The two major U.S. presidential contenders agree on much when it comes to technology, but they differ diametrically on "net neutrality."

eSchool News in recent months has kept you up-to-date on where the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates stand on education issues. Now, Senators Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have issued policy statements specifically regarding technology. I urge you to read each candidate’s statement in full, but I’ll provide the highlights here.
According to his campaign web site, if elected as the nation’s next president, McCain will …

– Encourage investment in innovation;
– Ensure the American workforce is skilled and ready to lead the technological revolution;
– Champion fair and open world trade;
– Protect inventors’ intellectual property;
– Keep the internet free from government regulation; and
– Ensure America is a connected nation.

According to his campaign web site, if elected president, Obama will …

– Ensure the full and free exchange of information through an open internet and diverse media outlets;
– Create a transparent and connected democracy;
– Deploy a modern communications infrastructure;
– Employ technology and innovation to solve our nation’s most pressing problems; and
– Improve America’s competitiveness.

Each of these generalities is made somewhat more distinct with additional discussion–sometimes even including specific promises.

McCain, for example, is highly specific about how he would encourage investment. He would use "federal tax and fiscal policy" to "create and protect the incentives to innovate."  He would keep "capital gains taxes low." He would lower the corporate tax rate to 25 percent. He would allow companies to expense new equipment and technology in the first year. He would ensure innovation "is not hampered by taxes on internet users." And he would oppose "higher taxes on wireless services."

Both candidates address the issue of importing foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs in the United States. Both are all for doing so via H-1B visas.

Obama and McCain also have similar stands when it comes to encouraging research and development (R&D) in technology. Both want to make the current R&D tax credit permanent.

One of the sharpest distinctions between the two involves so-called "net neutrality," the term for requiring telephone and cable companies to treat all internet traffic equally. Obama supports net neutrality; McCain opposes it.

In general, Obama’s technology program is more wide-ranging, but somewhat less specific than McCain’s, which tends to focus on the intersection of technology and business.

Obama promises to "encourage the creation of Public Media 2.0," video and interactive programming to educate and inform the citizenry. He would require that parents have the "option of receiving parental controls software that not only blocks objectionable internet content but also prevents children from revealing personal information through their home computer."

Obama promises to appoint the nation’s first Chief Technology Officer, who would "ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, policies, and services for the 21st century."

The senator from Illinois would redefine "broadband" from its currently specified rate of 220 kilobits per second to "speeds demanded by 21st-century business and communications." Obama’s campaign says he also will "recommit America to ensuring that our schools, libraries, households, and hospitals have access to next-generation broadband networks." Specifically, Obama promises to expand beyond voice communications the services covered under the Universal Service Fund (e-Rate), including "affordable broadband."

Obama promises to "invest $10 billion a year over the next five years to move the U.S. health care system to broad adoption of standards-based electronic health information systems, including electronic health records." He also promises to invest "$150 billion over the next 10 years" to develop next-generation bio-fuels, fuel infrastructure, and alternative energy sources.

McCain’s technology program does not specifically address health or energy issues, but it does promise that McCain would push for "a renewed emphasis on innovation through Cooperative Research and Development Agreements, where industry and government enter into public/private projects, sharing in the costs, benefiting from solving real problems…"

Both candidates address the issue of privacy in the internet age. McCain favors vigorous government law enforcement to protect personal security, self-regulation by industry, and mandatory action by schools. "Schools must develop curricula for students that foster responsible, safe, and secure uses of the internet," the McCain campaign declares, "and commit to a culture of security for all involved in the digital technology."

The Obama campaign says its candidate "will strengthen privacy protections for the digital age and will harness the power of technology to hold government and business accountable for violations of personal privacy." Obama also favors "updating surveillance laws and ensuring that law enforcement investigations and intelligence-gathering relating to U.S. citizens are done only under the rule of law."


McCain on technology

Obama on technology

eSN July 17: McCain, Obama float education plans

eSN June 6: McCain, Obama reps discuss education