Obama and McCain Differ on Net Neutrality

Network neutrality has gathered enough political momentum for both candidates to take an official stand on it. Although the issue was debated furiously in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2006, neither side managed to produce a bill that could be signed into law. (The only lasting result of the efforts on Capitol Hill was an unintentionally comical bit of grandstanding by Alaska senator Ted Stevens, where he offered an analogy describing the Internet as a “series of tubes.”) In the absence of any clear legislation on the matter, the FCC has taken up the role of neutrality enforcer, forcing cable provider Comcast to stop restricting BitTorrent traffic earlier this year.

According to their position statements on the issues, John McCain is against Net neutrality and Barack Obama is for it. This makes it one of the few technology issues on which the candidates clearly disagree.

via Obama and McCain Differ on Net Neutrality – Internet Policy from McCain and Obama – Popular Mechanics

This article is an outstanding primer on the topic of “network neutrality”. They didn’t get specific responses from the campaigns (this issue is currently more of a nerd only thing), but the basic slant of each candidate is evident…

…the general philosophies of each side seem clear: McCain believes in a lightly regulated Internet, while Obama believes in more government involvement. But it gets a bit more complicated. When it comes to net neutrality, both sides can make a credible case that they’re the ones defending freedom of innovation and open communication.

The author then does an excellent job of defining the term…


One reason is that there’s no accepted definition of network neutrality itself. It is, in fact, more of a networking philosophy than a defined political position. A pure “neutral” network is one that would treat all content that traveled across it equally. No one data packet would be prioritized above another. Image files, audio files, a request from a consumer for a web page—all would be blindly routed from one location to another, and the network would neither know nor care what kind of data was encompassed in each packet.For most but not all kinds of files, that’s how it works now.

…and then talks about the literal “technical difficulties” that face the topic in the future.

Go read the article to get a better idea of what those are going to be. Feel free to suggest your own.

It’s an interesting question, as it gets directly at the question of the degree to which the government should regulate the market to protect rights of people, to protect rights of “property” ownership*, and how much we should let the market itself do both…or neither.

* This asterisk is for intellectual property and the whole copyright/internet question, which is of itself a stimulatingly difficult situation to resolve. It is tangential to the Internet as a whole, but also drives a lot of the demand for the bandwidth in question. Comcast got busted for making a decision along this axis.

That is, the copyright/internet question of what is in the dumptrucks. The network neutrality question is what information super-highway they can get on, and whether or not the telecom industry can set up toll booths in the fast lane…and harass the riff-raff.

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