Election Special: Bush Will Widen the Digital Divide

When you go to the polls on Election Day, please remember that a vote for George W. Bush is a vote for closed Internet access.

It’s true: a Bush presidency will mean pricier fees for access to high-speed Internet service. You’d be voting to widen the Digital Divide into a Grand Canyon.

Bush is either unable or unwilling to explain his position on the issue in depth. Nonetheless, it should be understood from his past actions and Republican Party policies that, if elected, Bush is likely to put broadband into the hands of the privileged few. And when a product or service is in the hands of a select few, the many are forsaken.

Delaying Tactics

America Online (AOL) and Time Warner have been stalling in their negotiations with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is reviewing their proposed monopoly — excuse me — proposed merger.

First, AOL and Time Warner missed their mid-October deadline. Then they missed their late October deadline. If they make their November 10 deadline, I’ll trade my Pentium 4 for your Crusoe.

Would George W. Bush “uninvent” the Internet?

It’s pretty obvious that AOL and Time Warner are waiting to see whether Bush gets bounced into the White House. There is no other reason for the delay, since only one unresolved issue remains — the vital question of whether the merged company is under any legal obligation to open its cable lines to other Internet service providers (ISPs). If the lines were opened, of course, consumers could only benefit from lower access fees brought on by increased competition.

Technically, Bush won’t be able to do anything about the 3-to-2 Democratic majority on the FTC regulatory board until September, when the commissioners’ fixed terms end. However, a Bush victory would definitely tilt the political and regulatory atmosphere against individual consumers’ interests.

Cable’s Future

Similarly, AOL and Time Warner are being helped by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), which continues to delay making a sweeping ruling on the open-access issue.

There are now ongoing hearings, but by the time they’re complete, we may have Bush’s twin daughters running for President.

The official reason for the FCC’s delay is that it isn’t so sure that cable will be the dominant broadband venue in years to come. That’s a bit of a cop-out. Cable is presently the dominant mode of broadband delivery, and there’s no reason to think that digital subscriber line (DSL) service or anything else will overtake it in the foreseeable future.

As a staunch Republican who has benefited mightily from his party’s policies, Bush wants as little government intervention as possible. He’s an advocate of letting big corporations run things as they see fit, without being bothered by those pesky Feds, who inexplicably continue to insist that things be done with the interests of the common citizen in mind.

Friend of Big Business

Bush will be a friend of AOL and Time Warner, just as he has been a friend of Big Business since… well, since he was big enough to hear his father tell him on which side his bread is buttered.

As Texas’ governor, Bush’s 1997 tax plan — in the end rejected by the Texas House of Representatives — gave whopping tax breaks to special corporate interests and wealthy homeowners. In order to recoup some of the lost property tax revenue, Bush called for increases in motor vehicle and general sales taxes. That would, of course, have hurt the state’s lower- and middle-income people.

Bush’s plan, including a complicated “business tax” that was eventually exposed as a hidden sales tax, was designed by Dr. Charles Walker — the same Washington tax lobbyist who wrote the Reagan/Bush-the-Elder tax cuts that led to record deficits and prompted a complete overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 1986.

Vision Check

There are those who believe that Bush, sheltered all his life by a privileged upbringing, has difficulty understanding that serious problems exist outside his comfortable, select circle. When asked to comment on a federal report finding that many Texans, including children, went to bed hungry, Bush replied, “Where? You’d think the Governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas.”

What happens when someone asks him if he knows that people in Des Moines or Montgomery or Sacramento are being left behind by the New Economy because they can’t afford to pay for broadband service?

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