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Obama Seeks Openness in ‘Net Policy and Government Disclosure

By Drew Clark

Comcast’s decision to limit Internet traffic from the peer-to-peer software BitTorrent would be against the law if Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama had his way, an aide to the Democratic Senator said Thursday.

In a conference call organized by the campaign for Sen. Obama, D-Ill., high-profile technology experts Lawrence Lessig, Beth Noveck and Julius Genachowski endorsed the technology and innovation agenda that Obama released on Wednesday. Also on the line were three Obama aides, who declined to speak for attribution.

“What I find compelling about the Senator’s [stance] is a strong commitment to Net neutrality,” said Lessig, a law professor at Stanford University, referring to the notion that broadband providers be barred from favoring business partners with speedier Internet delivery.

Obama “addresses the problem of Net neutrality in a way that could actually be enforced,” said Lessig. By contrast, Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton “can’t stand up for Net neutrality.”

Obama’s articulation of Net neutrality hit on the four core principles of neutrality as articulated by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell in February 2004, and adding a fifth requirement of non-discrimination:

Users must be free to access content, to use applications, and to attach personal devices. They have a right to receive accurate and honest information about service plans. But these guarantees are not enough to prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet…. Barack Obama supports the basic principle that network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some web sites and Internet applications over others. This principle will ensure that the new competitors, especially small or non-profit speakers, have the same opportunity as incumbents to innovate on the Internet and to reach large audiences.

Former Obama classmate Genachowski, of Rock Creek Ventures, emphasized that Net neutrality and Internet transparency share the same theme: it is “the principle of openness that you see throughout this plan, both with respect to the Internet and also the commitment to openness in the government.”

Genachowski, a former aide to IAC/InterActive Corp. Chairman Barry Diller, also highlighting Obama’s goal for universal broadband, his desire to take on entrenched incumbents, and his use of online technology with his campaign Web site, www.barackobama.com.

Noveck, a law professor at New York University who spearheaded the peer-to-patent wiki, said that Obama had offered “the only plan that articulates how we should think about the future of government in the digital age. He has put this question about how does government work on the agenda,” she said, referring to Obama’s goal to make all government data available in machine-readable formats.

Putting government data in XML, or extensible markup language, would enable the blogophere, and the Internet generally, to keep better oversight of the operations of government and of lobbyists, said Noveck.

“Technology is not just about economic innovation,” she said. Obama wants “to harness technology to actually do the way government does business better.”