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Contact: Alex Boekelheide
University of Southern California

USC report examines candidates' technology policies

Annenberg School unit unveils Policy Watch comparing McCain and Obama on communication and technology issues

As the 2008 presidential election enters its final month, researchers at the Annenberg Research Network on International Communication (ARNIC) have found some sharp differences - and surprising similarities - in the two major candidates' positions on technology policy.

In areas such as media ownership and consolidation, open access to Internet content and intellectual property rights, ARNIC's report provides guidance for voters concerned about the future development of communication technology and the media.

Titled Campaign 2008: USC Annenberg Technology and Media Policy Watch, the report examines each candidate's party platform and public record to gain an understanding of their positions on the issues.

The project was directed by Ph.D. student Russell Newman and communication professor Jonathan Taplin, and is available online at <http://arnic.info/policywatch.php>.

"Voters should have access to the best contextualized knowledge available as they make their decision about who will govern their country for the next four years," Dean Ernest J. Wilson III said. "The Annenberg School for Communication is committed to fostering knowledge in the public interest, especially as it intersects with our specialty domains of media, journalism and communications. We view this as a start to help the public navigate the sometimes murky waters of net neutrality, media concentration and other topics."

In general, the researchers found that Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and the Democratic Party believe that government can play a strong role in guiding the development of America's communication environment, while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and his Republican colleagues rely more on the ability of the competitive marketplace to meet the public's desires.

ARNIC researchers found surprising silence from both political parties on what the report called an "era-defining" set of issues, including application of the fair use doctrine and the role of the public domain in the creation of digital culture. With Web sites like Wikipedia and YouTube revealing a vibrant community of content creators building on each other's work, the report criticized both candidates for failing to recognize the importance of these emerging issues in the information economy. "Neither McCain nor Obama seem willing at this stage to provide the visionary leadership that is needed to bring U.S. copyright and patent policy up to speed with existing technologies," the report concluded. Both campaigns have been approached for additional input, and researchers hope these concerns will be addressed.

Faculty advisor Taplin saw the report as an extension of USC Annenberg's leadership in communication law and policy analysis through ARNIC and other research organizations. "ARNIC was founded to allow students and professors to collaborate on important issues of communications policy," Taplin said. "This work comes from our belief that technology policy could be the key to America's economic recovery."

Newman said communication and technology policy is central to the United States' democracy.

"The next president, with his power of appointment to the Federal Communications Commission and other agencies which bear on our media, will wield tremendous influence over its trajectory at a time of incredibly rapid and formative change," Newman said. "Will control of vital information resources be permitted to consolidate further into fewer and larger hands? How will we expand access to broadband communication technologies? Will control over what we access and create aboard broadband networks remain decentralized, or will dominant providers be permitted to favor certain content or to accumulate information on our activities for sale to the highest bidder?

"The candidates this year have strikingly different answers to these questions. This project is an effort to provide information on these important differences."


Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the USC Annenberg School for Communication (annenberg.usc.edu) is among the nation's leading institutions devoted to the study of journalism and communication, and their impact on politics, culture and society. With an enrollment of more than 1,900 graduate and undergraduate students, USC Annenberg offers degree programs in journalism, communication, public diplomacy and public relations.

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