PEEK

Who Will Be America's First Tech President?

The heads of the Personal Democracy Forum challenge the 2008 presidential candidates to either embrace or surpass their comprehensive tech policies.
Andrew Rasiej (the founder) and Micah Sifry (the editor) of the bipartisan Personal Democracy Forum (whose 4th annual conference is today) are unimpressed with politicians of either party when it comes to the issues of technology and broadband. They have produced their own six-point plan for an American technology policy which they hope will elevate the issue's importance in the upcoming presidential election. Rasiej says that, "America is falling behind the rest of the world. Our cell phone reception is worse than Ghana's. Yet politicians look at technology as a slice of the pie, when it's actually the whole pan." Their six-point plan calls for:
*Declaring the Internet a "Public Good" in the same way we think of water, electricity, highways, or public education and massively accelerate its deployment universally and at low cost
*Commit to making wireless connectivity universal, protect and expand unlicensed spectrum for public use, and accelerate the creation of a wireless blanket to help create efficiencies in how our government delivers services, how emergency communications are enabled, and how education and health resources are available
*Go from "No Child Left Behind" to "Every Child Connected" and dramatically increase Internet access in education at home and in schools
*Commit to giving Americans a "Connected Democracy" with access to government activities, hearings and data
*Firmly support "Net Neutrality" and forbid Internet service providers from discriminating among content based on origin, application or type
*Build a National "NetGuard" of technologists to be deployed in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster to rebuild communication networks, databases, and aide in relief and recovery
Rasiej says, "There's an urgency because this is a tool that can solve many of our problems." Yet Rasiej and Sifry lament that the issue of broadband is totally off most politicians' radars. What they hope the Personal Democracy Forum will do is encourage more voters to see politics as something they can directly participate in, and as something that's relevant to their lives.

Sifry suggests that the main reason that right now Democrats are slightly ahead in the web game is that grass roots progressives who were angry about the Republican controlled White House and Congress had nowhere to turn to vent their frustration and they turned to the tools that were available to them at the time. Republicans, now that they've lost Congress, will certainly catch up though. Previously they didn't feel they needed the web. Their triumphs from 2000-2004 were credited more to their massive outreach through direct mail, talk radio, churches and other more traditional modes of communication.

However, right now, Rasiej and Sifry only site two politicians that they feel are truly using the web in a 21st century mindset. Republican congressman Steve Urquhart of Utah not only blogs himself but maintains a database of ongoing legislation which his constituents can access as well as a wiki. The second politician Sifry and Rasiej credit is Democratic governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. Patrick has a feature on his website which allows citizens to rank the statewide issues of importance to them.

Sifry and Rasiej have sent copies of their "manifesto" to some of the major 2008 campaigns including Obama's, Edwards' and Romney's. "We're calling on the next inhabitant of the White Hosue to say where they stand on broadband penetration. What we call broadband they'd laugh at in South Korea," says Rasiej. "Either endorse [our six points] or offer us alternatives."
Adam Howard is the editor of PEEK.