availability, price, and speed. I will also create public-private partnerships to promote deployment and require providers not to discriminate against rural and low-income areas. I will work to improve Internet accessibility for people with disabilities. I believe we need to improve the e-rate program with a goal of universally wired schools.

Since achieving truly universal broadband will require every tool at our disposal, I will also encourage local service providers and municipal wireless projects, and use the newly available 700MHz spectrum and broadcast television white spaces to support wireless networks that can connect with all digital devices.

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?
Edwards: In May, I--like thousands of citizens--wrote a letter to the FCC urging them to guarantee Net neutrality. I believe that if we do not guarantee Net neutrality--and at the same time meet the goal of universal broadband access--the Internet could go the way of network television and commercial radio--with just a few loud corporate voices and no room for the grassroots and small entrepreneurs. Our country is already divided enough between the haves and have-nots. Where we go to school, where (and whether) we get health care, whether we can retire with dignity--we have big divides in all of these areas in this country.

While we work to create One America, we should not allow the Internet to be divided or corporate censorship to take root. That would make the other important work we have to do that much harder. The Internet is not the answer to everything, but it can powerfully accelerate the best of America. It improves our democracy by making quiet voices loud, improves our economy by making small markets big, and improves opportunity by making unlikely dreams possible.

As president, I will do several things to encourage innovation and neutrality online. First, I will ensure that the FCC preserves free expression and competition on the Internet by enforcing Net neutrality, ensuring no degradation or blocking of access to Web sites. I will also bring the Carterfone interoperability rule to wireless so that Americans can connect any device or applications to their wireless service, just as they can to their landline phone service.

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)?
Edwards: The American people deserve to know about President Bush's illegal spying on Americans. Providing big telecom companies retroactive immunity would mean that the facts about these abuses will never come out in court. Congress should stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law by rejecting any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecom companies.

Featured Video