In the world of politics, there are politicians who play it safe by sticking to traditional talking points. Then there are those who stand out for their innovative ideas and progressive approaches. Pete Ashdown falls firmly in the latter camp. The Utah-based technology entrepreneur and founder of internet service provider XMission has made waves through his forward-thinking political campaigns and advocacy for digital rights.
Though unsuccessful in his bids for US Senate, Ashdown’s energetic and tech-focused platforms brought attention to important issues around internet policy, privacy, and modernizing government. His campaigns helped strengthen Utah’s Democratic party and paved the way for a new generation of tech-savvy candidates.
Who is Pete Ashdown?
Pete Ashdown was born in 1967 and grew up in Clearfield, Utah. From an early age, he showed an interest in ham radio operation, technology, and entrepreneurship. After graduating from the University of Utah with a degree in finance, Ashdown worked in real estate and construction.
In 1994, unsatisfied with his career path, Ashdown decided to follow his passion for technology. He started an internet service provider company called XMission from his basement. Through determination and ingenuity, Ashdown built up Utah’s first ISP and pioneered many internet firsts in the state.
Early Life and Education
Ashdown’s early interest in technology can be traced back to his childhood. As a kid, he set up a ham radio station and spent hours talking to people around the world. In high school, Ashdown taught himself computer programming and even hacked into his school’s system, garnering a reputation as a prankster.
After graduating high school in 1985, Ashdown attended the University of Utah. He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1994. During college, Ashdown honed his programming skills by creating software for campus departments. He also hosted a radio show called “Wax Facts” featuring alternative music.
In 1994, Ashdown was working in real estate but felt unfulfilled. He decided to take a big risk and start an internet company. This was still the early days of the World Wide Web.
With $6,000 and a small office in his basement, Ashdown launched XMission, Utah’s first independent internet service provider. The company focused on providing dial-up internet access, web hosting, and email services to local customers.
Through creative grassroots marketing and competitive pricing, XMission steadily grew its clientele. Ashdown’s vision was to make the internet more accessible to regular people in Utah.
Within a few years, XMission expanded into broadband and other services. It served as Utah’s premier ISP through the dot-com boom and bust. Today, the company still operates successfully under Ashdown’s leadership.
Advocacy and Public Policy
Beyond his business activities, Ashdown has been deeply involved in digital rights advocacy and public policy. He helped draft legislation in Utah advancing internet neutrality, library funding, and online free speech.
Ashdown co-founded the Internet Service Provider Association of Utah and served on the Utah Infrastructure Agency Board. He has testified at FCC hearings and spoken at tech conferences worldwide.
His advocacy aligns with XMission’s corporate values of privacy, transparency, net neutrality, and fighting censorship. Ashdown aims to give citizens more control of their data and protect equal access to information online.
2006 Senate Run
Driven by his reformist zeal, Ashdown decided to take the plunge into politics in 2006. He announced his candidacy in the US Senate race in Utah. Ashdown challenged the Republican incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch on the Democratic ticket.
Running as an outsider, Ashdown championed progressive policies related to technology, civil liberties, health care, and stimulating job growth. His grassroots campaign attracted young people and raised important issues.
In the general election, Ashdown won 31% of the vote but ultimately lost to Senator Hatch. However, his energetic campaign brought valuable attention, funding, and enthusiasm to Utah’s Democrats.
2012 Senate Run
In 2012, Ashdown ran for Senate again, seeking to unseat Senator Hatch after his 36 years in office. Ashdown promised to bring a fresh approach to Congress and fight corruption in Washington.
His platform included modernizing government with technology, defending constitutional freedoms, reforming health care costs and expanding coverage, and supporting public infrastructure to create jobs.
During the campaign, Ashdown spoke out strongly against the controversial SOPA internet censorship bill before Congress. He earned the backing of prominent groups like Reddit and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
However, Ashdown lost the Democratic nomination at the state convention to Scott Howell, coming in second place. Howell went on to lose to Hatch in the general election. Despite this defeat, Ashdown’s campaign kept pressure on Hatch to engage more with constituents.
Political Views and Platforms
Throughout his political campaigns and advocacy work, Ashdown has stayed closely focused on several key issues:
Technology and Internet Policy
Ashdown’s technology background underpins his staunch support for net neutrality and opposition to internet censorship. He has argued for laws to stop ISPs from throttling speeds or blocking access. Ashdown also warned against draconian bills like SOPA that threatened freedom of information online.
Privacy and Civil Liberties
A self-described “civil libertarian,” Ashdown has consistently fought against government overreach on rights to privacy. He has raised concerns about mass surveillance programs and pushed back on the Patriot Act’s expansion of search powers. Ashdown aims to give citizens more control over their personal data.
Health Care Reform
Ashdown supports universal health coverage through an expanded public insurance option combined with private plans. He has argued that this “Medicare for all” approach would rein in costs while improving access to quality care. During his campaigns, Ashdown criticized insurance industry influence in politics.
Economy and Jobs
To stimulate economic growth, Ashdown proposed investments in education, infrastructure, and emerging industries. He highlighted technology and renewable energy as sectors where Utah could lead. Ashdown also called for campaign finance reform to reduce corporate influence and political corruption.
Impact and Legacy
Although he never achieved his dream of getting elected to the Senate, Ashdown made an important impact in Utah politics in other ways:
Strengthening Utah’s Democratic Party
Ashdown’s high-profile Senate runs helped build credibility, excitement, and funding around Utah’s fledgling state Democratic party. His netroots campaigns attracted young people and amplified the voice of Democrats in this traditionally Republican-dominated state. Ashdown paved the way for stronger showings by future Democratic candidates.
Promoting Tech-Savvy Policies
As one of the first politicians to run on platforms deeply rooted in technology, Ashdown brought much-needed awareness to pressing internet policy issues. His perspective helped shape important debates around online privacy, neutrality, and censorship during a time of rapid technological change. Ashdown’s voice contributed to Utah becoming more progressive on key tech issues.
While no longer running for office, Ashdown has stayed actively engaged in public policy issues. He continues to lead XMission and serve on digital rights advisory boards.
Ashdown uses his platform to raise awareness on topics like government surveillance, net neutrality, and access to information. He also mentors a new generation of technologically adept progressive political candidates.
True to his roots, Ashdown still enjoys ham radio as a hobby. He has a new passion for cycling, sometimes riding his bike hundreds of miles through Utah’s scenic backcountry. Ashdown applies the same relentless drive that defined his pioneering career to these challenges.
- As a teen, Ashdown built his own computer from discarded parts. He sold it to buy a car.
- His XMission vanity license plate reads “DSL 4 ALL.”
- Ashdown convinced Senator Orrin Hatch to sign up for an email address and use the internet during their first Senate race.
- He once got kicked out of a Walmart for setting up a WiFi hotspot in the store without permission.
- Ashdown received the EFF Pioneer Award in 2008 for his contributions to the internet.
- His irreverent campaign ads featured Ashdown fox hunting with rich elites and playing Twister with lobbyists.
Pete Ashdown’s blend of political and technical savvy has made him a unique figure in Utah’s political landscape. While not always successful in elections, Ashdown made an enduring impact through his innovative policy platforms and advocacy for technology issues. His efforts modernized Utah’s Democratic Party and gave citizens more control over their digital lives. Ashdown exemplifies the potential for politicians fluent in technology to improve access, transparency, and freedom online. His independent spirit and internet pioneer credentials ensure Ashdown’s legacy will not be forgotten anytime soon.
Q: What company did Pete Ashdown found?
A: Ashdown founded XMission in 1994, Utah’s first independent internet service provider. He built the company from the ground up into a leading ISP in the state.
Q: How many times did Ashdown run for US Senate?
A: Ashdown ran for Senate twice, in 2006 and 2012. Both times he lost in the general election to Republican incumbent Orrin Hatch.
Q: What were some of Ashdown’s key political positions?
A: Ashdown campaigned on progressive policies like net neutrality, privacy rights, health care reform, investing in jobs, and modernizing government through technology.
Q: Why didn’t Ashdown ever win a Senate seat?
A: Running as a Democrat in heavily Republican Utah, Ashdown faced an uphill battle. He lost both his Senate bids to longtime incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch, who had strong name recognition.
Q: How did Ashdown impact Utah politics?
A: More than just his electoral campaigns, Ashdown’s advocacy strengthened Utah’s Democratic party, promoted awareness of technology issues, and paved the way for new tech-focused candidates.