McCain, Obama Camps Spar Over Tech Policy

Barack Obama wants the government more engaged in technology policy, opposes more media consolidation, and favors a strong net neutrality policy.

John McCain is calling for a more hands-off approach, to create an environment that will foster innovation.

That’s the short version of the candidates’ plans for technology policy, according to campaign representatives William Kennard, the former FCC Chairman (on team Obama) and former National Telecommunications and Information Administration boss John Kneuer (on team McCain). This week the two faced off at a forum organized by the Media Access Project, a Washington public interest law firm.

Kennard noted that Obama has used technology—the Internet—to help drive his campaign, raising donations from 1.5 million people. He said Obama, whose campaign has a 17-page policy paper on technology issues, wants to integrate technology policy with other issues to help advance solutions in areas such as health, education and energy.

Obama wants universal broadband, paid for with help from the Universal Service Fund, Kennard said.

McCain wants lawmakers to remember the Hippocratic Oath (“Do no harm”) and instead create an atmosphere for growth and innovation using tools such as R&D tax credits, Kneuer said.

Obama was a co-sponsor of legislation to stop implementation of the FCC’s December order on newspaper-television cross-ownership. McCain did not support that move, and Kneuer pointed to the Internet as proof that the marketplace is providing all the diversity of voices a democracy could need.

On net neutrality, Kneuer said Obama’s plan would stifle even the ability for ISPs to someday offer multiple tiers of service. Kennard said the Obama plan would only ban discriminatory practices.

Kneuer also dismissed concerns about McCain’s own lack of computer knowledge. The question, “PC or Mac?” stumped McCain earlier this year when a reporter from asked the question of McCain and other Republican then-candidates.

“Neither. I am an illiterate that has to rely on my wife for all of the assistance I can get,” McCain said then.

At the forum, moderator Andrew Jay Schwartzman of MAP asked if McCain’s answer showed a lack of familiarity with the tech world, and if technology should be more fully integrated in to his plans.

“I think that is part of why this is important to get this right [sic]. The power of these technologies should not just be limited to the tech-savvy, who are the early adopters,” Kneuer said. “The value of these technologies is their ability to improve the quality of life and get to people whether or not they’re early-adopter Internet geeks.”