Editorials

Committed to the First Amendment
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Broadband grandstanding?

Senator Joe Lieberman may be mightily exercised over the pace of the broadband rollout, but we think it equally as likely that, in releasing his broadband white paper last week, he was trying to curry favor with the high-tech industry and make the Bush administration look like a bunch of slackers. He gave the Bush policymakers six months to come up with a comprehensive plan for accelerating the rollout. There was no "or else" attached, but his challenge is probably only for show anyway. Well, not all show. Lieberman is earnest about wanting to regulate Internet content, and his proposed bill would give him another opportunity to do that. That's reason not to like the bill right there, but we'll wait until its official unveiling this week before suggesting its roundfile readiness.

It was hardly coincidental that Lieberman chose a crowd composed of California high-tech executives/lobbyists (TechNet) as a cheering section, or that his report on the state of broadband deployment shared several salient points with one released in January by that same group. Whatever the motivation, we have to agree with a Commerce Department official who saw little new in the proposals. The paper essentially says there are a lot of complicated issues yet to be resolved and that they need to be resolved. We doubt anyone disagrees. But that point could be made in a sentence, passed unanimously and inserted into the Congressional Record
between salutes to Wisconsin cheese and Idaho potatoes.

We must add, however, that we were impressed with the marketplace talk coming out of the senator. "The public sector cannot and should not manage this effort," he preached to the high-tech business choir. "Our future will fortunately be in the hands of thousands of individual innovators like so many of you here today." We're glad to have on record such a public statement supporting a marketplace approach to the proliferation of communications services. Let's read that statement into the record, too.

Another First Amendment hit

Senator John McCain is trying to force broadcasters to provide free airtime to candidates. No similar effort will be aimed at newspapers, of course, because they are shielded by the First Amendment. Broadcasters are the ones with the deep pockets and the chinks in their government-issue First Amendment armor. McCain is introducing his new bill June 19, but this has been coming since the Torricelli amendment, which attempted to mandate deep discounts for campaign ads, was jettisoned from the campaign-reform bill in January. That bill already has broadcast ad restrictions that raise troubling speech issues, enough so that the ACLU has joined in opposition to it. The electronic media should not be singled out to subsidize politicians, particularly when it is at the cost of further reductions in their First Amendment status.

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