How To Win Over The Netroots

Full disclosure; I’m about the dead opposite of a tech-geek.  Just about all of the behind the scenes action here at Comments is taken care of by Mr. Tedesco as well as all the fee paying, server maintenance, and so on and so forth whilst I am merely grateful that WordPress’ trackback feature is mostly automatic, and in those cases when it isn’t, it’s still pretty easy.

And don’t get me on html.

No, it’s safe to say that in today’s world, I border on the computer illiterate, and so I can’t speak much on ideas of “net neutrality” and the whoseewhats gatekeepers of wireless.  It’s just not my bag.  I’m a blogger, yes, and this stuff is probably all very important to me, but I’m one of the lucky ones where all I have to do is log on and write what I write, and thus far no one’s given me much guff over it either.

But there are some things I do understand.  For one, for many bloggers, online internet political discourse is a business, not a hobby, not something you do in your spare time.  For a much wider sphere of us, something else important to understand is that the internet provides a bright and promising future for political debate in this country and through the world.  As the landscape stands now, blogging is free, and leaving comments on other blogs is even free-er; anyone can participate, anyone can make a difference.

This stands in direct contrast to the nature of political discourse since the advent of radio, really, when media became a one way street; those with dollars and or political influence directing a one way flow of information to the public who were largely unable to talk back.

Compared to that, a purely even field where anyone who has a laptop and a connection can partake in the national debate is a beautiful thing.

In this world of new media, though, political campaigns have had something of a rough ride with the internet.  There’ve been some successes; Dean in 04, Paul and his eerie internet organization.  There’ve also been some embarassments as well such as Edwards’ little blip way back earlier this year with a couple of bloggers he had working for his campaign.  But one candidate may have stumbled upon something that just might work.

The following words are words I would have never expected to read from Matt Stoller.  Stoller, who has been particularly rabid in his antipathy towards Obama up to this point writes:

I am now leaning towards Obama in my choice for President, with a second choice of Edwards, who has had an excellent set of policies out there on media and internet policies.  And of course, none of this is to say that Clinton is firmly set on her reactionary path, since she did come out for net neutrality as a Senator. 

Why the turn?  Noted academic Larry Lessig explains in his endorsement for Barack Obama.

And that leaves Barack — an easy choice for me (except for the “trailing Clinton” part) for lots of reasons.

First, and again, I know him, which means I know something of his character. “He is the real deal” has become my favorite new phrase. Everything about him, personally, is what you would dream a candidate should be. Integrity, brilliance, warmth, humor and most importantly, commitment. They all say they’re all this. But for me, this part is easy, because about this one at least, I know.

Second, I believe in the policies. Clearly on the big issues — the war and corruption. Obama has made his career fighting both. But also on the issues closest to me. As the technology document released today reveals, to anyone who reads it closely, Obama has committed himself to important and importantly balanced positions.

First the importantly balanced: You’ll read he’s a supporter of Net Neutrality. No surprise there. But read carefully what Net Neutrality for Obama is. There’s no blanket ban on offering better service; the ban is on contracts that offer different terms to different providers for that better service. And there’s no promise to police what’s under the technical hood (beyond the commitment already articulated by Chairman Powell): This is a sensible and valuable Net Neutrality policy that shows a team keen to get it right — which includes making it enforceable in an efficient way, even if not as radical as some possible friends would like.

Second, on the important: As you’ll read, Obama has committed himself to a technology policy for government that could radically change how government works. The small part of that is simple efficiency — the appointment with broad power of a CTO for the government, making the insanely backwards technology systems of government actually work.

But the big part of this is a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn’t just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress’s calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.

All Greek to me.  But to bloggers and academics who know what they’re doing behind the scenes, it sounds like Obama’s plan intends to not only keep the power of the internet in the hands of… well… us, but also makes making the government itself more transparent a key part of his tech plan.

This is big stuff, and again, if you’ve read some of the things Matt Stoller has written about Obama, just reading him say he’s leaning towards him now is kind of a huge deal.  But what I like about this from a pure horse race aspect is that this at least hints that the Obama campaign is looking at the netroots not merely as a tool for their use, or a liability to be wary of but as its own bloc… a bloc with its own needs and interests.

Just as unions want fair rights for workers, just as AARP will do everything in its power to nuke any politician that tries to mess with Social Security, the netroots as a whole I think has gotten to enjoy its ability to partake in this political debate, and even exert a little influence here and there.  Let us keep on doing that, and even make it easier for us, and you never know…

We might turn into putty in your hands.

8 Responses to “How To Win Over The Netroots”

  1. medseth says:

    Who the hell is Matt Stoller?

  2. mick says:

    “Net neutrality”, for those who don’t understand it, is easily explained. It isn’t a technical issue at all. It’s a corporate/class issue.

    Simply put, the corporations providing access want to charge more for better, faster service. If you pay premium prices, you get high speed servers and pages load like lightning. If you pay average prices, you get slower servers and pages take minutes to load. If you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, you get dialup-style service, no guanteed access, the slowest servers in the system, and pages take days to load. IOW, the bottom will be 10 years behind the top.

    “Neutrality” means that internet service is the same for eveyone – the optimum available from the provider. That’s what exists now, and the telecoms want to end it. What they want is to use price to cut off people like me and Kevin Hayden who couldn’t afford even standard service at the new – much higher – rates.

    It’s like the health insurance companies that only want to sign up healthy people so pay-outs are low and profits are high. The telecoms see us as drags on their potential profit margins. What they want are the high-end customers who will pay dearly for “quality” service. How can they charge upscale rates for the same service everyone else is getting? They can’t.

    The net is virtually the only non-tiered system left in our corporate economy. Destroy its price and service neutrality, and the net becomes just another tiered system where the rich get the goodies and the rest of us get the shaft. At which point, you can kiss your “bright and promising future for political debate” good-bye. To all intents and purposes, the net would become a place where the rich talk only to each other, as usual, and there’s no place for anyone unless they’re selling something.

    Net neutrality = equality in cyberspace. That’s why it’s so important.

  3. Med: Matt Stoller is a Lefty blogger and has been one of the more anti-obama guys out there.

    Mick: Thanks. I wasn’t quite as dumb on the subject as I portrayed in movies, but I was close. Thanks for filling the pic in a bit.

  4. mick says:

    Kyle: I didn’t think you were, but there’s a lot of confusion about what net neutrality is and I thought it would be helpful to lay it out. It’s essentially a technical phrase being applied to a non-technical purpose. What it ought to be called is “net equality”.

    There’s another issue as well (maybe I should write a post about this) that I didn’t get into, and that is the potential, if net neutrality goes bye-bye, for the injection of censorship. A tiered system would create built-in chokepoints that would make it very easy to shut off the access of virtually anyone the govt took a dislike to. And as we now know, the telecoms are perfectly willing to break any law the pres tells them to break.

    That’s a compelling reason to keep equality fundamental to the system, especially in light of the Bush Admin’s well-documented hostility to critics and its apparent belief that the US is a monarchy, except we call our king a “president”. Give him – or another autocrat just like him – a tool to shut down his opposition, at least on the net, and then try to convince me he wouldn’t use it.

  5. Oh, I wholely agree. The net, and the thing about it is that it’s still a new medium that’s why it’s called “new media” in campaigns, but it’s still new, and therefore people are largely apprehensive in how they approach it. So there has been this huge gaping opening for there to come in and be censorship because of porn and viruses and oodles of unfavorable content that Children shouldn’t be a party too.

    But the internet I think also becomes the next great experiment; ultimate free speech, can we make it work? I think we can. I think there’s plenty of room for free market ideals in building the right kinds of protective software, and it’s out there. It’s flawed, but hey there you go. Meanwhile, we have this whole new place where content is in no way regulated, and the responsibility remains among the individual users and their parents and guardians as needed. Damn, lost my thought, oh well.

  6. mick says:

    But the internet I think also becomes the next great experiment; ultimate free speech, can we make it work? I think we can.

    I do, too, but not if we let corporations control it like they control everything else. The net has grown up a lot. Just in the last 5 yrs that I’ve been on it, I can see major differences. It has enormous potential to do everything you said it could do, and it’s doing it. Net neutrality is the single most important reason the internet has grown the way it has, in numbers, sophistication, and networking. But telecom companies only see $$$ when they look at the net. If they can, they’ll turn it into a cyber supermarket and shut down everything that isn’t profitable. That’s what they do. It’s all they do. They don’t know how to do anything else and they have no interest in learning.

    American business hasn’t been this self-centered in our history. Even the Robber Barons put some things ahead of $$$. They built libraries, they didn’t try to shut them down. They built hospitals, they didn’t close them. There was some sense, however stunted, of community and a responsibility to give something back even if it was as minor as buying uniforms for the high school football team. Now they want parents to buy them so they won’t have to pay an extra quarter-penny in taxes.

    Right now, the net is the only Great Equalizer we have left. The corporatocracy has corrupted or co-opted everything else. It has an important future as a democratic tool but only if we can force the telecoms to maintain net neutrality. If we can’t, it will all disappear into Moloch’s maw.

  7. HOTI Dave says:

    Mick, it’s definitely not a Big Guy vs. Little Guy issue. It’s the Content Sector vs. the ISP Sector of the Internet economy. I’ve been arguing this issue for over a year in my work for Hands Off the Internet, and I still find widespread misconceptions about what’s at stake in this debate.

    With all due respect, your explanation that it’s about “equality” is simplistic to the point of condemning accepted business practices. The way you put it, it sounds bad even to allow someone to pay for broadband over DSL, since one is faster and that chasm could widen… needless to say, I don’t think it’s like that at all. After all, different Internet speeds are available to customers, companies like Akamai provide services to make websites load faster for the companies who can pay them to do so.

    Fact is, not every bit is created equal. Some websites and web applications, like real-time video or audio can’t tolerate much packet loss before it starts affecting the quality. Other types, such as those that make up your e-mail messages or a webpage will still work fine even if the packets arrive out of order.

    Right now cable and telco ISPs are gearing up to offer QoS (the jargon for prioritized services) and frankly, companies like Google, Yahoo and Amazon want that. But they want to freeze the paying model in place where it is now, shift the cost to the ISPs (i.e. to broadband customers like myself) and protect themselves from competition.

    So in a way, you’re right that it is kind of a corporate/class issue — but I submit that it’s not the one you think it is.

  8. mick says:

    So in a way, you’re right that it is kind of a corporate/class issue — but I submit that it’s not the one you think it is.

    Yes, actually, it is. I don’t say that because your analysis is wrong but because I don’t think you’re looking downstream to the eventual effect it will have on low-income consumers. I was deliberately ignoring the fact that the fight is centered on ISP’s and the price disparities between types of service partly because I was aiming at an audience (see Kyle’s disclaimer above) that isn’t all that tech savvy, and partly because I wanted to concentrate on what it will – or could – eventually mean to fair access and corporate control of content. I plead guilty to oversimplifying, but I see nothing in your explanation to countermand the bulk of my argument.

    Let me ask you a question: suppose the the corporate forces win and costs get shifted to the ISP’s, what happens then? Surely you’re not suggesting the ISP’s will simply absorb those higher costs? They will pass them along, they’ll have to. Furthermore, they’ll probably have to accept a tiered access modality as well. I’m on broadband, too, but if the price doubles, I won’t be anymore.

    The battle is being fought higher up but the casualties will inevitably be down here in the trenches. They always are. So unless you can see a model where they aren’t or can explain why it won’t eventually have the effect I think it will have, I’ll stick to my equality paradigm.

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