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McCain's Tech Policy

David Isenberg

I was hoping that McCain's Tech Policy would emphasize and extend the two McCain pro-Internet initiatives — the McCain Lautenberg Community Broadband Act and Spectrum Re-regulation, neither of which have yet seen the light of day — but it doesn't. In the first case, it makes a vague nod in the direction of "market failure and other obstacles." In the second, it treats spectrum policy as a done deal; now that we can surf the Web in coffee shops, we're done.

I was hoping that McCain's tech guru, Mike Powell, would have written more wireless innovation into the plan. The time is ripe to develop cognitive radios with the ability to use spectrum a bit more intelligently than 1920s technology would permit, but the plan simply nods to stillborn past efforts on this critical issue; it provides no way forward.

Modern spectrum regulation would have been a step towards more consumer choice, which McCain touts as a substitute for "prescriptive regulation like 'net-neutrality.'" There are thirteen uses of words with the morpheme "compet." All but three refer to US competitiveness against other nations. The other three are about digital devices. There's NOTHING about spurring broadband competition with the telcos and cablecos… unless they've already opted out of a "failed market."

The plan lavishes lip service on "innovation," and this masks the fact that the first two things the U.S. Internet needs have nothing to do with innovation. We need (a) fiber-optic access for everybody, and (b) a free and open Internet. In other words we need a "Fat Pipe, Always On" and we need the telcos and cablecos (and their deep packet snooping) and the government citizen-spies, and the content police to "Get Out of the Way."

David Weinberger points out that McCain's plan fails to use a whole bunch of words like democracy and free speech (and social network and open source and wiki). To the McCain plan's credit, there are nine mentions of "citizen" and only five mentions of "consumer." But the Plan's treatment of the Four Freedoms, which guarantee that "consumers" can buy any device or service they want, is more about shopping than citizenship. Deliberately missing from the Four Freedoms is the ability to say whatever you want to say on line.

Here it is worth noting that Obama's tech plan (like McCain's) is silent on warrantless spying, and that Obama, after promising the opposite, voted in favor of letting the telcos off the hook for their illegal collaboration in spying on U.S. citizens, and he voted in favor of expanding telco spying on U.S. citizens. This is a betrayal I will not forget. Nevertheless, the Obama Plan reflects that the Internet is the technological embodiment of democracy, and could be used to improve democracy's imperfect U.S. instantiation. McCain's does not even come close. I don't trust either of them, but Obama seems to understand the Internet as something new, different, and potentially wonderful, while to McCain, the Internet is yet another technology by which America can compete against the world.

In summary, the McCain plan says, "What's good for AT&T and Comcast and Cisco and the RIAA is good for America." It's about their Internet, nor ours.

Update: Here's Harold Feld's take. Here's Matt Stoller's take. Here's Kevin Werbach's take. Here's Michael Powell's reply to Kevin Werbach.

By David Isenberg, Principal Prosultant(sm), isen.com, LLC
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