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Obama Embraces Net Neutrality, Plans to Hire National CTO

Obama Embraces Net Neutrality, Plans to Hire National CTO

by , 5:05 PM EST, November 7th, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama's transition team has published its Technology Agenda, a plan that includes embracing and promoting Net Neutrality and plans for the nation's first Chief Technology officer. The policy position also speaks to a right to privacy as it relates to technology, the First Amendment and the Internet, using technology to allow access to government, reforming the patent system, and improving access to next-generation broadband access.

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is the label for the concept that all traffic on the Internet should have equal access to bandwidth -- in other words, under Net Neutrality, Internet providers can not block or slowdown traffic (think Bit-torrent), or speed it up (think content companies paying to make their traffic arrive faster than the competition's) based on its source, destination, or who owns it.

Net Neutrality has been under fire from content providers and content companies for years, with an army of lobbyists having sought to promote policies and legislation that would allow their clients to control more of what happens on the Internet. President-elect Obama's position supporting Net Neutrality is the highest profile such position yet.

From the Technology Agenda, "A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."

National CTO

Chief Technology Officers have heretofore been found almost exclusively in the ranks of technology companies and Fortune 500 corporations. According to the Technology Agenda, the Obama White House will appoint a CTO for the executive branch of government. From its description, this will not be a Cabinet level appointment, but will likely be closer in terms of power and responsibility to the position of "Drug Czar," as first appointed by the first President George Bush.

The CTO's job will be to "improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens," while also working on the security of the government's networks. In addition, the position will work on developing technology-related policies for the White House, and work on insuring that the federal government's computing infrastructure is "best in class," and that they "share best practices."

It is quite likely that the administration will be raiding a number of Silicon Valley companies to fill this position, as well as the team of people the CTO will use to help administer this position. It will be interesting to see if the CTO's position results in any shift in power between Windows, Mac OS X, Unix, and Linux, and the use of these platforms in government.

Currently, the Bush Administration has the Office of Science & Technology Policy. It is unclear if the CTO position would be part of the OSTP, or if it would replace it.

Privacy & The First Amendment

The Technology Agenda also also directly addresses both privacy and the First Amendment, embracing the former and stressing the importance of the latter.

"The open information platforms of the 21st century can also tempt institutions to violate the privacy of citizens," the policy position said. "As president, Barack Obama will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy."

That's the strongest and most specific statement of support for this fundamental freedom to have come from Washington in decades, if not ever. The advances in technology seen in the last 20 years makes the issues of privacy, technology, and politics more intertwined on practically a daily basis.

The related issues of free speech, free religion, and a free press -- guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also earned a plank in the Technology Agenda, with Mr. Obama pledging to help parents protect children while preserving First Amendment protections.

How the administration would achieve both goals at the same time is unclear, but the policy states, "Obama values our First Amendment freedoms and our right to artistic expression and does not view regulation as the answer to these concerns."

As part of the effort to protect children, it states, "An Obama administration will give parents the tools and information they need to control what their children see on television and the Internet in ways fully consistent with the First Amendment."

Broadband

Mr. Obama said that he intends to pursue access by all American citizens to broadband Internet access in the same way that the government has in the past ensured access to telephone service and electricity.

"[Messrs.] Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation's wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives."

This also represents a sea change from prior administrations, and it will be interesting to watch how the White House approaches this, especially in the shadow of the current financial crisis and the pressing issues of two wars.

U.S. Patent & Copyrights

The last of the major issues that falls under the purview of what we have historically covered at The Mac Observer is the patent system. The Technology Agenda pledges to protect American IP abroad (think rampant piracy of music, software, and movies throughout Asia, especially in China), while reforming the Patent system in the U.S.

Without offering details on how, the Agenda states, "Barack Obama believes we need to update and reform our copyright and patent systems to promote civic discourse, innovation and investment while ensuring that intellectual property owners are fairly treated."

Since midway through the Clinton Administration, copyright policies have shifted towards greater and greater protections for IP owners, mostly large media companies, a shift that continued during the eight years of the Bush Administration. An administration pledging to update the copyright system to "promote civil discourse, innovation and investment" represents another specific shift in direction for the executive branch.

He also addresses an issue that has often affected Apple and other technology companies, and that is the Patent system itself, including how patents are granted.

"By improving predictability and clarity in our patent system, we will help foster an environment that encourages innovation," the policy position states. "Giving the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) the resources to improve patent quality and opening up the patent process to citizen review will reduce the uncertainty and wasteful litigation that is currently a significant drag on innovation. As president, Barack Obama will ensure that our patent laws protect legitimate rights while not stifling innovation and collaboration."

Currently, a lot of patent litigation centers around patent trolls who get a patent and then look for other companies who have developed products, software, or services that use the principals covered in the patent, and then sue for licensing royalties. The wording of the Agenda suggests that the administration may well seek to change the way the system works as it relates to this issue.

The U.S. patent system hasn't undergone any major changes or upgrades in decades (with the possible exception of some of the library of patents being made available online), and updating that system would be a major challenge that would be opposed by almost as many forces as would welcome it.

Other

There are many other aspects of President-elect Obama's Technology Agenda that cover areas outside of The Mac Observer's domain, and we encourage our readers to check it out in full.

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