McCain vs. Obama, AT&T vs. Google

MCCAIN VS. OBAMA, AT&T VS. GOOGLE…. Seen the spoofs about McCain being a PC while Obama’s a Mac? It’s time to take this one step further, in order to make an important policy point.

In a sneak preview of a soon-to-be published Washington Monthly piece, Nicholas Thompson explains, “John McCain is an AT&T guy; Barack Obama is a Google guy. And that’s one of the most important policy differences between the two.”

Think of the Internet as working at different layers. There are all the pipes that go into your home, and then there’s all the stuff on your screen — from e-mail to eMule. The telecom companies like AT&T control the pipes; the software companies, like Google, create the stuff.

In an ideal world, both these layers would be sites of great innovation and creativity. But in the United States, that isn’t so. The software industry may seem like a team of Gandalfs, constantly producing magic. But the average telecom company resembles Jabba the Hut: it moves slowly and slobbers a lot.

The United States created the Internet, but it’s the rest of the world that can really use it. People in Japan are twice as likely as Americans to have broadband connections, and their pipes are ten times as fast. Compared to France, U.S. Internet access is twice as expensive and one-fourth as quick. Since 2000, the United States has gone from fifth in the world to twenty-second in broadband penetration. We have become a nation of buffering YouTube videos.

What went wrong? It’s not that telecommunications companies are inherently lazy. Such companies innovate, after all, in East Asia. And it’s not just that the United States is a big rural country. That explains some of our lag, but not all. Canada and Australia are thumping us too.

What does this have to do with the presidential campaign? More than you might think, thanks to McCain’s “specific and philosophical” culpability in failing to regulate the telecom markets properly.

“Obama … understands that actual market freedom sometimes requires tough love from the feds,” Thompson explains. “McCain still seems to believe in the chimera of naturally existing total freedom — the freedom for his country to fall further and further behind as AT&T and the other telecom leviathans sit back, ignoring your customer service calls and just watching the $90 monthly checks roll in.”

Thompson makes a very compelling case. Take a look.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.