TAMPA, Fla. -- The Republican Party pleasantly surprised open Internet advocates on Tuesday by including support for "Internet freedom" in its official 2012 platform. Tech advocates still object to the GOP platform's continued opposition to net neutrality standards and argue that the platform's support for some aggressive trade policies is inconsistent with its language on Internet freedom.
The Internet freedom language marks an about-face for most Republican members of Congress, who had supported the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), along with most Democrats, until online protests derailed the House bill just days before a key vote in January.
On Wednesday, the Hollywood lobby, which had aggressively pushed to enact SOPA, endorsed the Republicans' latest stance. Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), released a statement praising language that would have barred SOPA from passage.
"The Republican Party platform language strikes a very smart balance: it emphasizes the importance of us doing more as a nation to protect our intellectual property from online theft while underscoring the critical importance of protecting Internet freedom,'' Dodd said in a statement. "I agree wholeheartedly with my friends in the Republican Party that we must protect the free flow of information on the Internet while also protecting American innovators. It is imperative to our national economy and our national identity that we protect an Internet that works for everyone."
A spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the few Republicans to stridently oppose SOPA, applauded Dodd's lobby on Wednesday.
"We've come a long way since SOPA and PIPA [Protect IP Act, the related Senate bill] if the MPAA is endorsing a platform that supports Internet Freedom for individuals and organizations alike," the Issa spokesman said.
The Republican platform vows to "remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition" and to "resist any effort to shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations."
"We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties," the GOP platform reads.
That language not only would be problematic for SOPA supporters; it would block the lesser-known Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which Internet freedom advocates shot down earlier this year because it would have allowed the government to monitor individuals' Internet traffic and share web traffic data with private companies.
"Somebody actually abiding by that language would've opposed SOPA on anti-regulatory grounds and CISPA on privacy grounds," noted David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, an open Internet advocacy group. "Now those who take the wrong positions on such issues will know that they risk incurring the wrath of their party's most active members."
Nevertheless, the GOP remains steadfastly opposed to net neutrality standards. Deleting current Federal Communications Commission rules could give telecom companies the ability to limit how much traffic a given website can handle -- a potential death sentence on the web.
Other GOP platform pledges to aggressively enforce intellectual property rules through trade policy, moreover, would create many of the same problems posed by SOPA. Issa and other Internet freedom advocates have objected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, currently being negotiated by the Obama administration, on the grounds that it does not adequately protect the web.
"It's great that the platform recognizes the importance of Internet freedom. But freedom from regulation isn't the only kind of freedom," said Sherwin Siiy, vice president of legal affairs for Public Knowledge, an open Internet advocacy group. "One of the biggest Internet freedom issues of the past year, overzealous copyright enforcement, isn't covered in these sections. Meanwhile, another part of the platform, on free trade, calls for increased enforcement of intellectual property without recognizing the many harms that result from the overzealous pursuit of the same."
Read the full GOP platform on net neutrality and Internet freedom:
Protecting Internet Freedom
The Internet has unleashed innovation, enabled growth, and inspired freedom more rapidly and extensively than any other technological advance in human history. Its independence is its power. The Internet offers a communications system uniquely free from government intervention. We will remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition, while preventing legacy regulation from interfering with new and disruptive technologies such as mobile delivery of voice video data as they become crucial components of the Internet ecosystem. We will resist any effort to shift control away from the successful multi-stakeholder approach of Internet governance and toward governance by international or other intergovernmental organizations. We will ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties; the only way to safeguard or improve these systems is through the private sector.
A Vision for the Twenty-First Century: Technology, Telecommunications and the Internet
The most vibrant sector of the American economy, indeed, one-sixth of it, is regulated by the federal government on precedents from the nineteenth century. Today's technology and telecommunications industries are overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, established in 1934 and given the jurisdiction over telecommunications formerly assigned to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had been created in 1887 to regulate the railroads. This is not a good fit. Indeed, the development of telecommunications advances so rapidly that even the Telecom Act of 1996 is woefully out of date. An industry that invested $66 billion in 2011 alone needs, and deserves, a more modern relationship with the federal government for the benefit of consumers here and worldwide.
The current Administration has been frozen in the past. It has conducted no auction of spectrum, has offered no incentives for investment, and, through the FCC's net neutrality rule, is trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network. It inherited from the previous Republican Administration 95 percent coverage of the nation with broadband. It will leave office with no progress toward the goal of universal coverage -- after spending $7.2 billion more. That hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers, and small business manufacturers need connectivity to expand their customer base and operate in real time with the world's producers. We encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy. We call for an inventory of federal agency spectrum to determine the surplus that could be auctioned for the taxpayers' benefit. With special recognition of the role university technology centers are playing in attracting private investment to the field, we will replace the administration's Luddite approach to technological progress with a regulatory partnership that will keep this country the world leader in technology and telecommunications.
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