Where The Candidates Stand On Web Issues
Surprisingly, the differences between John McCain and Barack Obama on issues affecting the Internet are few, but those few are fairly big rifts. The biggest single issue where the candidates differ is Network Neutrality.
McCain would prefer to leave that question to the market, while Obama has vowed to make Net Neutrality the law of land. Their stances on this one issue may be what drives AT&T to be one of McCain’s largest contributors, and why Obama has Google, Microsoft, and Stanford in his corner. But neither candidate has exhibited consistent behavior necessarily in favor of those big donors.
McCain not a perfect telecom shill
The harshest of McCain’s critics have filed him under the same label as recently-convicted Alaska Sen. Ted Stephens. In addition to seeming Internet-illiterate, opponents have placed McCain square in the pockets of the telecom industry, “always” siding with them instead of the American people. While it is true much of the liberty the industry led by AT&T and Verizon has abused was granted in part by McCain’s support, he has stood up to the same industry on some important matters.
Sen. McCain was extremely critical of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and voted against it, damning the legislation as representing only the interests of phone companies and not the interests of the people. Sure enough, that bill granted phone companies $200 billion in tax breaks to build out their broadband networks in 2006, money proven since to have been squandered on long distance services instead of the next-generation networks countries like Japan enjoy today.
McCain proved his maverick mettle by opposing a Republican majority seeking to deregulate the telecommunications industry, has advocated allocating spectrum for WiFi and emergency services, introduced the Community Broadband Bill and has supported municipal WiFi, all stances phone companies would rather he hadn’t taken.
On the flipside of that, opponents are quick to note, McCain proposed the Internet Regulatory Freedom Act of 1999 to prohibit the FCC from requiring the Bells to lease out their wires to competitors, and in 2002 supported the Consumer Broadband Deregulation Act, another action to prevent the FCC from opening up competition.
The John McCain of the 1990’s seems quite a bit different from the John McCain of the 2000’s, shifting from a regulatory agent under Clinton to a deregulatory champion under Bush. What about John McCain now? Still anti-Net Neutrality, but at the same time, as posted on his website, comes out in favor of open networks, which makes his last official stance somewhat up to interpretation.
Obama not always on the left of the issue
Perhaps this is what Google CEO Eric Schmidt, who’s been visible on the Obama campaign trail, meant by his candidate not being perfect: He flipped on FISA. Though pro-Net Neutrality, his vocal stance inspiring endorsement by none other than Internet-inventor Vint Cerf, Obama has made some surprising switches lately.
The most notable one was Obama’s sudden reversal of his stance against telecom immunity granted in the latest FISA bill. Google was a natural ally in this position, the company refusing to hand over search information to the feds until a court ordered them to do so. Obama was vocally against immunity, and recent history has produced military personnel blowing the whistle on FISA implementation once they discovered they were indeed spying on American citizens on a regular basis. Nevertheless, Obama surprised many supporters by flipping on the issue and voting in favor of the legislation, complete with telco immunity.
If it’s relevant to you, running mate Joe Biden was a long-time supporter of it, and Obama’s reversal came just in advance of his running mate announcement. McCain abstained from voting on the measure, which is sort of like voting present, one would assume, except he wasn’t actually present.
Where they stand on other Internet issues
Both candidates are in favor of:
Permanent ban on Internet taxes
Permanent R&D Tax Credit
Setting aside spectrum for emergency officials
Grants for low-income and minority students interested in technology education
The recent RIAA-backed copyright legislation stiffening penalties for copyright infringement, quietly and unanimously passed during the financial crisis.
Open applications and services, right to attach devices to the network, more broadband competition
H-1B visa expansion (Obama supports a temporary expansion)
Transparency, open access to government records online
Where they differ
Deregulation (according to McCain’s recent actions)
Disallowing media consolidation (McCain against, Obama for)
Fundamental philosophy difference
When it comes to technology, Obama is active, McCain is passive. Obama’s plan is detailed and involves the creation of a national Chief Technology Officer, creation of a Google for government so citizens can search government policies and actions, and a website where Americans make suggestions directly, among other technological programs.
McCain’s history suggests he prefers tax credits to businesses and corporations in the belief they will do the good work on behalf of the government, rather than the government implementing the work itself. For example he has proposed a plan to give tax breaks to companies that help keep schools sufficiently equipped with the technology they need. That’s an interesting new tack, considering his opposition to the Telecom Act of 1996, which depended on the kindness of the telcos.