Like most Democrats stumping for the White House, John Edwards can whistle up a tune for the technology crowd. Unlike his fellow competitors, Edwards tune hits some discordant notes for Silicon Valley, broadband providers and their Wall Street financiers, and the true believers in an unregulated Internet.
The 54-year-old former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate promises that an Edwards presidency will feature an ambitious proposal—fueled by public-private partnerships—to provide high-speed broadband access to all U.S. homes and businesses by 2010.
Edwards yen for a change in direction, and deeper government involvement in broadband policies, extends to his broader technology platform.
He is calling for patent reform, increased H-1B visas, and pumped up federal spending on education, science, technology and innovation.
Those are the sweet notes for the Valley. But then there is free trade and all those embarrassing references to greedy, self-serving multinational companies, some of which have Bay area addresses.
In an Iowa campaign speech delivered in August, Edwards declared, "For years now, Washington has been passing trade deal after trade deal that works great for multinational corporations, but not for working Americans."
He warned that the country will lose "high quality service and technology jobs—jobs that require advanced education such as in computer programming, radiology, call centers and financial analysis."
Edwards kept up the drumbeat throughout the fall and last week sharply criticized the U.S. House approval of a free trade agreement with Peru, the first free trade agreement vote since Democrats took control of the House and Senate in January.
But Edwardss voice is in greater harmony with fellow Democrats when it comes to technology issues, notably network neutrality.
The president put his faith in the free markets and minimum regulations that make up the lingua franca of Republican technology policy. Edwards will not. As enthusiastic as the next Democrat for a greater federal role in promoting, deploying and supporting broadband, Edwards and the rest of the field begin with network neutrality. Theyve all taken the net neut pledge, drawing a line in the sand between Democrats and Republicans.
"If you do not guarantee net neutrality, the Internet could go the way of network television and commercial radio—with just a few loud voices and no room for the grassroots and small entrepreneurs," Edwards wrote in a June letter to the Federal Communications Commission. "Small businesses and entrepreneurs cannot hope to outbid big companies for preferred status on the Web."
Edwards would also extend network neutrality to wireless networks, telling the FCC in May that all the winners of the beachfront spectrum for sale in Januarys FCC auction should be prohibited from discriminating among data and services. An Edwards FCC would seek open wireless networks that allow any legal device to be attached to the service.
The FCC currently plans limited open access mandates for a third of the spectrum. The FCC also rejected Edwards proposal that at least half of the spectrum be set aside for wholesalers.
Of broadband, President Bush famously said in 2004, "We ought to have a universal, affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007, and then we ought to make sure as soon as possible thereafter, consumers have got plenty of choices when it comes to purchasing the broadband carrier."
Three years after those remarks were made, approximately 50 percent of Americans subscribe to a broadband service. Even using the FCCs widely discredited inflated data, large chunks of the United States are still without broadband access. For those who can access broadband, they get it at speeds that barely qualify as high speed by global standards.