Yesterday, if you listened closely, you could hear the sound of John McCain selling off the internet to his campaign backers, the cable and telecom interests. After being shocked by a 3-2 vote punishing Comcast for illegal behavior at the FCC, cable interests are freaking out and using every tool at their disposal to reinstitute discipline among wavering Republicans.
The cable and telecom pushback started with former telecom lobbyist and current FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, who is desperate to become Chairman of the FCC under a McCain administration, launching a salvo against internet freedom, claiming that net neutrality would lead to censorship of the internet and requirements that bloggers and sites like Google offer 'equal time' to different views. This incoherence was quickly picked up by the Drudge Report, all to be timed with the coming release of McCain's technology policy, which is slated to come out this week or next. McDowell, who of the five FCC Commissioners is by far the most favorable to cable, did this at the Heritage Foundation. He even warned his side that there are more dissident conservatives like Kevin Martin getting ready to come out for net neutrality, a clear sign they know they are losing this fight and need to reframe their strategy.
McDowell denounced net neutrality under the guise that it's intertwined with the Fairness Doctrine, which he says Obama will reimpose. McDowell wouldn't actually explicitly say that net neutrality and the Fairness Doctrine are the same thing, means, because he knows he'd get laughed out of the room, but he implied it. Here's his statement.
"Then, whoever is in charge of government is going to determine what is fair, under a so-called 'Fairness Doctrine,' which won't be called that - it'll be called something else," McDowell said. "So, will Web sites, will bloggers have to give equal time or equal space on their Web site to opposing views rather than letting the marketplace of ideas determine that?"
Google is one of the strongest proponents of net neutrality, and there's no way in hell that company would support a policy that placed content regulations on their business. But who is actually censoring our communications networks? Verizon, for one, which refused to allow a text message from NARAL to be sent to their members, citing its 'unsavory' and controversial nature. AT&T, for another, which censored a web-casted Pearl Jam concert when the lead singer shouted out anti-Bush statements. And Comcast, which not only was caught illegally blocking file sharing by its customers, but has a history of blocking political ads on its cable service that criticize politicians company executives have given money to.
And lo and behold, these are the same companies that are seeking a McCain Presidency, as Amanda Terkel notes in her piece on McCain's tech policy.
The current campaign cycle is also shaping up to be lucrative. U.S. Telecom Association president and CEO Walter B. McCormick Jr., Sprint CEO Daniel R. Hesse, and Verizon chairman and CEO Ivan G. Seidenberg have each raised between $50,000 and $100,000 for McCain's campaign. AT&T executive vice president for federal relations Timothy McKone has raised at least $500,000.
Add to that list the Alison H. McSlarrow and Kyle E. McSlarrow, both of whom work for cable and telecom interests and both of whom have raised more than $50k for McCain.
What's really going on is that this week or next, McCain is going to release his technology policy, and he's looking for cover from business allies, as his policy was written by the telecom lobbyists running his campaign and libertarian Michael Powell, who used his FCC position to garner lucrative business opportunities within the tech and telecom worlds. McCain will talk - just as Bush did in 2004 when he called for universal broadband by 2007 - about how every American needs broadband, but his plan - just like Bush's - will do nothing to achieve it. What his plan will do is eviscerate consumer protections on the internet, allowing for censorship by private interests like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T who have already demonstrated that they have and will engage in censorship of political speech for business and political reasons.
That's what is going on here, and FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell is the point person in the propaganda campaign. Now, the question is not substantive, it's whether this campaign will work to persuade people that up is down, that black is white. I don't think it will. Organized interests understand, and elite actors understand, that Comcast is full of lying scumbags trying to restrict the behavior of their users. That's why Republican Kevin Martin realized he had to punish Comcast. And the base of this campaign is solidly pro-net neutrality; the issue is the most important protection for Silicon Valley, a powerful political constituency.
More to the point, the question next year will pivot away from arcane discussions about issues like net neutrality and towards something the public does understand, through an alliance called, appropriately enough, Internet for Everyone.
This is something we're ready to fight on. Obama isn't going to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, which is content regulation on talk radio, because he's smart and the Fairness Doctrine is fundamentally about government regulation of a public commons unfairly given over to private actors. Rather, what Obama will seek is to give the public airwaves back to the public, now that we have the technology to allow anyone to broadcast digital signals without interfering with anyone else, like wifi. There will be broad fights over media consolidation and ownership structures, universal broadband, and the future of news, mobile phones, the mobile economy, copyright, movies, and the way we communicate and define ourselves.
Obama is firmly with us on most of this. McCain? Well he just wants to use this stuff to get campaign contributions, and his allies at Comcast, Verzion, and AT&T want to use it to censor an internet they are intent on controlling.