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Tim Wu: Net Neutrality Candidate

Tim Wu: Net Neutrality Candidate

| On 18, Jun 2014

Nerd voters unite.

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu has thrown his hat in the ring and is running for lieutenant governor of New York against Kathy Hochul, becoming the first openly pro-net neutrality candidate in the post Web 2.0 world. Wu is probably best known as the person who defined the term “net neutrality,” a phrase that has confused and bored many, but could become the last bastion of a level playing field of the internet.

Make no mistake, Wu and his Democratic counterpart Zephyr Teachout are long-shots to wrestle away the NY governorship from incumbent Andrew Cuomo, but his message will be crystal clear: that the probability of the telecom lobbyist influenced federal overreach on who gets the fastest bandwidth on the web is a dangerous precedent. Wu recently addressed the Eric Cantor primary upset in Virginia as a sign now may be the time for a non-politician to run.

This gives net neutrality a glimmer of hope by redirecting the fight to the state level, taking a page from the conservative playbook by two left-leaning fringe candidates. More importantly, the race is taking place in New York, home of several telecoms that have aggressively pursued the abolition of net neutrality, thereby giving the cable companies full control to charge premium fees to corporations on who gets the faster bandwidth.

The web superhighway has changed dramatically the past few years with the popularity of streaming video from popular sites including YouTube and Netflix. Viewers have migrated to online streaming sites while the sales of DVD & BluRay drop. With Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, it would be in the telecom’s best interests to increase streaming revenue by charging a pay-as-you-go fee for big corporations (Netflix) while squeezing out the little startup website trying to get 1000 daily hits by limiting their bandwidth.

Wu told the Washington Post that he sees an opportune moment for state governments to get involved in both net neutrality and the telecom mergers. The proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable may be approved by the federal government, but Wu hopes that state regulators may challenge the federal ruling. Wu says that New Yorkers are particularly weary over the constant price hikes of their cable bills and notes that Verizon’s latest move to limit FIOS landline installations after Hurricane Sandy has been a major thorn in consumer’s conscience.      

“One of the things we’re trying to do with this campaign is bring back classic progressive-party issues to the forefront and government corruption, Theodore Roosevelt, Brandeis type of issues,” Wu told The Washington Post. “In New York, Verizon keeps doing things to annoy people,” Wu told the Post. “In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Verizon refused to reinstall everyone’s phone lines. [The company eventually relented after pressure from regulators.] And okay, maybe we should all be on wireless, but they refused to do things. And they don’t seem afraid of state government anymore. People are like, ‘They can’t even shame them into doing anything anymore.’ They’re just like, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.’ So there are two very powerful entrenched players here [telecom and cable]. People are upset about incomplete FiOS deployment. So I think there are a lot of ways people in New York state are upset, and it’s a microcosm for how people are feeling about the telecom and cable incumbents across the country.”        

The candidacy will get some decent publicity, especially in the tech-friendly, ratings heavy programs such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Within a few hours of Wu’s announcement, sites including Gizmodo, Engadget, and others have featured this new development, probably forcing Governor Cuomo’s hand to release a political BS statement promising to address net neutrality, at the same time counting the donation dollars coming in from telecoms.

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