Barack Obama is the candidate who gets the Internet

posted 06 January 2008

One of the things I often mention when people ask me why I'm so deeply in favour of Obama is that he is the candidate who strikes me as really understanding modern technology. I wasn't sure where I'd even picked up that initial impression (although Hilary's uninformed stance on video game violence made me sure that she didn't understand). But now I'm beginning to find positive evidence.

It started with his plans for a national CTO position, but beyond the basic idea that government IT sucks and needs to be fixed, and that telecom carriers are killing innovation and need to be shaken up, there's a deeper issue here that I was finding it difficult to articulate until Matt Stoller did it for me in an article about differences in media policy between Clinton and Obama:

the internet and our media are not just issues, and they are not just tech issues, they are organizing principles around which we are shaping the very nature of our politics and culture

And that's it. Having an uninformed stance on telecoms policy is not some policy-wonk problem, only important to the nerdy voters. It's like having the wrong position on whether people should be allowed to own and operate printing presses. He also neatly sums up the core difference between Obama and Hillary on this issue, too:

It's really a generational split here. Obama gets, on a gut level, the importance of the internet and the open culture that has created much of our wealth and opportunity. Clinton is entirely about a 1970s and 1980s suburbanized corrupt form of politics, where you give everything important to industry while demagoguing on issues like violence on TV for the children (doing nothing about it, of course).

Obama's policies are spelled out in the article, but amount to taking the power to define what we can and can't get in terms of telecoms services and media away from corporations. He's not taking the provision of these services away from them -- that would be disastrous -- but the definition of them. What is "open access" to wireless spectrum? How fast exactly is that "broadband" you're mandated to provide to rural areas? Is the guy who gets to run the FCC a former employee of the cable companies, and is he allowed to pick up a fat job as a lobbyist immediately after he leaves?

Obama is the candidate who understands that the Internet is not just a technology, not just a new industry, but a fundamental change to the nature of public discourse, and like any other form of free speech, it needs to be encouraged and protected from vested interests who would seek to control it to their own ends. And that's is why he's my candidate of choice.