Last summer I blogged about my expectation that conservatives would embrace the Internet. Though many shared this expectation, I doubt anyone expected the Republican Party platform would provide a vision for transforming our communications infrastructure into the Twenty-First Century, or that conservatives would be leading Internet transformation in 2012. Though progressives are stereotypically viewed as tech-savvy, progressives are now following the lead of conservatives on Internet transformation.
Conservatives started leading on Internet issues early in 2012. Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell was outspoken often and early on the dangers posed to the Internet by the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12), which is going on right now in Dubai.
Many in the tech blogosphere initially attacked McDowell. Last February, ExtremeTech said McDowell’s “claims [were] factually inaccurate and hyperbolic,” and that his threat assessment “[was] completely out-of-step with the US government’s opinion.” Though it offered no apology to McDowell, this month ExtremeTech finally recognized that the ongoing negotiations in Dubai “have the potential to completely change the way the internet works, and that is terrifying.”
Conservatives have also been leading the transition to an all-Internet future. The National Broadband Plan, which was issued nearly three years ago, recognized we must “transition from a circuit-switched network to an all-Internet Protocol (IP) network” and that “requiring an incumbent to maintain two networks—one copper and one fiber—would be costly, possibly inefficient and reduce the incentive for incumbents to deploy fiber facilities.” Yet the plan offered no specific recommendations for transitioning our antiquated telephone infrastructure into the all-IP infrastructure of the 21st Century. Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski ignored the issue until Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai called for the creation of an IP Transition Task Force. Genachowski finally heeded Pai’s call for such a task force this week, though Genachowski refused to include the terms “Internet” or “Internet protocol” in its title, “Technology Transitions Policy Task Force.”
It should be no surprise at this point that a conservative was the only Congressional leader to embrace the creation of the new task force. Republican Representative Greg Walden, Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, issued a statement recognizing that “we no longer live in an analog world” and that to pretend otherwise harms innovation. Chairman Walden said he hopes the task force “helps transition toward the networks of tomorrow” and “away from the outdated regulations of the past.”
The real surprise was that progressive leadership in Congress ignored the creation of the task force altogether. Progressive reticence on Internet transformation could explain why Google was the “other star” of the Republican National Convention. Tech companies are beginning to realize that conservative leaders are becoming the champions of Internet innovation while progressive leaders shift their attention to the protection of outdated technologies. Exhibit A: The Democratic majority at the FCC just voted to collect data aimed at re-regulating 1950s special access technologies that should instead be replaced with modern Ethernet technologies.
Given the shift to conservative leadership on technological progress, the Broadband Coalition (BC) may want to reconsider advocating for the application of outdated economic regulations to the Internet. Though it’s possible the BC approach to Internet regulation could find a more receptive audience among progressives, it appears the BC has already lost among those who are right-of-center. Conservative leaders like House Subcommittee Chairman Walden and FCC Commissioners McDowell and Pai have their eyes focused on the future, not the past.