Why Are The Democrats Waffling On Net Neutrality?

Does the Democratic Party support net neutrality — the idea that Internet service providers must treat each packet of Internet traffic equally — or not?

The Dems just hammered out the final draft of the official party platform they’re sending to Denver for ratification, and it seems they’re trying to say: We support net neutrality, but don’t quote us on that.

The actual text (see below, under “A Connected America”) of the proposed Democrats’ technology policy is pretty vague:

We will protect the Internet’s traditional openness to innovation and creativity and ensure that it remains a dynamic platform for free speech, innovation, and creativity.

We’re pretty sure we’re supposed to infer that protecting “the Internet’s traditional openness” is code for support of net neutrality. So why not just say so?

The same sentence, almost word-for-word, can be found on presumptive Democratic nominee Barack Obama’s website:

Obama 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.

However, here’s the disconnect between Obama and the rest of his party — Obama also adds the following sentences, notably absent from the new proposed party platform:

Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition 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.

On the other side of the aisle, the Republican National Committee hasn’t yet finalised a draft platform for the GOP. But the Republicans’ own presumptive nominee comes out strong against the idea on JohnMcCain.com:

John McCain does not believe in prescriptive regulation like “net-neutrality,” but rather he believes that an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices.

The debate over “net neutrality” revolves over whether ISPs should be able to prioritise certain types of Internet traffic to Web surfers, for example by disrupting P2P file-sharing programs, or perhaps someday offering business partners priority access to their pipes, for a fee. We know which side Obama and McCain are on. What about the Democratic party?


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