FUD Analysis: Why is Senator McCain trying to kill Net Neutrality?

Last week, Senator John McCain [Republican-Arizona] introduced his "Internet Freedom Act". McCain’s press release says the proposed bill "would prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from enacting rules that would regulate the Internet." What McCain should have said in his press release was ‘The lobbyist told me to do it…’

McCain’s bill came on the same day as the FCC [Federal Communication Commission] decided to move forward on an official Net Neutrality policy that would prevent ISPs from making arbitrary decisions.

Senator McCain had been the long time chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a position he held from 1997 to 2001, and again from 2003 to 2005. This is the committee which has jurisdiction over the US Senate legislation dealing with policy about science, engineering, and technology research and development.

Network squeeze. Picture copyright: Cringely.comDuring McCain’s tenure, the committee oversaw the implementation of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the first major overhaul of US telecommunications law in nearly 62 years. author, Amanda Terkel, said that in most instances, McCain chose to be pro-big business. He was the sole Senate Republican to vote against a 1996 law requiring big phone companies to lease their phone networks to rivals to spur local competition. She also said that McCain opposed increased Internet access for schools and libraries, backing instead large mergers to benefit the telecom industry. To add, Mc Cain even managed to disappoint the airline industry by failing to propose adequate measurements to ease the airline traffic, resulting in airlines claiming that they’ve lost billions of dollars and more importantly, competitive edge.

John McCain was the Republican Party’s 2008 Presidential Candidate. When Julius Genachowski was the technology adviser to then Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama [who won the election], he said that during McCain’s Chairmanship of Senate Commerce Committee the US fell from third to fifteenth in broadband penetration which he called shocking. Genachowski is now FCC chairman and just said "yes" to Net Neutrality and "yes" to open standards for wired and wireless.

John McCain’s presidential campaign didn’t release a formal technology agenda until August of 2008 for the then upcoming November elections. In contrast, Senator Barack Obama had a technology agenda in place the year previously, beginning in October of 2007. Senator McCain’s official policy position on technology was an interesting read. However, it was taken down after the campaign. Obama’s 2007 campaign information on technology is still available, and explains his stance in favor of Net Neutrality.

McCain has a long history of lobbyists involved in financing his various campaigns for public office. His 2008 Republican presidential campaign manager said there was only one lobbyist working in the campaign. However, the top ten positions in the 2008 campaign were filled by ex-lobbyists who had just recently left the lobbying "profession".

Net Neutrality logoNet Neutrality is not a new idea.

Net Neutrality has been around since February, 2003 when professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School presented a paper on "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination," at the Silicon Flatirons conference in Boulder, Colo. Wu?s paper is believed to be the first use of the term so Net Neutrality is not a new one as some folks are saying.

Vint Cerf, who co-designed the communications protocols used for the Internet, said in a 2006 video that a push for stronger Web access rules would create competition and ensure that companies producing applications for the Web aren?t blocked by the network operators such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Cerf is currently "Chief Internet Evangelist" for Google, a company that favors the proposed rules.

There is an abundance of information supporting Net Neutrality. Free Press, a media reform organization lists the top ten myths about Net Neutrality [PDF download]. Myth numbers three, five, and seven directly challenge the assumptions in McCain’s proposed legislation.

In April, 2008, Stanford University law Professor Larry Lessig gave a speech directed at Kevin Martin , then FCC chairman, and the four commissioners [PDF download] about the ten-year-long failure by the agency to "make a clear statement of policy" about how infractions against the open, end-to-end connectivity of the Internet would be policed or enforced.

Lessig said that Net Neutrality principles have been the historic base of the Internet, and have been responsible for its unbridled competition and growth. Also, that providers should be governed by clear rules that make it more expensive for them to restrict network access than to provide broadband that doesn?t differentiate or prioritize different traffic types. Lessig is a founding board member of Creative Commons, a board member of the Software Freedom Law Center, and a former board member of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

McCain feels that keeping wireless services free from government regulation will enable job growth through continued investment in service expansion. His press release said "this government takeover of the Internet will stifle innovation, in turn slowing our economic turnaround and further depressing an already anemic job market. Outside of health care, the technology industry is the nation’s fastest growing job market. Innovation and job growth in this sector of our economy is the key to America’s future prosperity."

At the All Things D conference in May 2007, when he was still seeking the Republican nomination for President, McCain told the audience, "When you control the pipe, you should be able to get profit from your investment."

Is Internet Censorship is a canny wish from telecom operators? Picture Credit: Fog City JournalThe FUD [fear, uncertainty, doubt] strategy against Net Neutrality has been showing up from the supporters of the big telephone carriers. Glenn Beck, the popular, and controversial, TV and radio host with three million nightly viewers, has blasted net neutrality as a "Marxist" plot by the Obama administration to take over the Internet.

Last week, AT&T’s top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, sent a memo to managers urging them to encourage its 300,000 employees, their families, and friends "to join the voices telling the FCC not to regulate the Internet." Cicconi explained how employees could use a personal e-mail account to post comments on the FCC’s Net Neutrality Web site to about the rules.

The Washington Post blogs report that staffers on Capitol Hill and at the FCC say the most active lobbyists have been from AT&T, a company that is historically the largest donor to the political campaigns of members of Congress. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, AT&T has spent more than $8 million in lobbying this year on a wide range of issues, including Net Neutrality.

Last week, 72 Democratic members of Congress wrote the FCC in opposition to the Net-Neutrality proposals. Many of them, staffers said, had been encouraged by AT&T to write. According to the Center, 52 of them received a total of $180,000 in campaign contributions from AT&T this year. The interesting part is that after spending all that money the telecom industry failed to influence the FCC about Net Neutrality.
While the FCC is considering the first steps toward ensuring Net Neutrality – making certain that broadband providers do not discriminate against high traffic sites – the telecom firms that would be affected by the rules and their trade groups have been swamping Congress with campaign contributions from the companies and their registered lobbyists.

An investigative collaboration of the Sunlight Foundation and the Center for Responsive Politics, has found 244 members of Congress between January 2007 to June 2009, were the beneficiaries of campaign contribution clusters totaling more than $9.4 million. Telecom interests and their lobbyists engaged in more clustered campaign giving than any industry, except pharmaceuticals.

Sunlight Foundation found the number one money recipient was Senator John McCain, who took in $894,379. Many of those contributions were directed to his 2008 presidential campaign. The telecom interests also targeted House and Senate leadership: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid [Democrat-Nevada] was next with $341,089, followed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer [Democrat-Maryland] with $275,275, Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus [Democrat-Montana] got $248,999 and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell [Republican-Kentucky] garnered $198,972.

Senator McCain has repeatedly failed to acknowledge that Network Neutrality has been a key governing principle of the Internet ever since its inception. The most damaging thing for McCain’s proposed "Internet Freedom Act", is the fact that he has rarely stepped forward and supported telecommunications legislation or regulations which are in the best interest of the average private citizen.