Wednesday, August 20, 2008

McCain Unveils his Technology Plan...

Months ago, Barack Obama posted on his website a detailed technology plan which he would support as president. Now, finally, John McCain has responded with a technology plan of his own. You can (and should) read them both. Obama's is here; McCain's here.

Since I've already analyzed the Obama white paper, let's turn our attention to McCain's just-released plan.

McCain is clearly focused on avoiding any regulation of the internet, lowering corporate taxes, and providing incentives for Research & Development (R&D). The most notable characteristic of his plan is that it reveals a worldview where private businesses are considered the primary engine of internet growth, while everyone else is viewed simply as "consumers".

And to that end, businesses would get quite a boon. He specifically calls for a permanent tax credit equal to 10 percent of wages spent on R&D, and first-year expensing of new equipment and technology for businesses. He also supports grants for educational instruction in digital and wireless technologies - which makes some academics I know very pleased, - and, going against some core elements of his Republican base, supports the hiring of skilled foreign workers to fill critical shortages.

McCain's plan also focuses on reducing the Digital Divide and providing everyone with high-speed internet access. He has already introduced the "Community Broadband Bill" which would allow local governments to build their own high-speed infrastructure, particularly when private industry fails to do so. He would also establish a "People Connect Program" that rewards companies that offer high-speed access to low income customers by allowing these companies offset their tax liability for the cost of this service.

However, other proposals seem deeply misguided. For example, he "does not believe in prescriptive regulation like 'net-neutrality,'" but rather he believes in "an open marketplace with a variety of consumer choices". That sounds an awful lot like an apple-pie statement. Of course he supports an open marketplace and consumer choice. Who doesn't? It's like saying you support better education. But net neutrality is a complex issue that many argue would actually protect consumer choice, rather than harm it. That makes his statement contradict itself. So either he is dumbing down the debate by grossly oversimplifying a highly complex issue, or he has no grasp of that complexity.

The same holds true with his expressed desire to "protect the creative industries from piracy". Again, of course everyone wants to protect artists from outright piracy of their works. However, the issue is about a whole lot more than enforcement and "cracking down". Copyright law itself is badly in need of reform, as all of us, by doing everyday activities on the internet, are considered "pirates" under existing legislation. There is no mention in McCain's plan of how to fix that. Likewise, what does McCain propose doing about encryption technologies like DRM (Digital Rights Management) software that protect copyrighted works by completely disregarding other rights people have, like Fair Use?

And for that matter, where is a single mention of protecting people's privacy rights online?

Taken as a whole, McCain's plan includes some very worthy proposals, and others that are either misleading or misguided. That's not really a surprise. What should be more of a concern are two things: 1) the level of real interest McCain has in internet policy issues (he has seemed very uninterested in the past), and 2) his perception that we are all little more than consumers, and that the internet itself is essentially just a commercial marketplace.

For those not paying attention, it's actually a whole lot more than that :-)


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