Senator Moran Chats With Techdirt About SOPA, Innovation And The Importance Of An Open Internet
from the another-senator-recognizing-the-role-of-innovation dept
It’s no secret that one of our key concerns over the years has been the lack of elected officials who seem to really get many of the issue that concern us the most — leading to a feeling, especially among the internet generation, that Congress doesn’t actually represent us. There have been a few exceptions along the way, and certainly Senator Ron Wyden has long been established as one of the few politicians who really understands the importance of innovation and an open internet (as well as important civil liberties issues). However, we are starting to see a small, but growing, number of elected officials recognizing the importance of these issues.
One who has been especially interesting over the last few months is Senator Jerry Moran, from Kansas. After Senator Wyden, Senator Moran was one of the first Senators to recognize the problems with PIPA and to take a stand against the bill, agreeing to put a hold on it and to filibuster against it, if it came to the floor. He’s also the key Senator behind the Startup Act, which we’ve noted actually appears to be a strong proactive bill designed to clear out some innovation-hindering regulations, while clearing the field for new startups and innovations that create jobs and cool services.
Given all that, I was excited to get to spend some time with Senator Moran to talk about a variety of these issues and get his thoughts on them. For those of you attending SXSW this weekend, it’s also worth noting that Senator Moran will be hosting a panel at the event on this very topic: “Encouraging Innovation and Empowering Entrepreneurs.” That’s happening Sunday at 3:30 at the AT&T Conference Hotel.
I started off the talk with Senator Moran by asking him about the fight over PIPA, and where his key concerns were. The Senator gave a pretty comprehensive answer that laid out how he views the fight over PIPA in the larger context of the overall economy, as well as the importance of innovation in creating new jobs and growing the economy. He noted that, if we’re going to be developing the economy and helping “the people who have ideas and want to innovate,” the internet is the key cog in making it all work. It was a key theme that came up multiple times in our discussion and is an important driving force behind his stance on many of these issues. When we dug into his decision to oppose PIPA, it’s no surprise that it was a discussion with Senator Wyden that helped him fully understand the issues.
I had the fortune of having Senator Wyden come visit with me last year on this topic asking if I would be interested in the effort to keep SOPA and PIPA from becoming law. With a little bit of research and my sense that, if we create a bureaucratic challenge to those who use the internet, that we’re going to lose the ability to innovate and to create new businesses that allow people who have ideas to take those ideas to market and to have success. Also, recognizing that the internet has become the voice of democracy in our country. So you’re always going to have concerns about the ability to express your opinion in using the internet.
As we know, when PIPA (and SOPA) were first introduced, they were pretty much guaranteed to pass, if you believed the prevailing thoughts on the matter. The entertainment industry gets those types of bills passed. So an early and vocal stand against those bills and against many colleagues was a tough position to take — and Moran even admitted to me that he didn’t think the bills could be stopped. He noted that after Senator Wyden convinced him that “this was the right position to take”:
I didn’t expect to necessarily have success. All the so-called powerful players — entertainment industries, Chamber of Commerce, significant, influential Senators — really were on the other side of this issue.
But it was the internet and its users — the very folks he was seeking to protect — who helped prove that his position could prevail:
Senator Wyden and I agreed to place a hold on the bill. We agreed that when the bill came to the floor, that we were going to filibuster, and make it difficult for the bill to become law. However as a result of efforts by those who use the internet and people from across the country, my view that this would be an uphill climb became overshadowed by the outpouring of citizen input to members of the Senate. As we look back at that historic moment, the voice of the internet was successful in turning back all those powerful interests that I thought would make it very difficult to stop SOPA or PIPA.
Given just how surprising it was, even to those who were deep in the fight, I wondered what his thoughts were on what the protests against these bills really meant. Did he believe it was a true shift in how Congress would handle itself? Or was it just a “one time” deal, as the MPAA and RIAA have been suggesting lately?
The ability to convince the Majority Leader not to put this bill on the floor really was a significant moment — not just for that legislation, but I have no doubt that the ability of people who use the internet to influence the outcome of decisions made in Washington DC is significant. We now know that it can be done. I have no doubt that the internet becomes the provider of information and the ability to influence the people who make decisions in Washington DC. I don’t see it at all as a one time event. My colleagues are much more likely to be paying attention to tech issues, knowing that there is a voice that can come our way very quickly, very easily and in significant magnitude.
And part of what made the whole thing so powerful was that the internet didn’t just enable people to speak out, it enabled people who never had a voice in Congress before to impact what was happening.
I represent the folks of Kansas, and this issue gave me the opportunity to have conversations with constituents that my guess is rarely, if ever, visited with me as a Senator, or other elected officials on other issues facing the country. But this was something they cared strongly about. And they had the background and the information — and became interested in a way that set a whole new set of constituents involved in the political process of telling members of Congress what they think is important. And I would envision that’s something that continues and doesn’t go away and is available for the right issue now and in the future.
And, as an example of how this matters, we had a “high tech task force” meeting for Senators, which is normally attended by just a couple Senators and staff, but I would guess that there were more than a dozen Senators who came to this task force meeting. Again, I think that a way to get elected officials’ attention is now through the internet. As a result of that happening, I think you see Senators paying more attention to issues that are important to the tech community.
On that note, we began to talk about other such issues of importance, such as the Startup Act, and again, he noted his general philosophy on how these things impact the wider economy. This isn’t a small issue to him, it’s part of a much larger issue of trying to get to the core of fixing our economy, rather than merely duct taping over things. And that means not just treating the symptoms, but really seeking a true cure — and that means going back to the heart of what makes the economy tick and to grow, which is entrepreneurial innovation.
I’m in Congress, in part, because of a belief that our country’s fiscal condition is serious, that deficits matter, that we’re spending money we don’t have — we’ve got to get our budget in balance. It became clear to me, just watching the administration and Congress, that there’s an inability, an unwillingness, a lack of commitment to solving this problem. Or even addressing this problem. So, it became clear to me that another way to approach the deficit is to grow the economy. I started looking for what’s the proven record for success in creating jobs. I became acquainted with research done by the Kaufman Foundation — they generally focus on entrepreneurship — and discovered about job creation in this country, the net job gains have been occurring over the last decade mostly from startup companies.
So, based on Kaufman Foundation research, I started to pursue the idea, “what is it that we can do to create an environment in this country, where a person who has a better shot of getting the product to market, has the necessary capital, doesn’t spend all their time fighting the bureaucracy and regulations, has the necessary talent pool and labor force.” That culminated in the Startup Act.
If we’re going to have a growing economy with entrepreneurship and new ideas, starting a company becomes very important. And not just for the purpose of providing revenue for the government to pay down its debt, but in the process of creating an entrepreneurial environment that helps someone with an idea take it to market and pursue success, we’re also putting lots of Americans to work and they are better able to live that thing we call the American Dream.
I’ve said before that I think the ideas in the bill are pretty common sense and uncontroversial. I’ve also discussed how most of these issues are completely non-partisan. They’re just good ideas in general, and Senator Moran made pretty much the exact same point. In talking about how he got Senator Mark Warner to co-sponsor the Startup Act, Moran noted that this is not a partisan issue at all.
I’m a Republican, he’s a Democrat. And there’s nothing in this bill that shouldn’t be supported by both parties — by people with just good judgment and common sense — and a desire to see good things happen in this country. There ought not to be partisanship to this stuff.
We got into a longer discussion about the fact that many of the people involved in the SOPA/PIPA fight were looking to be “proactive” going forward, and looking for a positive agenda they could get behind — and I wondered if there were elements of that in the Startup Act. Senator Moran pointed out that we’ve seen how the community can stop a bad bill, but it would be interesting to see if they can embrace a good bill as well, and highlighted that, at the roots, there were some key similarities on these issues:
The regulatory environment is very similar to [one of the key concerns in] SOPA and PIPA: a belief that if you’re going to spend all your time as an entrepreneur hiring lawyers to get through the mess of bringing your business to fruition, you’re probably not going to be successful. That was one of the problems of SOPA and PIPA. It was forcing folks to spend their time litigating, as opposed to pursing a new idea. So I think there are some common threads between the issues.
One of the aspects of the Startup Act that I found really compelling was the part that requires that an actual cost/benefit analysis be done on new regulations that will have an economic impact on startups. As I’ve mentioned here before, it struck me as totally absurd that this isn’t a key part of all legislative efforts, where there’s a real analysis not just of the benefits of a particular piece of legislation, but of the costs too. Senator Moran clearly agreed, and was pretty emphatic about it:
This is just common sense! Everything we do in government should have an analysis as to whether or not the benefits exceed the cost. This is what I hope most Americans would realize: this is just about good government.
He did note that there were some agencies that already have this requirement, but the goal here was to cover the rest, which are a big part of the government.
Of course, there are other issues beyond The Startup Act, so I asked him what he thought was important concerning the open internet and what’s coming down the road. He brought up his involvement and his strong, strong belief in open spectrum and making sure that new spectrum auctions include open spectrum that can be used for WiFi (or WiFi-like open offerings) that allow for much freer innovation in services and devices. This is a big and important issue, which we’ve covered in the past, and I’m glad to hear that Senator Moran is also involved there.
However, he then said it was really important to realize that the fights over SOPA and PIPA are not over.
The concepts of SOPA and PIPA are not over. There still is a significant constituency — a powerful group of members of Congress and interest groups — that want to see something like SOPA and PIPA accomplished. So we need to continue to be vigilant about our efforts in an open internet…. While we had success, in Washington, DC, nothing ever really goes away. We have to remain vigilant that these issues don’t surface at sometime, maybe even unexpectedly.
We got into a short discussion on the OPEN Act, where much of it focused on the process by which OPEN came about, making use of Representative Issa’s “Madison” platform to allow for discussions, comments and feedback directly on the bill itself. I asked how he felt about such crowdsourcing of legislative efforts and if it had a future in Congress.
Legislators who have concerns about keeping the internet open ought to be very open and seek input from people who deal with the internet, who care strongly about these issues, whose livelihoods depend on the internet. So, I think it’s very consistent for someone with a philosophy of an open internet to be very open in seeking solutions, suggestions and even criticisms of legislation. I think that’s a new development, and the internet provides a new way [of doing that]…. That platform allows us to seek input before mistakes are made and before a piece of legislation gets so far down the legislative path as SOPA and PIPA did.
This is a growing opportunity for policy makers soliciting input, and a great way for those who want to participate in the political process to provide that input.
And, finally, we talked about ACTA and TPP and what was going on there and whether or not he had concerns about both the substance of those efforts and the process by which they are happening.
These are examples of what I was talking about before on the importance of being vigilant. These issues may surface again in different forms, in unexpected ways. These international agreements… what I know about the Constitution is that a treaty must be ratified by the United States Senate. So while it’s been negotiated and signed by the President, I would argue that it’s not effective until the Senate ratifies it — and no such ratification, that I know of, is expected.
This is why the folks who care about an open internet need to stay vigilant.
We touched on a few other topics, such as increasing access to broadband and how that’s a “great equalizer” for all sorts of communities, including many of the rural communities that he represents. The conversation with Senator Moran was quite interesting and enjoyable, and it’s good to find more elected officials who appear to be directly interested in encouraging innovation, and recognizing the role that innovation plays in economic growth — and how bad regulations can all-too-easily hinder that kind of growth and the prosperity it creates. There were, of course, plenty of other issues we could have talked about, but the Senator was kind enough to spend a lot more time than we had initially allotted in this conversation, and I didn’t want to keep him any longer. Perhaps in the future, we’ll have a chance to revisit these and other issues that I know are important to the community here, and can perhaps dig in even more on some of them.
Once again, for those of you at SXSW this weekend, it’ll probably be worth your time to stop by and see Senator Moran at his panel discussing many of these same issues.