Most dramatic are a series of statements of principle:
The Bush Administration has been one of the most secretive, closed administrations in American history. Our nation’s progress has been stifled by a system corrupted by millions of lobbying dollars contributed to political campaigns, the revolving door between government and industry, and privileged access to inside information—all of which have led to policies that favor the few against the public interest.
An Obama presidency will use cutting-edge technologies to reverse this dynamic, creating a new level of transparency, accountability and participation for America’s citizens. Technology-enabled citizen participation has already produced ideas driving Obama’s campaign and its vision for how technology can help connect government to its citizens and engage citizens in a democracy. Barack Obama will use the most current technological tools available to make government less beholden to special interest groups and lobbyists and promote citizen participation in government decision-making.
In another section of the package, Obama makes clear just how radically he means this:
– Making government data available online in universally accessible formats to allow citizens to make use of that data to comment, derive value, and take action in their own communities. Greater access to environmental data, for example, will help citizens learn about pollution in their communities, provide information about local conditions back to government and empower people to protect themselves.
– Establishing pilot programs to open up government decision-making and involve the public in the work of agencies, not simply by soliciting opinions, but by tapping into the vast and distributed expertise of the American citizenry to help government make more informed decisions.
The package reads as an astonishingly idealistic statement of the potential of technology in a democracy.
The web is not merely a new means of disseminating old information or a new kind of depository. It is not enough to simply post thousands of pages of budget documents online and to literally throw these volumes into the public realm. Nor is it merely a place to solicit comment from the public.
This package is far bolder. The idea is to promote actual interaction between government and its citizenry, through blogs, through wikis, through broadband townhalls. It's an exceptional proposal.
Obama gets it. And it's easy to see why the Netroots' reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
Summarizing the Package:
The package is astonishingly detailed, and there is a lot to chew on, but here's a run-down of some of the most significant proposals.
1. Technology and Government Transparency
Obama is one of the few political leaders who understands that technology provides an extraordinary means of furthering government transparency and even launching a new era of democracy.
Whether through passing his Google for Government bill in the US Senate that makes available government finances on the web, or through his inclusion of technology proposals in his ethics reform agenda laid out in June, or his release today on his website on fundraising bundlers for his campaign, Obama has a record of understanding and pressing technology in the service of improving transparency and furthering democracy.
a. A new Chief Technology Officer
Obama announced today the creation of the new office of Chief Technology Officer, who would be responsible for ensuring that:
government officials hold open meetings, broadcast live webcasts of those meetings, and use blogging software, wikis and open comments to communicate policies with Americans, according to the plan.
The CTO would also be responsible for "using new technologies to solicit and receive information back from citizens to improve the functioning of democratic government."
b. Broadband Townhall Meetings, Public Hearings, Public Comment Period
Obama would require his cabinet officials to hold 21st-Century-style Fireside Chats in the form of national broadband townhall meetings. Not only that, but Obama would require all earmarks to be posted publicly, disclose White House communications with outside advisers on matters of policy, and make public hearings truly public ––– all through the medium of the web.
Legislation pending signature by the President would be posted online for five periods on the White House website and opened to public comment.
c. Atom/RSS Feeds:
One of the most crucial elements for Lessig is that Obama has made:
a commitment to making data about the government (as well as government data) publicly available in standard machine readable formats. The promise isn't just the naive promise that government websites will work better and reveal more. It is the really powerful promise to feed the data necessary for the Sunlights and the Maplights of the world to make government work better. Atomize (or RSS-ify) government data (votes, contributions, Members of Congress's calendars) and you enable the rest of us to make clear the economy of influence that is Washington.
In other words, it's not just about throwing government information onto the web, but to use technology to make it readily available and easily searchable. Votes, political contributions, calenders of members' of Congress would not only be online but available through Atom or RSS Feed ––– allowing citizens to know what their representatives in Washington are doing.
d. A New Era of Public Access
Technology offers an extraordinary opportunity to give the public new access to the business of Washington.
As Obama said in June, special interest lobbyists walk the halls of regulatory agencies on a daily basis, pressing for their interests, while public hearings are held once a month and are attended by the few able to come. It's time to make those hearings available online via podcast and to offer new ways of hearing public comment --- such that government agencies aren't just accountable to the people some of the time, but all of the time.
2. Availability and Affordability of Access
But a new era of government can only come about online if new constituiencies are given access to the technology required.
a. Ensuring broadband availability
Broadband has the power to be the new fundamental medium for communication between citizens and their government, but only if people have access to it.
Here's how Obama would ensure access:
He calls more aggressive government support of broadband access. Specifically, he calls for subsidies for phone carriers to be given to only those carriers offering both regular phone service and Internet broadband to rural areas. To date, carriers offering merely phone service have been able to claim subsidies from the so-called Universal Service Fund, giving them little incentive to roll out out broadband.
This proposal has been hailed by Lessig and Stoller as a pragmatic and plausible means of ensuring broadband access to rural areas.
Matt Stoller hailed these porposals:
Take the Universal Service Fund, and his plan to move the money that is currently subsidizing rural phone service and ensuring that broadband is subsidized as well. High speed broadband is a core tool for citizens to engage politically; it's not an accident that Color of Change emerged in 2006-2007, after massive growth in broadband to African-Americans.
Building this network out, as Obama is putting forward, and opening up government could create organizing opportunities the likes of which we haven't dreamed.
Imagine the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley combined with the power of government and the movement building organizing capacity of the netroots, and that's a start. Of course, what's possible is not necessarily what will happen, and it's all in the execution, but this is reaching for something bold.
b. Opening the wireless spectrum:
Obama’s plan also calls for reviewing the decision by the Federal Communications Commission to open the wireless spectrum for competition. Specifically, Obama feels the FCC may not have gone far enough with its recent ruling.
He is strongly considering advocating that spectrum on the 700 MHz band be opened so that third parties can lease it on a wholesale basis. This will ensure winners of a pending auction for the spectrum — expected to be large phone carriers like Verizon — don’t just sit on the spectrum and not use it. They may do that to avoid other entrants from competing with them. Obama’s campaign also appears ready to support the right of service providers to interconnect with a licensee’s wireless network. Google is expected to bid on the wireless spectrum.
d. Net Neutrality
Also from VentureBeat:
Obama also is supporting network neutrality, a policy that would ensure Google wouldn’t be forced to pay an Internet service provider extra to ensure the speedy transfer of its data over the Internet.
Stanford legal expert, Larry Lessig, called me up this afternoon (apparently under recommendation from the campaign) saying Obama has the most nicely balanced policy among the democrats. Obama’s plan, he says, imposes minimal regulatory burden. So: Unlike John Edwards who, proposes to "enforce net neutrality ensuring no degradation or blocking of access to websites," Obama would not ban differential service. He would simply require that the terms offered one website or company are no better or worse than those offered anyone else.
This is a kind of "most favored nations" network neutrality, much simpler to enforce than one that looks to technical factors to determine whether the regulation is obeyed. Venture people should be very interested in this, Lessig says, because "if network neutrality regulation is going to be passed (as it will if a Dem is president) this imposes a very minimal (and relatively easy to monitor) burden on network owner."
All in all, a great package, I'm still sifting through the proposals. I'm sure there are some other gems in here. You can read
. And you can read Lessig's