Does not compute

By MIKE MILIARD  |  October 30, 2008

Without a net?
Obama isn’t perfect when it comes to technology and telecommunications issues. He supported the Bush administration’s sweeping wiretap legislation, for instance. But McCain’s Senate votes, time and again, have shown an inclination to side with telecom companies over the public good.

Nowhere is that more evident than on the issue of network neutrality, which pits the pecuniary interests of access providers against the openness and equality of the Web, and its continued ability to evolve.

“Obama is unequivocally in support of net neutrality, and McCain has given all indications that he is not,” says Andrew Rasiej, co-founder of techPresident — a blog that covers “how the presidential candidates are using the Web, and how the Web is using them.” “Or, a better way to say it is that he will defer to the telecom-cable lobby for policy decisions on that subject.”

As with the stock market, McCain believes it’s paramount to “keep the Internet and entrepreneurs free of unnecessary regulation,” according to his technology platform — which was drafted with the help of former FCC chair Michael Powell. Meaning: Internet service providers should be free to flex their financial muscle, potentially at the expense of the freedom of the Web.

When McCain was queried last year about net neutrality, he dithered — but seemed foremost concerned about keeping telecom companies’ coffers filled. On the one hand, “anything that impinges on the ability for people to have access needs to be considered very carefully,” he said. On the other, he reasoned, “when you control the pipe, you should be able to get profit from your investment.”

Get off my property!
Earlier this month, President Bush signed the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act into law. In addition to stiffening penalties for music, movie, and software pirates, it would also empower the president to appoint a “Copyright Czar,” who’d be sicced on infringers.

The law enjoys bipartisan support. And, certainly, one can’t imagine Obama — enlightened to the ways of the Internet Age as he may be — downloading Chinese Democracy from zShare as he chats on the phone with Hu Jintao.

But how vigorously and with what means intellectual property is defended could depend on the president. Rasiej thinks we’d “see a continuation of existing copyright holders using every available political and financial interest they can to preserve their rights for as long as possible under a McCain administration,” while he predicts that, “under an Obama administration, you will actually see an intellectual curiosity about new business models to be discovered.”

(Interestingly, McCain himself just got caught up in a copyright controversy of his own, when YouTube, having removed campaign videos because they contained clips from, among others, Fox News, rebuffed his entreaties to put them back up; the videos were in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which McCain voted for in 1998.)

The sweet science
Obama and McCain do agree on some things. Both are for getting broadband into rural and low-income homes, for instance. They just disagree on how to do it. McCain wants to give tax breaks to the telecoms to make it happen. Obama’s idea is to take federal tax revenue that’s currently subsidizing rural phone use to instead subsidize rural broadband use.

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