RealTime IT News

Mr. Wi-Fi Goes to Washington?

As the presidential election approaches, there's little discussion in the media of the leading candidates' positions regarding technology issues. While that's more than understandable when immediate concerns like the economic crisis loom large, the differences between John McCain and Barack Obama on technology policy are worth a look.

In a recent report, Stephen J. Ezell and Robert D. Atkinson of the non-partisan Information Technology & Innovation Foundation examined the candidates' positions on technology and innovation, noting encouragingly that both of their platforms "incorporate substantially more focus on innovation and technology policies than their predecessors' platforms did in the 2004 election."

Overall, the writers found, McCain "seeks to foster an environment for private sector investment in R&D and innovation through a clear and less burdensome tax code [and] limited government regulation," while Obama would "[engage] the government as an active partner alongside industry in setting a national technology and innovation agenda."

Obama, in fact, plans to appoint the nation's first chief technology officer -- as his technology platform puts it, "The CTO will ensure the safety of our networks and will lead an interagency effort, working with chief technology and chief information officers of each of the federal agencies, to ensure that they use best-in-class technologies and share best practices."

Net neutrality

The candidates' clearest differences regarding technology lie in their positions on Net neutrality: Obama is for it, and McCain is against it.

Obama was a co-sponsor of the Internet Freedom Preservation Act, and his technology platform clearly states, "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. Barack Obama strongly supports the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet."

And in an interview last year with TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, Obama said, "I will prevent network providers from discriminating in ways that limit the freedom of expression on the Internet... network providers should not be allowed to charge fees to privilege the content or applications of some Web sites and Internet applications over others."

McCain, on the other hand, argues that Net neutrality is overly intrusive. His technology platform states, "John McCain 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."

Rural broadband

The two candidates have similar, though not quite as stark, differences on rural access to broadband. The Obama campaign's platform on rural issues states that Obama "will modernize an FCC program that supports rural phone service so that it promotes affordable broadband coverage across rural America as well."

And as his technology platform puts it, "Obama and Biden believe we can get true broadband to every community in America through a combination of reform of the Universal Service Fund, better use of the nation's wireless spectrum, promotion of next-generation facilities, technologies and applications, and new tax and loan incentives."

As with Net neutrality, McCain prefers a more hands-off approach, focusing on private investment rather than government action. His technology platform states, "As President, John McCain would continue to encourage private investment to facilitate the build-out of infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet connectivity all over America."

Still, McCain doesn't rule out government involvement. According to his platform, "Where private industry does not answer the call because of market failures or other obstacles, John McCain believes that people acting through their local governments should be able to invest in their own future by building out infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet services."

Page 2: Municipal Wi-Fi and the candidates' general policy on tech