Obama joins GOP's call for internet freedom, skips the part about waging war on porn

Obama joins GOP’s call for internet freedom, skips the part about waging war on porn

Aug 30, 2012

After Rep. Lamar Smith led the GOP on an unsuccessful regulatory crusade against the internet this winter with SOPA and PIPA bills (both of which were abandoned after the internet revolted) the party reversed course this week by including “internet freedom” in its official platform unveiled at the RNC.

Yesterday, during his Reddit AMA, President Obama stepped up and joined the call for internet freedom, saying that it would also be in the DNC’s platform at the upcoming Democratic National Convention, and writing, “Internet freedom is something I know you all care passionately about; I do too. We will fight hard to make sure that the internet remains the open forum for everybody.”

But what the president and the GOP mean by “internet freedom” differs. Obama acknowledged as much yesterday, writing, “Although there will be occasional disagreements on the details of various legislative proposals, I won’t stray from that principle.”

While they’re both calling for a “free” and thus “unregulated” internet, neither actually wants to do away with regulations altogether. The disagreements will stem from what kinds of regulation they want, and what kinds they want to resist.

Democrats, for instance, want a regulatory measure called “net neutrality,” which would bar telecoms from divvying up their broadband bandwidth and charging web publishers (and possibly consumers) more for faster-speed access. To Democrats, this is regulation that keeps the internet “free” by keeping the playing field level and preventing telecoms from controlling what kind of information is accessed most easily online. To Republicans this is “government overreach” and an example of the state meddling in free markets to interfere with competition.

Republicans, on the other hand, want to regulate against porn online.

The new GOP platform “calls on the government to ‘vigorously’ enforce all current laws against pornography and obscenity online,” according to Computerworld, and Mitt Romney has promised to “make sure that every new computer sold in this country after I’m president has installed on it a filter to block all pornography.”

Techdirt points out this is its own form of the state meddling in free markets—there are already many content filters available for purchase that parents can elect to use to block their kids from being able to watch porn online. Mandating that “every new computer sold” must come with these filters is also anti-competitive market manipulation.

So neither side is actually talking about a fully unregulated internet, here. What’s important to understand is what kinds of regulations they are calling for and how they would shape the reality of information access in the future.

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