In an attempt to woo so-called "Internet voters," both the Republican and Democratic parties are considering adopting official positions supporting a free and open Internet in their upcoming party platforms at their respective conventions, according to sources familiar with party platform drafting.
Earlier this year, Internet users organized massive online protests of several Congressional bills, such as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which critics said would have censored certain webpages and CISPA, a cybersecurity act that may have allowed companies to share user data with the federal government. Prominent sites such as Reddit and Wikipedia went dark on January 18 to protest SOPA, which may have shown lawmakers that Internet users would fight back against legislation they thought would hinder a "free and open" Internet.
Lawmakers "were woken up by the blackout, it was a real gamechanger for them," says Rainey Reitman, activism director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that fights for digital freedom. "I think that politicians are definitely starting to court the Internet vote," she adds.
Organizations such as the EFF and Demand Progress, a grassroots group fighting for Internet freedom, are beginning to gain traction with those in Washington as both parties consider taking official stances on the issue.
Kirsten Kukowski, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, said that Internet freedom and net neutrality will be among the issues discussed as the RNC decides on its official platform before this month's convention. And a source involved with drafting the Democratic National Committee platform says that early drafts included language that "advocated Internet freedom globally." The source couldn't confirm if the provision made it into the final platform.
"We heard from many people who care very passionately about a free and open Internet," he says, and that input from Internet freedom activists caused drafters to "put tougher language" in the platform.
Both Republicans and Democrats are in a race to capture the Internet's voting power, but if campaign donations are anything to go by, Republicans seem to have a slight lead. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 54 percent of the $4 million that Silicon Valley-based PACs have donated have gone to Republican causes and candidates. Companies that have given more to GOP PACs include Intel, Microsoft and Facebook, while Google and Oracle have given more money to Democrats.
David Segal, head of Demand Progress, which just launched a campaign to ask both RNC and DNC officials to include Internet freedom in their party platforms, says his organization has been "talking to people on both sides" about the issue.
"It's kind of become an interesting race to become the party of the Internet now," he says. "When the SOPA blackouts happened, we saw the Republicans back away from the bill a little faster than the Democrats did. There's an increasing awareness from Democrats that they can't let Republicans corner Silicon Valley."
While neither the DNC nor RNC would comment on specifics of their platform, Segal says he's "hopeful both sides [will] respect that it's an issue millions and millions of people care about."
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com