03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

John McCain Was For Actual Internet Freedom Before He Was For Fake "Internet Freedom"

So, John McCain wants the internet to be a terrifying user experience for everybody, and is pimping the ironically named, net neutrality-killing "Internet Freedom Act" as a means of satisfying the telecoms that have so devotedly lobbied him for favor. The thing is, if it seems like not too long ago, McCain was singing an entirely different tune on the issue, well, there's a reason for that: not too long ago, McCain was singing an entirely different tune on the issue. Don't believe me? Well, here's what McCain economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin had to say on the matter when he was interviewed on C-SPAN by Amy Schatz, telecommunications reporter from the Wall Street Journal:

SCHATZ: Let's switch to everyone's favorite telecom topic: net neutrality. Can you explain to us what Senator McCain's position is on net neutrality?

HOLTZ-EAKIN: His position is that aggressive and prescriptive legislation on net neutrality is not desirable at this time. It's premature. There is yet no demonstrable damage from a practice that a net neutrality legislation would solve. His preferred way of addressing issues like this is let the marketplace develop, watch for and be aggressive about monitoring for abuse of practices, for monopoly power, for unfair representation to consumers, and if you find such behavior, apply a remedy and get damages. But that's an approach that doesn't pretend to know in advance what's the business model of tomorrow, what's the product line of tomorrow, and who will be providing that product.

Now of course, McCain has telecom lobbyists telling him that about the damage that a piece of net neutrality legislation could wreak on their ability to accrue wealth, so his tune has changed. But there's another interesting quirk, here: McCain's strange new take on "internet freedom" doesn't square, at all, with another telecommunications issue he's spoken out about -- a la carte cable television packages. In the case of cable television, McCain supports the open-source, pro-consumer model of content packaging that he now wants to destroy on the internet. And again, his position on this matter was made abundantly clear in Holtz-Eakin's conversations with Schatz:

SCHATZ: I think one of the things that Senator McCain has been very active on in the last few years on telecom policy is cable and a la carte pricing. He's been very vocal in the thought that Americans spend way too much to pay for cable and he's talking a lot about Congress passing laws to require cable companies to offer channels individually, or a la carte. Does he still share that view? And in a McCain administration, what would he do about that.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I believe that's a classic example of John McCain's view of the appropriate use of government, which is to look out into the landscape and if you see concentrations of power, find ways to ameliorate the exercise of that power. In his view, cable companies have had far too much authority and monopoly power in many marketplaces, there was no ability to ameliorate that, other than by directly demanding that they be responsive to some consumers' desires to get specific channels and not be forced to get others. He pursued that, and he would continue, as a general matter, to look at these issues in that way. You don't want markets that show unusual concentrations of power in any on any side of the equation.

And it's important to point out that McCain has advocated this position himself, long before the presidential campaign. As Ars Technica reported back in February of 2006:

Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a critic of the cable industry's pricing practices and a backer of the à la carte approach, recently announced his intention to introduce legislation that would require the development of à la carte options from the cable industry. Noting that the FCC believes that à la carte pricing could reduce consumer bills by as much as 13 percent, McCain said that choice should reign supreme, and that consumers should not be "forced to buy a host of channels they don't even watch."

"It is regrettable that the cable companies continue to balk at offering channels on an 'a la carte' basis and instead continue to raise the price of their bundled offering. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that consumers can expect to rate increases of as much as six percent during 2006. Therefore, I will soon be introducing legislation that would entice all providers of television services to offer an 'a la carte' option in addition to a package of channels in return for regulatory relief. I hope that the cable industry will appreciate the ability to choose despite their failure to provide meaningful choices to their customers," said McCain through a statement.

With the Internet Freedom Act, McCain now wants an aggressive prescription that would concentrate monopoly power and which would also dictate what "the business model of tomorrow" is. Air America's Ana Marie Cox has a video that juxtaposes the two segments on C-SPAN and makes the obvious observation that his bill would declaw the FCC, which would be the agency primarily tasked with "ameliorating" the "unusual concentrations of power" that the telecoms are seeking by getting rid of net neutrality. Watch for yourself, and, under the circumstances, I'd recommend you especially heed the video's final instruction!


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