Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow have both been poking fun at John McCain this week for introducing a bill called the Internet Freedom Act, the stated purpose of which is to block net neutrality. Sure, on its face, the bill seems to follow the up-is-down naming convention that Congress enjoys. But a deeper reading of the bill suggests that S. 1836 might actually be named to perfection. That's because McCain's bill, if enacted, would prevent the federal agency charged with overseeing communications from overseeing the Internet, which by general consensus among sane people is to be the future of communications. What McCain is proposing -- whether he knows it or not -- would have the effect of exempting telecom companies and other interests from regulatory oversight on all things Internet. Freedom!
Read the very short bill, and you'll see that McCain wants to make it so the FCC cannot "propose, promulgate, or issue any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services," with the requisite exemptions for law enforcement and national security. (Marsha Blackburn has introduced the same bill in the House.) We've left net neutrality behind about three exits ago, kids.
Indeed, the bill seemed suspiciously broad, so Art Brodsky of Public Knowledge (a pro-neutrality group, for the record) was asked to parse it for us. In his judgment McCain's plan, as written, would "basically wipe out much of what the FCC does."
Any voice traffic that travels via Internet protocol, like Skype, would be outside the Federal Communications Commission's purview. As would, says Brodsky, digital traffic on 3G networks, enforcement of spam legislation passed by Congress -- and really, anything having to do with the Internet. McCain's Internet Freedom Act
would actually strip the FCC of jurisdiction over the Internet and all Internet-based traffic.
Brodsky: "It's almost as if he is trying to send a message rather than write serious legislation." Almost. Exactly whose message that would be is a mystery, though it's probably worth noting that McCain is the single largest recipient of funding from telecom industry interests in either the House or Senate.
(Photo credit: Chris Dunn)