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Will John McCain Help the NEXT Blackberry Creator?

Today a senior McCain advisor, Doug Holtz-Eakin, proudly held up a Blackberry and declared:

“You’re looking at the miracle that John McCain helped create.”
AP, 16 September 2008

Bloggers on all sides of the partisan divide are having a field day with this—suggest that the McCain campaign is out of touch, desperate, or trying to top the trouble VP Al Gore got into, when he was falsely accused of claiming to have invented the Internet. At best, it suggests that Eakin-Holtz was just careless. At worst, it suggests that the campaign and the candidate have deeply irrational ideas about how to promote innovation. It’s also been pointed out that there’s some irony in McCain claiming credit for the success of a Canadian company.

The real question is: what would a McCain presidency do to help enable the NEXT innovative device, service or revolutionary use of the Web? (**Full disclosure here: I’m an active supporter of Senator Obama, though this post is entirely my own and not in any way made on behalf of the Obama campaign.**)

McCain’s record in promoting innovation on the Internet and in the large information and communications marketplace is terrible. Mostly, he can claim credit for supporting incumbents over innovators and for failing, in his time as Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee to do anything at all to support the innovative and socially beneficial aspects of the Internet. While he was in the leadership of the Senate Commerce Committee (1997 - 2001, and 2003 - 2005) his contributions included:

  • Being entirely AWOL in defending the openness-protecting provisions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996—the parts of the Act that were supposed to help assure market access to innovative new services, such as the Blackberry, were weakened, ignored or attacked by the FCC and the courts. As Chair of the Committee responsible for the law, McCain did nothing. That’s why we have an anemic choice of broadband providers in most parts of the country. This is good news for incumbent cable and telecom companies but will make it harder for the next Blackberry to get to market.
  • Opposing eRate legislation that extended Internet access to schools and libraries. Not only were his policies as committee chair bad for innovators, he sought to make it harder for the non-profit sector to pay for Internet access.

What did McCain do as chair of the most powerful congressional body in the communication and information market? He mostly stood up for the interests of incumbents. He wrote letters to the FCC supporting higher cable television rates, encouraged consolidation in the telecommunications market reducing the number of local phone companies from 7 down to an eventual 3.

And today, even though he’s no longer in a leadership role on Internet and telecommunications policy, he’s still speaking up against innovation and for incumbents through opposition to even modest Net Neutrality provisions.

In the end, the campaign season slide of some advisor is nothing compared to the anti-innovation record of Senator McCain himself. We’re lucky (well, maybe :) ) to have Blackberries and other innovations today. They won’t likely go away. But the question is: which presidential candidate is more likely to support policies that enable the NEXT Blackberry? History shows it certainly isn’t John McCain.


By Daniel J. Weitzner, Technology and Society Policy Director

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