Where do the current candidates fall when it comes to internet policy?

In 2015, flooded by petitions of overwhelming public support, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  ruled in favor of Net Neutrality. This decision effectively classified broadband as a utility, subject to government regulations that ensure fair access to the public. The Internets, which had been vocal in opposition to monetizing faster speeds and better access, gave a collective sigh of relief. A battle had been won, but the fight to keep the Internet free continues. Barack Obama, referred to by Fortune as our “digitizer in chief,” has been a champion for Net Neutrality. Earlier this month, he threatened to use his veto power to shut down another Republican-led assault on the unfettered Internet. This conservative offensive comes in the form of House Bill 2666, known as the “No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access.” And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Masterminded by telecommunications industry lobbyists, the bill would undermine current FCC efforts to classify broadband as a utility and exempt the industry from rate regulations. Obama’s not letting this one get by on his watch, but his time in the executive seat of veto power is nearly up. What does the future of the Internet look like under the next President? And how do the candidates view hot button topics like cyber security, broadband access, and the controversial NSA’s domestic surveillance program. The opinions on these issues from 2016’s presidential candidates are as varied as the rainbow, from supportive to misinformed to eerily silent. Let’s take a tour of the politicians whose opinions have the power to outflank industry opposition and win the war to set the Internet free.  


Hillary Clinton: The Pragmatist

Clinton has come out in support of Net Neutrality on several occasions, but with caveats. She gives voice to the industry’s repeated concern that providers will not be incentivized to innovate. However, her nuanced argument on Net Neutrality clarifies that a free market approach cannot come at the cost of access to the public. In an exclusive op-ed for Quartz, Clinton wrote, “Being pro-business doesn’t mean hanging consumers out to dry.” She stated she was in favor of “enforcing strong net neutrality” and expressed a commitment to fighting broadband monopolies. Hillary Clinton’s platform does include a commitment to ensuring 100% of households across America have access to affordable broadband services by 2020. However, her positions on cyber security and mass surveillance have supported domestic spying programs in instances where she felt national security risk outweighed an individual right to privacy. She’s referred to recent controversy surrounding the FBI-Apple debacle regarding a backdoor to the iPhone as a “legitimate dilemma,” but hasn’t been clear about how she would resolve the issue as president.  

25946025531_2c3d45aa1e_zTed Cruz: The Opponent

Cruz has expressed frequent and vocal opposition to Net Neutrality. He believes that regulating broadband as a utility actually threatens the flow of information. In a Washington Post op-ed, Cruz stated that Net Neutrality would result in “fewer choices, opportunities and higher pricing” for the average consumer. Ted Cruz went even further in his assessment in a Facebook post from November, 2014, referring to Net Neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet.”   Cruz has yet to weigh-in on telecom monopolies and his current platform doesn’t have any specifics about broadband infrastructure. However, in a letter to the FCC in 2014, he expressed strong opposition to the government regulating broadband as a utility. Ted Cruz’s recent position supporting law enforcement’s request for a back door to the iPhone is puzzling, given his support of the USA Freedom Act, which ended the NSA’s ability to collect phone records in bulk.  

24616087404_8baa138730_zJohn Kasich: The Unknown

Kasich has yet to take a particular stance on Net Neutrality. His campaign thus far has very little to say on technologyperiod. Kasich has, however, been a vocal opponent of the NSA’s domestic spying program and his views generally align with less government regulation across all sectors. He’s dodged direct questions on the Internet, which has led to some speculation that Kasich may not be exactly sure what the internet is. During the debates in February of 2016, Kasich was questioned about his stance on cybersecurity and recent efforts by the FBI to get Apple to create a “backdoor” into the iPhone. The governor responded, “I just have to tell you that it’s best with some of these things [that they] not be said.” John Kasich suggested that the USA Freedom Act was a “step forward” but has been elusive about what other steps he might take to ensure privacy in the face of domestic spying programs.  At this point, the silence from Kasich’s campaign on technology has been deafening. He’s suggested consumers are responsible for broadband rate increases, but beyond that, Kasich doesn’t seem to have much to offer about the future of the Internet.

24349401534_3bdc739f9a_zBernie Sanders: The Champion

The Vermont senator has been a passionate and vocal champion of Net Neutrality from the beginning. He’s categorized so-called fast lanes as “grossly unfair,” and he hailed the 2015 FCC decision as “a victory for consumers and entrepreneurs.” Sanders made his position on Net Neutrality crystal-clear in a press release following the FCC decision. “The proposal would ensure that the Internet remains a space for the open exchange of ideas and information, free of discrimination and corporate control.” – Bernie Sanders This position aligns closely with the ideology of his candidacy. Sanders believes the public’s right to information trumps any argument about the free market approach to incentivizing competition among providers. His budget proposals also include funding to support bringing broadband to a wider portion of the American public. The American Society of Civil Engineers indicates Sande’s’ proposal is the only one that comes close to the estimated 3.6 trillion they believe is necessary to upgrade infrastructure. Senator Sanders has also sent letters to the FCC expressing concern about mergers and broadband monopolies. Bernie has also been a fairly staunch supporter of public privacy in the face of security threats and his legislative record proves it. Unlike Clinton, he’s voted against The Patriot Act twice and committed in a recent debate that as president, he would “end domestic surveillance” by the NSA.  

25715575431_59e9d3eac2_zDonald Trump: The Confused

Trump has made it clear that he strongly opposes Net Neutrality. But the reasoning behind his stance is rather ambiguous. In a tweet back in November, Trump insisted that Net Neutrality was a “power grab” by Obama, similar to the Fairness Doctrine.   The Fairness Doctrine is an FCC policy introduced in 1949 that required radio and TV broadcasters to present both sides of an issue of public importance in their programming.  Because Net Neutrality is not about the content of the Internet but access to it, it’s unclear exactly how it might affect conservative media. We might need to wait until the wall is built before “The Donald” will have time to clarify his position on the fight to free the Internet. While Donald Trump hasn’t made any official statements in regard to his proposed policies on technology issues, he’s alluded plenty to an aggressive stance on cybersecurity. He infamously commented that he’d like to “shut down the Internet,” and Trump’s ongoing comments support that he would always err on the side of security rather than privacy. In response to questions about the iphone backdoor, “The Donald” blasted Apple. ‘Who do they think they are?” he asked at a rally in February. Trump has since called for a boycott of Apple products until such time as the company cooperates with the FBI.

The Scorecard

[wpsm_comparison_table id=”3″ class=””] There’s nothing society loves more than some good old righteous indignation, especially when it comes to our personal privacy. We react with outrage when the government collects data from our phones. We all signed up for the Do Not Call Registry, and we get angry when we still get telemarketer calls. We pretend we don’t want our data collected online—pretend because, as long as the service is free, we’ve shown we’ll willingly trade privacy for reduced-price or free digital services. The Numbers Don’t Add Up According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 80 percent of American adults surveyed worry about businesses accessing the data they share on the site, and 70 percent are concerned about the government accessing that same data. Yet despite these concerns, Facebook still has 864 million active users per day, and 1.3 billion active users per month, so people are still doing a lot of sharing. And that’s despite documented instances of legitimate privacy concerns, not tin foil hat paranoia. The study also found 61 percent of Americans disagree with the notion that increased access to personal information makes online services more efficient. Even so, 55 percent agree they’re willing to share personal information in exchange for free access to online services, like social media. As many Internet and media experts have noted, when we use free online services in exchange for advertising, we are the product being sold. Putting Our Mouth Where Our Money Isn’t The results of this study send a message to all those online services collecting and selling our data: people will complain about your service and its privacy policy, but we’ll probably continue to use it anyway. Facebook has generated controversy after controversy, and people complain for a while—usually using Facebook itself—before coming right back. By now, we all know Google keeps track of our online history, sometimes in violation of the law, but it’s still by far the number one online search engine. We’ve now been online long enough that our preferences have become ingrained to the point that we mock Google competitors for trying to create something better, instead of welcoming the possibility of a better product. What a Tangled World Wide Web We Weave If online services aren’t likely to change the way they handle our personal information, then we’ll have to change our online behavior. Over 60 percent of survey respondents say they’d like to do more to protect their information online, but only 24 percent say it’s easy to be anonymous online. An editorial in “The Guardian” speculates that some of us want to blame it on “our old friend Tina (There Is No Alternative),” that we’ve simply accepted that a lack of privacy is a price we have to pay for online services. It’s easy to see why actually changing behavior is difficult when our Gmail password now logs us into our YouTube and Google+, accounts, and many third-party sites now use and sometimes even require a Facebook profile for account signup or commenting. The more the online services we use become intertwined, the less likely it is that we’ll abandon one because of how it will affect our use of the others. Pew indicates that 91 percent of people surveyed believe consumers aren’t in control of how their online personal data is collected and used, but 88 percent believe it would be “very difficult” to remove information about them online. Unlike Japan and Europe, America doesn’t have “right to be forgotten” laws. Should we? What We Can Do About It If we want to change how online services handle our personal information, we have to change our online behavior. If Google really bothers us, try an alternative like DuckDuckGo that doesn’t track our browsing history. If we don’t like how Facebook handles our information, we need to be selective in the information we provide. If we show, not tell, these online services that we value our privacy, they’ll begin to value it as well. Perhaps the only thing worse about worrying about our online information is worrying about it over a slow connection. Enter your zip code below to find other Internet plans available in your area. Image by lsengardt/Flickr [zipfinder]
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