By all accounts, the Obama transition team is moving faster than its predecessors in filling the top cabinet and White House positions, from the State Department to the economic team to the USDA.
But if you care about the future of the Internet, most of the key spots are still TBD.
The most important jobs include the newly created White House Chief Technology Officer, the next chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the head of the Federal Trade Commission, and key spots at the Commerce and Justice departments.
After watching the country nosedive over the past eight years in the world rankings of broadband adoption -- from fifth to 22nd, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) -- these are the people who will be charged with reversing the slide.
For years, of course, technology policy has been made in Washington by people who didn’t use computers (think "series of tubes") and designed to fatten the wallets of the big phone and cable companies, even as the digital divide deepened.
Despite all the jabbering about “deregulation,” we still have a lot of rules; they’re just slanted to favor the incumbents. We pay far more for slower broadband than the rest of the world -- and if these companies had their way, they’d get to pick and choose which sites and services work the fastest. Plus, despite some recent setbacks, their lobbying army is deeply entrenched inside the Beltway.
These appointments really matter, and all the interest groups have been making a pilgrimage to the transition team’s headquarters on 6th St. NW to plead their cases. There’s more chatter and rumors swirling than in a junior high cafeteria. So how should Obama make his decision?
He should listen to himself. Obama’s own campaign speeches and platform describe exactly who we need in these positions.
Obama has promised to "take a backseat to no one in my commitment to net neutrality" and "protect the Internet's traditional openness to innovation and creativity and ensure that it remains a platform for free speech and innovation that will benefit consumers and our democracy."
He says that "in the country that invented the Internet, every child
should have the chance to get online" by bringing "true broadband to every community in America."
With a reported $1 trillion
economic stimulus package in the works, Obama has pledged
to "strengthen America's competitiveness in the world" and leverage
technology "to grow the economy, create jobs, and solve our country's most pressing problems."
And after running a campaign renowned for its use of Internet fundraising and social networking, Obama has vowed to reverse "policies that favor the few against the public interest," close "the revolving door between government and industry," and achieve "a new level of transparency, accountability, and participation for America's citizens."
Yesterday, an alliance of more than 100 organizations, unions, musicians, bloggers, and media and technology leaders -- including Craig Newmark of craigslist, Lawrence Lessig, the ACLU, the SEIU, the American Library Association, and even members of Pearl Jam and R.E.M. -- sent a letter
to the president-elect, quoting him and calling for new leaders who will protect the open Internet.
It’s probably the largest and broadest group I’ve seen weigh in on media and technology policy, and it came together in just a few days. This letter is a powerful reminder that technology and the Internet are now bona fide political issues that can mobilize millions and matter on Election Day. (You can add your name here.)
While those who care about the free and open Internet have reason to be optimistic about the new administration, we must remain vigilant.
In other words: Hope -- but verify.
— Craig Aaron, Communications Director at Free Press