If true leadership is about making it possible for others to lead, then the tech industry should get excited about what's being proposed in Charlotte. Compare the Republican and Democratic Party platforms when it comes to technology and you'll find an open-and-shut case. One is open to creating universal, affordable access; the other is closed to newcomers in a sector where access points are controlled by a few monopoly players.
It's really pretty simple. The Democratic Platform is focused on the need for reliable, reasonably priced infrastructure for everyone. "Democrats know that the United States must preserve our leadership in the Internet economy," it says, and asserts that America must have a 21st century digital infrastructure. It features the need for an open Internet as part of both our domestic and foreign policy. An open Internet means an Internet that isn't controlled by a few gatekeepers that have a strong interest in driving up their own stock valuations at the expense of companies and entrepreneurs that rely on their distribution channels. That's good for the tech sector as a whole, although it's not what the few powerful carriers in America would like to see.
High-capacity, low-latency (no delays or spinning wheels), reasonably priced connections to the Internet that empower Americans to lead -- launching businesses, tracking their health, accessing world-class education -- won't be brought to us through the magic of the marketplace. We've seen what happens when we let communications marketplaces run wild; we get market-division agreements, a lack of choice, the prioritization of short-term profits to a few over the long-term benefit of everyone, and a generally embarrassing situation compared to the rest of the world.
Today, the telecommunications and tech sectors are splitting their bets -- and their dollars. That's common practice for any industry lobby; with the House leaning Republican and the Senate likely to stay in the blue, telecom PACs are cutting checks to both sides as they seek influence everywhere. But the tech industry needs to realize that not all of its members are created equal. A truly open Internet means that carriers can't be the ones who decide which startups get access to subscribers or which subscribers get access to the Internet at what price. Allowing this kind of discrimination is great business for cable companies that have taken command of the wired Internet market, and their business gets better with every deregulatory push that allows them to further consolidate their control. But that world is a terrible place for the newcomers and startups we're counting on to push our economic recovery forward.
There are bright spots across the country where high capacity 21st century networks are being built. Take a look at Cleveland's Case Western University, where the gigabit Case Connection Zone allows brain surgeons to practice tomorrow's surgery using real patient data -- a kind of flight simulator for surgeons. (Wouldn't you want your doctor to practice first?) But we need to stitch these networks together and make this high capacity, low latency, open connectivity available to everyone.
Election season is about placing bets, so here's mine: Our economic recovery depends on an open Internet that every entrepreneur, student, first responder and citizen accesses at the same speeds as the rest of the world. I'm excited to see a plan that's open to building that future.
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