February 11, 2013
Republicans are ready for their comeback as Net freedom fighters.
Once champions of the Internet's Wild West, a re-envisioned movement has left them behind. Now the GOP is digging in its spurs as it seeks to rebrand a party viewed as technology illiterate and gain redemption for backing much maligned anti-piracy legislation. It's also a convenient sounding board for just about everything else. Internet freedom now gets linked to tax bans, United Nations treaties and small government. Lawmakers have tied the term to everything from Justice Department investigations to American pride. Reinvigorated by the revolt of a region, Web rights have gone on to embody a much broader political agenda. "People use it for their own purposes," said Gigi Sohn, co-founder of Public Knowledge, an organization that pushes for open Internet. Republicans especially, she said, take it to mean "absolutely no government, consumer competition protection and no regulation whatsoever."
Lawmakers see a born fit. "The Republican Party is a natural for Internet freedom," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of the most vocal GOP online rights supporters, told POLITICO. He noted that it wasn't the Democrats - whose campaigns have become a wizardry of data analysis and online resources - but the GOP that first established an Internet freedom platform. Granted, tech advocates had trouble swallowing the party's opposition to net neutrality standards. And Democrats unleashed their platform just days after. But as society weighs new questions of privacy and access, the resurging online freedom talk has made for an effective Republican Party tool. "If you prize Internet freedom, don't let the government break the Internet," said House Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) as he advocated against regulation at this month's State of the Net Conference.
Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) have cast it as a reason to ban additional taxes. "E-commerce is thriving largely because the Internet is free from burdensome tax restrictions," Ayotte said when reintroducing a bill that prohibits taxes on Internet access. And several lawmakers have used online rights as ammunition against their favorite target: the Justice Department. Issa, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman, has demanded an investigation into the prosecution of tech whiz kid Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide last month after facing up to 35 years in jail for hacking into a subscriber-only database and taking scholarly articles. So has Judiciary Committee member Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), whose rifts with Attorney General Eric Holder have turned into legend. "Mr. Swartz's case raises important questions," Cornyn said in a letter to Holder, asking if the prosecution was "in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act?"
The issue has even become its own meeting topic. Just this week, three House subcommittees held a joint hearing titled "Internet Freedom: Dubai and Beyond." The groups met to contemplate how they should respond to the 89 countries that signed a U.N. treaty in Dubai last December that could have ramifications for an open Internet. The United States did not back the regulations. "The underlying issue to me is, this is about freedom," said Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights, built on that momentum by reintroducing his Global Online Freedom Act. He told POLITICO "it's an idea that's time has come." The next step should shift rhetoric to action. "Right now, we're in an interesting moment," said Josh Levy, Internet campaign director for Free Press, an advocacy organization for technology policy and media issues. "The challenge here is to figure out if you are a conservative that espouses universal ideas of Internet freedom, how to make that happen. And I'm not sure anyone has on the conservative side."
Democrats face their own battles. Web advocates haven't forgotten that many progressive lawmakers also backed the anti-piracy bills. And some have blasted former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for spouting lines about Internet freedom when the administration has cracked down on WikiLeaks founder and online rights proponent Julian Assange. The administration also supported broader privacy requirements. The GOP's difficulty lies in narrowing the message of a concept that is itself nebulous and reforming. "There's not a lot of clarity among people who talk about Internet freedom or what they think the consequences are," a longtime Internet activist lawyer said.
Lawmakers have one thing going for them: Web supporters are a varied lot. "People on the left and the right share concerns with overarching enforcement like [the Stop Online Piracy Act] or [the Protect IP Act] would have done," online rights supporter Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said in an interview, referring to the anti-piracy bills. "We share concerns about the criminalization or violation of user agreements as occurred in [Swartz's] case. So you don't find much disagreement among ideologically diverse advocates." Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the first to advocate for the "fundamental architecture of the Internet," told POLITICO he doesn't see partisanship damaging progress for online freedoms. "We've been able to keep what has really been the foundation of this extraordinary movement," he said. "Certainly there have been efforts to hijack the concept. But I think we've held them off so far."
If the momentum grows more concentrated rather than more disparate, the GOP may just have another shot at sheriff. "We're a few years removed from the moment when the tea party and industry started changing the ideology of the Republican Party," Levy said. "SOPA has happened. There's an increasing awareness of an open Internet." Now they just need to agree on its meaning. Politico
There are many things to call Apple Inc. Maker of the iPhone, iPad, and other must-have products. The world's most innovative company, and the world's most valuable company (at times). Allow me to add to the list: "Major buyer of Pennsylvania tax credits."
The Cupertino, Calif.-based technology Goliath may have more cash than investor David Einhorn believes is prudent, but Apple isn't foolish when comes to taxes. Apple apparently is trying to reduce its tax liability in Pennsylvania by buying up tax credits from other companies here. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development's (DCED) annual report on the Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) tax credit program lists Apple as having acquired 32 approved tax credits worth $2.33 million in 2012.
The Rendell administration created the KIZ program in 2004 to support early-stage companies with ties to Pennsylvania colleges. Firms in operation for less than eight years and situated in one of the 29 zones statewide can apply for a tax credit of up to $100,000. Last year, the DCED approved a total of $13.73 million in tax credits to 179 companies across the state. Of those totals, 43 Philadelphia-area companies were awarded a total of $3.33 million in credits. Young companies often apply for these credits not to offset their own tax liabilities, but to raise money. The KIZ program allows companies to sell or assign their tax credits for cash.
Which is where Apple and other buyers, such as Susquehanna Bank ($2.53 million), First Commonwealth Bank ($2.20 million) and Kohl's Department Stores Inc. ($182,806), come in. Small companies got between 88 cents and 92.8 cents on the dollar when they sold their credits through a broker recently. Since 2006, the sale of KIZ tax credits has generated $48.9 million in capital that companies in those zones have used to expand their operations, hire workers, and fund prototypes, according to the annual report. Philadelphia Inquirer
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