Will the Republican Platform Address Internet Freedom?

“Focusing government on encouraging Internet investment, rather than discouraging it, would allow Americans to get back to work, put our economy on the road to a strong recovery, and preserve our global competitiveness.”

Yesterday POLITICO Pro said both political parties are on the verge of declaring support for some version of Internet freedom in their 2012 platforms. The Democratic platform contained a lengthy statement in 2008, but according to Politico, its 2012 platform will consist of a simple sentence about protecting the open Internet. Politico also noted that, though Republicans hardly mentioned the Internet in 2008, they are expected to consider several Internet proposals during their platform meeting early next week. Will the new Republican platform address Internet freedom? If so, what is the platform likely to say?

I expect the Republican platform will have more to say about the Internet in 2012. In the last four years, the Internet has become critical to this election’s central issues – job creation and economic growth. In mature economies, job creation and growth are sustained through boundless innovation, which is increasingly reliant on Internet connectivity. According to McKinsey Global Institute, Internet-related consumption and expenditure is now bigger than agriculture or energy in G-8 nations as well as Brazil, China, and India.

The Internet is also the biggest driver of private capital investment in America’s infrastructure. According to a recent report ranking U.S.-based companies by their U.S. capital spending in 2011, AT&T and Verizon ranked first and second, respectively, with Intel coming in fifth, Comcast eighth, and Sprint Nextel, Time Warner Cable, Google, and Apple all in the top twenty-five. Together these companies invested nearly $60 billion in our future.

What does private investment in Internet infrastructure mean for job creation? Conservative and progressive economists believe infrastructure investment is a highly effective way to create jobs and increase the productivity of businesses of all sizes. Economists from the Political Economy Research Institute estimate that each $1 billion in new infrastructure investment generates between 9,819 and 17,784 jobs through direct and indirect effects and between 14,515 and 23,784 jobs when induced effects are considered.America’s comeback requires government policies that encourage private investmentin the wired and mobile Internet and empower the imaginations of our technology entrepreneurs to innovate.

Policies that permit innovative experimentation and promote new investment in Internet infrastructure would rapidly create new jobs and promote the economic growth that is so critical to America’s future. Focusing government on encouraging Internet investment, rather than discouraging it, would allow Americans to get back to work, put our economy on the road to a strong recovery, and preserve our global competitiveness.Unfortunately, the policies pursued by progressives have failed to encourage substantial investment in our communications infrastructure. Despite its good intentions, the Administration’s expansive regulatory approach has had the opposite effect.

The largest Internet companies are stockpiling billions of dollars in cash overseas while our communications infrastructure struggles to keep up with consumer demand for more data.Conservatives hadn’t perceived the full extent of this regulatory threat until the Democratic FCC eliminated the historically bipartisan agreement against regulation of the Internet in 2010, when it adopted net neutrality rules. The breadth of the FCC’s interference in the Internet marketplace surprised Republicans, who had been content to allow private innovators to continue developing the Internet. Net neutrality was a wake-up call for the Republican Party, and the reaction to the next wave of Internet regulation – SOPA and PIPA – was a fire alarm. Republicans are now aware of the threats that government interference poses to the Internet, and they are ready to counter those threats.That’s why I expect the Republic platform will address Internet freedom in 2012.

The more interesting question is how much emphasis the platform places on the issue.If the Republicans intend to build a strong, conservative movement for Internet freedom, their platform will expressly support a market-based approach to the Internet. It will resist efforts to shift control of Internet governance from private stakeholders to governmental organizations. It will seek to enhance consumer choice by removing regulatory barriers to innovation and investment, including centralized spectrum management and 1930s-era communications regulations. It will support the ability of consumers to protect their personal data from disclosure through strict adherence to Constitutional requirements. And it will recognize that rapid technological change requires a more dynamic approach to competition issues than static “market power” analyses.If the Republicans intend to strike a more bipartisan tone on Internet issues, their platform will adopt a generic statement touting the benefits of an open Internet. A less substantive approach would demonstrate Republican support for the Internet while signaling a willingness to embrace policies that align more closely with Democratic ideology.I expect the Republican platform will emphasize its commitment to a free market Internet with substantive proposals.

The Internet is too important to our national competitiveness in a global economy – and to the liberty of U.S. citizens and people worldwide – for the Republican Party to cede the Internet’s future to the failed regulatory policies of the past. Conservatives are ready to embrace the future of Internet freedom, and they are expecting free markets, not government regulation, to lead the way.