GOP Stands on Anti-Title II Platform

When the dust settles on a contentious Republican convention that featured plagiarism allegations, attacks on the “liberal” media and the booed non-endorsement speech by conservative firebrand Ted Cruz, the key takeaways will be the now-nolonger-presumptive nominees—Donald Trump and Mike Pence—and the Republican platform they and downticket Republicans are running on.

That platform has plenty to say about issues important to the communications industry.

Forget cybercriminals and rogue states, it is President Barack Obama that is the biggest threat to a free and open internet, according to the platform approved in Cleveland last week.

“Its gravest peril originates in the White House, the current occupant of which has launched a campaign, both at home and internationally, to subjugate it to agents of government,” the platform proclaimed.

President Obama pushed for the FCC to reclassify internet access as a Title II common carrier service subject to some new regs (it did), a move Hill Republicans fought and blamed on what they saw as the President’s intervention. They are also not happy with the administration’s decision to move domain-naming oversight to a multistakeholder model.

Both items were highlighted in the GOP platform.

“The President ordered the chair of the supposedly independent Federal Communications Commission to impose upon the internet rules devised for the 1930s for the telephone monopoly. He has unilaterally announced America’s abandonment of the international internet by surrendering U.S. control of the root zone of web names and addresses. He threw the internet to the wolves, and they—Russia, China, Iran,and others—are ready to devour it,” came the word. The platform also supports congressional Republicans and bills that attempt to defund the FCC’s implementation of net neutrality rules and impeded the domain name hand-off.

But the platform also says that a Republican president will combat censorship of web content abroad.

It's Baaack!?

One plank in the Republican platform post-convention calls for an end to the “so-called Fairness Doctrine,” a traditional target of conservatives, including vice presidential candidate Mike Pence.

The doctrine was essentially repealed in 1987, when the FCC concluded it was unconstitutional. Then it was taken off the FCC’s books officially in 2011, but Republicans continue to see its guise in other government activities they regard as an attempt to revive it in spirit.

The absence of the doctrine, which required broadcasters to seek out and air the other side of controversial issues, helped give rise to conservative talk radio—Pence is a former talk radio host—so anything that even smacks of its return, like, for instance, Democrats occasionally commenting publicly that they would like to see its return—is viewed as a threat to talk radio.

Under the “Building the Future: Technology” section, the Republicans say they “intend to facilitate access to spectrum by paving the way for high-speed, next-generation broadband deployment and competition on the internet and for internet services.”

The FCC has appeared laser-focused on that issue already, though Republicans argue it is taking the wrong tack. “At the cost of millions, the current Administration has done little to advance our goal of universal broadband coverage,” they’ve argued.

Under the “First Amendment” heading, the platform focuses on religious liberty, which it makes first among Firsts, saying the Bill of Rights lists religious liberty as the “first freedom to be protected.”

The platform does talk about securing other constitutionally protected speech, saying that means private groups—think PACs and Super PACs—should not be required to publicly disclose their funding.

And finally, the platform pledges to protect intellectual property rights and contracts—an issue Republicans, and some Democrats for that matter, have pressed in criticizing the FCC’s set-top box proposal. The platform also frames the issue in terms of national security, saying a Republican president will defend the IP laws against all infringers, foreign or domestic.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.