A New “Federal Cultural and Social Regulatory Agency”?

by on August 17, 2008 · 23 comments

Soren Dayton has some interesting commentary at NextRight on the candidates’ technology policies and criticisms thereof.

A representative critic on the left engages in “unserious technology fetishism,” says Dayton. His foil is Joho the Blog, who takes after Senator McCain’s technology policy thusly:

There is nothing — nothing — in his policy statement that acknowledges that maybe the Net is also a new way we citizens are connecting with one another. The phrase “free speech” does not show up in it. The term “democracy” does not show up in it. What’s the opposite of visionary?

Joho wants government technology rhapsody, and Dayton has had enough:

Does he really want government policy to regulate the “cultural, social, and democratic” aspects of anything? Should these be the subject of tax policy? Which government agency? Should we make a new “Federal Cultural and Social Regulatory Agency?”

There’s something to this criticism. Too many folks see technology as the story, and they think government policy will write the next chapter.

No. People are the story: the people who invent, build, experiment with, and use technology to do interesting things, have fun, and make their lives better.

A policy that gets the government out of the way is a policy that’s true to technology and its role.

  • http://www.JohoTheBlog.com dweinberger

    Sort of a weird reaction to what I wrote. No, I don’t want the government to regulate the cultural, social, and democratic aspects of the Net. I didn’t say so, imply it, or think so. But I don’t want a federal tech policy that regulates and guides the Net (which is what a federal tech policy does to one degree or another) as if the Net’s main value were for business, without recognizing the Net’s other values. Just think about the missed opportunities for e-gov and e-democracy, beyond the paltry, unimaginative, old timey suggestions in McCain’s policy statement.

    A president who doesn’t recognize the cultural, social and democratic aspects of the Net is missing (imo) a key facet of the 21st century. And that’s a reason to worry about a McCain presidency.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    Net neutrality is a regulatory program that tends to be justified by its supporters as a protection of free speech and democracy. David. So there’s a short path from government policy explicitly aimed at preserving these aspects of the Internet to public ownership and maintenance of the tubes. I know your personal position on NN is more nuanced than that of Free Press and their ilk, but they drive the debate.

    Obama’s tech policy is a lot more hands-on and meddlesome than McCain’s, so there is every reason to believe it will be destructive to the ends that you seek. The best way to protect the Internet’s vibrancy is to treat it as an economic entity and refrain from imposing unnecessary regulations on it.

  • http://www.JohoTheBlog.com dweinberger

    Richard, I’ll hold off on replying about NN in particular because I’m still puzzled about how this post (and the original on which it’s based) go from my, um, boisterous claims in my post about McCain’s tech policy to thinking that I’m asking for government to regulate the social, cultural and democratic aspects of the Net. Do they think that NN necessarily constitutes regulation of those aspects? Or do they assume that because I think it’s important to understand and appreciate those aspects, and because (they think) I like regulation overall, I therefore must be proposing regulation of those aspects? I’m very curious about the line of thought that gets these posters to their conclusion.

    I probably should add that their conclusion is false (well, unless they think NN is intended to regulate those aspects). When it comes to enabling free speech and the free, unregulated development of content, services, and applications on the Net, I am a maximalist. Perhaps this is a place where all sides in the debate can find common ground.

    In fact, it’s that maximalilsm that leads me to support NN, but, again, we probably shouldn’t go down that path in this particular forum.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    One of the chief premises of the pro-regulatory NN movement is that free expression on the Internet is under attack, and will most likely wither and die without the regulator’s help.

    When you tout the Internet’s role in facilitating non-economic activities, and criticize McCain for not appreciating it, you’re invoking that “sky-is-falling” image, painting a target on your back, and that sort of thing.

    Maybe the point is this: I’ll stipulate that McCain doesn’t appreciate the Internet’s social value as well as Obama does.

    But given that, I don’t see that his tech policy would be any different even if he did appreciate it. Because the non-economic benefits are built on econimic ones. So you protect the pipes, you get free speech. You stifle the pipes, you lose free speech.

    These policy statements are all symbolism anyway.

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    One of the chief premises of the pro-regulatory NN movement is that free expression on the Internet is under attack, and will most likely wither and die without the regulator's help.

    When you tout the Internet's role in facilitating non-economic activities, and criticize McCain for not appreciating it, you're invoking that “sky-is-falling” image, painting a target on your back, and that sort of thing.

    Maybe the point is this: I'll stipulate that McCain doesn't appreciate the Internet's social value as well as Obama does.

    But given that, I don't see that his tech policy would be any different even if he did appreciate it. Because the non-economic benefits are built on econimic ones. So you protect the pipes, you get free speech. You stifle the pipes, you lose free speech.

    These policy statements are all symbolism anyway.

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