Obama and McCain speak during the presidential debate at Hofstra University earlier this month. Source: Reuters
When Americans go to the polls on Tuesday, Sen. John McCain’s and Sen. Barack Obama’s technology policies might not be at the forefront of most voters’ minds. But that doesn’t mean they’re not important.
The campaign has lately been dominated with mudslinging over the candidates’ economic plans — and with good reason, given the current climate — and tech policy has been almost entirely absent from the discussion.
But the intersection of technology and government has been a busy place lately. The next administration will face a host of policy issues with a real impact on nearly all Americans, whether they know it or not.
“If you were to choose a single subject in which you might argue there was the greatest gap between the daily experience of Americans and the discourse of the presidential campaign, I think you could make a case that it lies in technology policy, about which we’ve heard virtually nothing from the campaign,” Steve Coll, president and CEO of the New America Foundation, a progressive think tank, said at a recent policy discussion at the group’s Washington office.
So while the candidates’ debates and stump speeches might not have elucidated their positions on Net neutrality, online privacy or spectrum allocation, Obama and McCain have outlined their technology agendas in some detail on their Web sites.
Here’s where they stand on six of the issues:
Net neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers should be required to treat all data packets transmitted over their networks with equal favor, is the clearest point of disagreement on the tech front between the two candidates. Obama favors it. McCain opposes it.
The issue came to a head earlier this year, when the Federal Communications Commission rebuked Comcast for throttling data-rich peer-to-peer applications on its network and forced it to change its traffic-management policy. Proponents cheered the agency for taking action to ensure that the Internet remains open. Critics charged that the government was overstepping its authority and heading down the slippery slope of regulating an industry that has thrived under a free-market regime.
Those same contrasts are found in the candidates’ defenses of their positions.
“A key reason the Internet has been such a success is because it is the most open network in history. It needs to stay that way,” Obama’s tech policy states. “Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.”
By contrast, McCain maintains that Net neutrality is a solution in search of a problem, and that it’s unnecessary regulation that threatens the openness and innovation that have characterized the Internet since its birth.
According to McCain’s Web site, the GOP nominee “does not believe in prescriptive regulation like ‘Net neutrality,’ but rather he believes that an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices is the best deterrent against unfair practices.”