Originator of “Net Neutrality” Running For Office In New York, Hopes To Prevent Comcast/TWC Merger

Tim Wu speaking outside the FCC in May.

Tim Wu speaking outside the FCC in May.

The academic who coined the term “net neutrality,” and who has been among its most vocal advocates, is now running for office in New York. Tim Wu hopes to become lieutenant governor after what he describes as a “start-up campaign,” and he’s running with a tech-focused message: that New York needs to act against the merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

In New York, the state Public Service Commission has to approve the Comcast buyout of Time Warner Cable before it can move forward. The companies filed their petition with the state in May, and the Commission will be holding a hearing about the merger this coming Thursday.

Although the lieutenant governor does not have a direct role in the Commission’s decisions, it is still a position of influence, Wu told Ars Technica.”I see the lieutenant governor position as one that puts pressure on other agencies and advocates for the public’s interest,” he said to Ars, adding, “I would push the agencies to block the Comcast merger.”

Wu, currently a professor at Columbia, also spoke at length with the Washington Post, explaining his rationale for running. Like any good techie, Wu is approaching the campaign, in part, as a way to test the constraints of existing systems.

“What happens when you run?” he asked the Post. “If you are someone with ideas who thinks New York State could be better, what are the barriers to just running for office for a relatively normal person? In other words, someone who’s not a career politician?”

He compared the campaign to the process of starting a fledgling internet business, telling the Post, “I think of it like a start-up campaign. One of the things that’s so interesting is to try to understand whether we have a political system where outsiders can challenge incumbents and go for it.”

To Ars, he explained that the passion for net neutrality and related issues is part of that same larger whole. “I care about my usual tech and telecom and antitrust issues, but I care about them as a manifestation of something larger,” he said to Ars. “My greater concern has always been with excessive private power and threats to human freedom created by excessive private power.”

Wu is running alongside gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, a professor at Fordham Law School. They are challenging incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo and lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul in the state Democratic primary. However, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor appear separately on the ballot, meaning Wu could end up as Cuomo’s running mate in the general election even if Teachout loses the primary.

Wu — and the voters of New York — will find out over the next few months just how feasible the entry of non-politicians into politics really is. The primary will be held on September 9, followed by the general election on November 4.

Father of “net neutrality” runs for office, wants to block Comcast/TWC merger [Ars Technica]
15 questions for Tim Wu, the net neutrality scholar who’s running for N.Y. lieutenant governor [Washington Post]