Net neutrality is the term used to describe a policy where internet service providers and backbone providers may not discriminate based on content. They could charge based on volume, on bandwidth, on service levels, etc, but not on content. In addition, I’d love to see the networks opened up. For along time, DSL was governed by common carrier laws, meaning that they had to lease their lines at wholesale rates. Cable is not a common carrier, and so you could be forced to get bundled services if your internet access came that way. I don’t know the current status of DSL as a common carrier, but I know that the Bush dominated FCC isn’t fond of it. Common carrier status increases broadband use because it puts lots of smaller companies into competition. The wire-line provider doesn’t get to recoup it’s investment by bundling services, it has to charge for the connection on it’s own, essentially. It reduces the barriers to entry for their competitors.
According to C|Net’s technology voter’s guide, both Clinton and Obama support strong Net Neutrality legislation. Neither of them have said anything about common carrier status for DSL or cable. Clinton supports tax incentives to increase broadband use. Obama wants to use the Universal Service Fund to expand broadband.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. opened up patents to software. It’s not a bad idea, in and of itself. If it takes a lot of money to create some sort of new software technology, it makes sense to let the innovator have exclusive use of their invention for a period of years. The problem is that there really isn’t a lot in software that requires patent protection in order to get people to invent the software. If there are 10 companies that are fighting for it anyway, it doesn’t make sense to give the first one just over the filing line the ability to keep anyone else from using the technology for 17 years. On top of that, the Patent office does not have the ability to screen out bad patents in software. Hence, we get patent trolls: companies that get bogus patents for simple easy technology and use legal means to extract rents (look out, economic term) from others.
Obama supports reforming the Patent Office at least, though his web site doesn’t mention changing the patent law for software. Hillary Clinton does not mention patent reform on her site that I can find.
Copyright reform. One of the things that has hurt internet use is the concept of contributory negligence in copyrights. This is what allows record companies to shut down file sharing networks. Rather than sue thousands of users and hundreds of companies, there are other possible solutions that still encourage creativity. For instance, radio can play any song. And when you buy digital tapes (not that anyone does) a small piece of the price you pay goes to record companies to offset possible copying. File sharing applications and networks could charge similarly.
Neither candidate seems to have much of a position on reforming the DMCA or copyright.
Overall, slight advantage to Obama.