Ron Paul Softens Stance On Net Neutrality; Talks On Other Tech Issues

We’ve spoken with most of the top presidential candidates over the last few months to get their on record position on ten key technology issues (Barack Obama, John McCain, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich). But we were never able to nail down time with Ron Paul, despite his strong support from the Internet in general.

Well, it’s never too late. Just two hours after we made our Tech President endorsements live on Fox News this morning, we were able to get some phone time with Dr. Paul as well. The podcast is up at TalkCrunch and embedded below, and we will have a transcript up shortly as well.

Dr. Paul said some very interesting things in the podcast. Among other things, he is softening his anti-net neutrality viewpoint (see here as an example). He’s now readily admiting that he’s willing to listen to both sides of the argument before making a final decision. Ditto on the 700MHz discussion.

More analysis after the transcript is finalized. We’ll post it here.

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Update: Here is the transcript from the call:

Michael Arrington: Hello, this is Michael Arrington with TechCrunch. Today I have the honor of talking to Dr. Ron Paul, a republican candidate for president in 2008. Dr. Paul, welcome to TechCrunch.

Dr. Ron Paul: Thank you, nice to be with you today.

MA: Where are you today and what are you up to?

RP: I’m in Arlington. I’m voting today. We have the financial package to vote on, so I’m in Washington.

MA: Ok, Great. It’s actually great that we’re able to talk to you. So many of our readers are Ron Paul supporters. You have, as you know of course, a tremendous level of support on the internet, with very, very loyal followers. So, I think they’ll be interested in hearing your position on some of these issues.

RP: Ok.

MA: To jump right in, I think you have in the past, I believe, stated that with regard to net neutrality, government interference in the marketplace that you’re opposed to that policy. Is that something that you wish to clarify?

RP: Well, it’s something that I have an open mind to because of the complete understanding of how I’m going to solve a problem, which government helped create. I just don’t like solving problems with more government regulation and I see some of the solutions as more regulation. But I also see the problem coming, because governments too often have given licensing privileges to certain groups and phone companies and providers. So it’s something I really struggle with and hope that I can come up with something that is practical and also consistent with my philosophy that you don’t resort to government regulation, because I want to be very consistent. I don’t want the government involved in the internet and I don’t want taxes on internet. And I may not understand everything I have to about the internet, but I do know one thing. That we can’t allow the government intrusion into the internet, because there has even been moves on for international controls and international taxation and to me it’s a saving grace. We, in our campaign, can get around the mainstream media mainly because of this.
So I’m very, very caution, but I’m also very open to finding solutions to some of these problems I think the government created.

MA: You know I think you’ll find in Silicon Valley, and certainly me personally, have very libertarian leanings and generally like the government to be out of our business. There are two cases: one is net neutrality, and one is the new seven hundred megahertz cellular spectrum auctions that are going on where the government has, or somehow has set up, a sort of monopoly situation where there is only one or very few consumer choices. And in that case I think there can be some abuse of the consumers by those companies, and personally I feel that it probably makes sense for the government to try to level the playing field.

I think you’ve stated your position on net neutrality fairly succinctly, but moving into the mobile space; there are only two or three US carriers where you can buy a mobile phone from, you have very few choices in the types of services you can enjoy on those mobile phones. Now the government is licensing 700Mhz spectrum and the FCC has opened up somewhat but not completely in sort of leveling the playing fields. Some of the big players – AT&T, Verizon – that are currently in the space have said, look, government should stay out, we should be able to do what we like with these auctioned spectrums once we get them. Some of the new players like Google are saying, look, lets set some rules that say people can do cross-services, cross-applications and let people have some freedom there. Is this another case where you have an open mind and you want to see how it works out, or do you…

RP: You know, absolutely, because it does get complex, not only technologically it’s complex for me but it’s also legally complex. But if I think back in the 20s when we just had radio waves to deal with, I would have wanted to develop property rights principles where they were set up and they were sold or issued or auctioned off and get into the hands of private individuals, just like oil fields or what else. I mean, in Texas everything was developed by private property ownership. So if somebody can help me along on private property ownership in solving these problems, I’m very open to that and I don’t pretend to know the exact details of how to do it because to me the government has been the source of so much of our problems but I still want to stick to the principles of private property ownership with minimum if no government regulation.

MA: Let’s talk about China for a second. There have been instances where China is alleged to have perpetuated human rights abuses against their own citizens. Some of the ways that they block internet access and otherwise monitor their citizens is using US technology: hardware from Cisco, software from Microsoft, and other companies. Do you have a position on whether US companies should have any restrictions at all on doing business with countries in ways that might perpetuate human rights abuses?

RP: Probably not, because I think about human right abuses in this country and that’s were I have a responsibility. If you think of the trends since
9-11 we’re violating individual rights right and left and continuously in the congress so I hardly can take the position that I am going to instruct and tell the Chinese what we can do or restrict you or somebody else from dealing with china if they are not following things perfectly. It’s an issue and we can speak out and we can voluntarily boycott. But I’m not going to write laws what they can and can’t do with china.

MA: Fair enough. Lets talk about education fro a moment. There are some statistics that suggest the U.S. is falling behind in terms of the per capita basis in encouraging youngsters to study math and science and go into technology fields. Do you think the government has any place or ability to help bridge the gap when it comes to technology education.

RP: Well the federal government has no legal responsibility or authority to do so. If you happen to belong to a local school district and they’re not doing the job, yes you can run for school board and emphasize certain things. That’s generally how the system has worked over the many years of our history. But what we need is more competition in schools. This is similar to the question “well they’re not doing well in spelling”, but lo and behold if you have home schoolers and private schoolers they do very well in spelling or in arithmetic. Why can’t we do the same way with technology? We need more competition. We need more local control. We need the families and parents in charge and I think we would solve a lot of these problems. But if it’s a reflection of a culture where people are lazy and they don’t want to study — I don’t happen to believe that’s the way we are.
I think it’s the meddling in our school system, more concerned about all our money going to Washington and then coming back, with worrying about “No Child Left Behind”, and living up to regulations and lack of funding because we don’t have as much money. I think that’s where the real problem lies.

MA: And with identity theft. Identity theft has been around for ever, but the internet has made it really easy for people to gather information and then exploit it as well and make money that way. It’s a huge multibillion dollar a year issue. Can the government, or should the government, do anything more than they currently are to try and stop it?

RP: Yeah, I think there definitely is a role because this is theft, this is fraud and people aught to go to jail for this and I think the fact that we do have at the federal level a responsibility to promote interstate trade and not impede trade. So, I think under those conditions the government should. But too often the government does the opposite, just seeing how they have forced us to use the social security number as our identifier. So they have literally enhanced.

MA: They’ve made it easy

RP: They made it easy for us. to make that more honest and good. But I think most of these. I think the interstate commerce clause which means that we don’t want to impede trade and communications as well as the issue of fraud.
There is definitely a responsibility for government to be involved. That to me is also a very complex technological matter, that that deals with. You know some times the private sources can also protect us on the internet as well, where there are some protective devices. I’m betting that private sources are going to come up with better devices than government will ever do.

MA: Interesting. I have a specific question on intellectual property. You know, we’re seeing the record labels and now more often the movie studios, through their organizations, start to sue individuals, even put people in jail, for file trading. Do you think that intellectual property protections of those property rights are important enough to enforce on the individual level for people in the US, sue them put people in jail.

RP: Well, I don’t have a complete answer for that. I think people who steal deserve to be punished. When they start talking about a 16 year old that took something off the internet and put him in jail, it gets a little more complex. But once again I think that technology is what’s eventually going to solve this problem, because I can’t imagine us having a federal police force going out and checking every individual who might have taken something off the internet. To me it’s the complexity of saying playing FM music in a restaurant is breaking the law because you weren’t authorized to do this.
But once the music is floating around, how many policemen are you going to have find out who turned on what radio where. So there’s a limit in the practicality of how this can be used.

MA: What’s your position on renewable energy, how much government should be funding technologies, research in that area, just sort of the governments position on getting us off of oil in the future.

RP : Well I think the federal government should have zero. I think they should just get out of the way and let pricing determine what we should do.
They do have a negative responsibility and that is we need to make sure everyone can do what they like without being impeded by the government.
Such as if nuclear energy is technologically the best and the cheapest way to produce electricity we shouldn’t be stopping it.
Right now they’re talking, we have subsidized ethanol production from corn and it turns out it was not a very good idea and it was wasteful so the government is not very good at directing resources into alternative fuel.
It also turns out that hemp happens to be a very, very good source of ethanol and thats illegal to raise in this country. So the government just needs to get out of the way, we need some money, we need free market pricing, we don’t need to be directing resources. People say “Well we need R&D, we need to send the money there”, but who gets the money? Its the cronies, the political cronies get the R&D. It goes in the wrong direction, it also contributes to the malinvestment with the inflationary system already has created. So to me I think the government should just butt out when it comes to picking what fuel we should be developing.

MA : OK but how about this. When you look at pollutions and in particular today carbon emissions, which may or may not be a pollutant causing global warming, they are not charged. Should pollutants, and I’m defining that broadly, should the government force enterprises to consider the cost of those pollutants when creating goods and services?
Should there be some kind of cap or marketplace for carbon emissions?

RP : Well, like you even suggested they’re not even positive yet so we certainly shouldn’t be doing something that we don’t know about. I think the principle that we should apply is no one has the right to pollute their neighbors property. And if carbon is a danger people should be held responsible. In the industrial revolution the corporations and the governments colluded to allow pollution and individuals had no recourse in the court. We didn’t emphasize property ownership back in those days and we still don’t. Now, we trade these rights to pollute. If pollution is bad you don’t want to be able to buy it one from person and then say “OK I did A so now I can do B and B I’m allowed to pollute”. That is too much over management from government for me. But if pollution is bad and you can prove it you should be stopped, you can’t dump your sewer into a river and you shouldn’t be able to dump pollutants into the air, and they should be stopped but I think it should be done by property rights and local controls.
I think of the time when we had noise pollution when the cars first came out. The cars were very very noisy and a local city ordinance said “Hey you can’t come to town and make all this noise you’ll wake up everybody” and all of a sudden they put mufflers on our cars so I think of solving some of these problems more in that manner.

MA : OK last question, and I think its an easy one, is on internet taxes.
Should they be banned permanently?

RP : Obviously we should never never have taxes on the internet. They should be automatically banned. I just think it would be atrocious if that happened. Not only do I think the federal government would start taxing us then I think you’d have UN taxes on the Internet as well.
Regulations and taxations on the internet, we have to be very, very strong to prevent this. The tragedy right now is there has been an intrusion since
9/11 because they say “A-hah you might be participating in some sinister activity so therefore we have to have access to all your emails and everything you put out there” and that to me is a vicious intrusion into our 1st Amendment rights.

MA : Are you a Windows or a Mac guy?

RP : I’ve been using Windows.

MA : What’s your favorite gadget?

RP : Pardon me?

MA : What is your favorite gadget, the iPod, something else?

RP : Well I’m not too much into gadgets, I have a Blackberry but I tend to use a laptop computer more than my Blackberry because its a little bit to small for me.

MA : Dr. Paul I really appreciate your time. Is there any last words you have for our technology readers and listeners on your policies on tech?

RP : Now I have great faith and confidence in technology though I have a limited amount of expertise in it but I do have a political opinion of it.
I think so many of our problems can be solved if the technology is allowed to develop in a free market economy with high respect for property rights and I just think our solutions can be found there and not with dependency on government.

MA : Thank you so much for your time.

RP : Thank you very much.