The GOP's vision of a free Internet

August 30, 2012: 3:42 PM ET

In a plank filled with vagaries and platitudes, the GOP comes out in favor of "Internet freedom."

FORTUNE -- While the nation's political attention was directed at convention speeches given by Ann Romney and Paul Ryan, the Republican Party was assembling its technology and communications platform planks. The GOP endorses "Internet freedom." By that it means freedom from government regulation, not freedom from concentrated corporate power.

Net neutrality rules -- adopted by the Federal Communications Commission to keep Internet service providers from favoring some traffic over other traffic -- amount to "trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network," the plank reads. There is no elaboration to explain the analogy. Without neutrality protections, there would be a risk that service providers could block or slow down some traffic, perhaps even that of competitors to favor their own traffic or that of their business partners.

At the same time, the plank seems to outright reject initiatives like SOPA and PIPA, the House and Senate (respectively) bills aimed at combating online piracy that were shelved early this year amid loud public protest. Many Republicans had expressed support for the bills, but, along with many Democrats, they withdrew that support as it became clear that protest wasn't going to let up. The plank doesn't refer directly to those bills, but says the GOP will work to "remove regulatory barriers that protect outdated technologies and business plans from innovation and competition" and to "ensure that personal data receives full constitutional protection from government overreach and that individuals retain the right to control the use of their data by third parties."

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The Motion Picture Association of America has endorsed the plank -- enthusiastically, despite that lobbying group's default zero-sum approach to copyright protection. That could be thanks to the GOP's support for aggressive intellectual-property enforcement in other parts of the party platform, which would give the party an out if and when future anti-piracy legislation comes up. On the whole, the platform "strikes a very smart balance," said MPAA chief Chris Dodd. "It emphasizes the importance of us doing more as a nation to protect our intellectual property from online theft while underscoring the critical importance of protecting Internet freedom."

Despite the fact that SOPA opponent Darrell Issa, a California Republican, applauded the MPAA's endorsement of the plank, Mike Masnick of TechDirt, a reliable critic of copyright enforcement, wrote that "the MPAA's support pretty much shows that the Republicans' 'Internet freedom' platform isn't serious."

Perhaps not. But the issue doesn't seem to be seriousness so much as cohesion. The platform, with all its vagaries, platitudes, and internal contradictions, reveals that the GOP, just like the Democratic Party, remains split on how to deal with piracy and intellectual property.

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