On Thursday, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) became the Republican Party’s lead man on technology issues (and probably made Glenn Beck a happy man) by introducing the “Internet Freedom Act.” The legislation would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from making sure that Internet service providers don’t create a pay-for-play system where they could selectively block or slow content and applications. McCain called these net neutrality rules a “government takeover of the Internet.” From his press release:
This government takeover of the Internet will stifle innovation, in turn slowing our economic turnaround and further depressing an already anemic job market. Outside of health care, the technology industry is the nation’s fastest growing job market. Innovation and job growth in this sector of our economy is the key to America’s future prosperity. In 2008, while most industries were slashing jobs in the worst economy in nearly 30 years, high tech industries actually added over 77,000 good high-paying jobs. Just this month, Google and Yahoo both released positive earnings reports.
First of all, it’s ironic that McCain cites Google and Yahoo as examples of why net neutrality rules need to be blocked. In fact, both companies have said that without such measures, the “longstanding openness of the Internet” will be threatened. From a letter they wrote to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce in 2006:
Until FCC decisions made last summer, consumers’ ability to choose the content and services they want via their broadband connections was assured by regulatory safeguards. … This “innovation without permission” has fueled phenomenal economic growth, productivity gains, and global leadership for our nation’s high tech companies.
To preserve this environment, we urge the Committee to include language that directly addresses broadband network operators’ ability to manipulate what consumers will see and do online.
However, telecoms largely support blocking net neutrality rules, and McCain is a long-time friend of these businesses. McCain was the top recipient of campaign contributions from the telecom industry, taking in $894,379 in the past two years.
Even as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee from 1997 to 2001 and again from 2003 to 2005, McCain made sure to craft technology rules that benefited his campaign donors. He opposed a program designed to provide discounts to schools and libraries to connect to the Internet and supported large telecom mergers.
Of course, the GOP point man on technology issues is someone who, just last year, called himself a computer “illiterate who has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance that I can get.” In July 2008, he said he has “never felt the particular need to e-mail.” As former FCC chairman Reed Hundt has explained, “Basically, John is a technological troglodyte, and proud of it” — and we’re now supposed to trust him to shape the way we use the Internet.
Telecoms, Internet service providers — they already have a kind of monopoly. The idea here [with net neturality] is to prevent them from abusing that monopoly. … They want freedom all right. They want to find new ways to charge us more money. [...]
Whenever there’s a fight on the Internet, it’s always good to side with the geeks who built the Internet, rather than the fat-cat telecom lobbyists.