McCain Invented the Blackberry? Maybe Not, But It May Make A Good Symbol.

I know that staffers often feel intense loyalty to their bosses, but can we please try to keep the hero worship to a minimum? Otherwise, you end up accidentally making the other side’s argument.

According to this story, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a top McCain policy adviser, held up his Blackberry and told folks: “You’re looking at the miracle that John McCain helped create.” Mind you, Reasearch In Motion is a Canadian company. When sold in the United States, it requires a contract with a wireless carrier. Each carrier controls which models it will permit on its system and what applications it will permit to run.

Or, in other words, the “miracle” is that we not only limit the development of technology in this country and force our hi-tech jobs to other countries, we actually allow a handful of wireless carriers to break the technology, limit it further, and jack up the price. This was probably not the miracle that Holtz-Eakin had in mind.

Still, the voter interested in tech policy and following up on the “McCain Miracle” for wireless would do well to visit the Blackberry Website. Notice how many models Blackberry makes? What applications it can run? Now select country U.S. and compare carrier by carrier. The carriers you can connect to at all each have a limited set of models and applications they permit you to use. Want one of the other Blackberries? Tough. Want to run an application the carrier doesn’t like? Too damn bad. Want to bring your own device so you don’t have to pay an early termination fee justified by an “equipment subsidy?” Dream on.

McCain was quick to dismiss this fulsome praise as a “boneheaded joke.” Still, it is worth noting that I am aware of no major leadership or initiatives by McCain on tech or media issue comparable with, for example, his efforts on campaign finance reform. This is not to say McCain has been devoid of accomplishments. He deserves credit for a strong stance in promoting low-power FM and for twice sponsoring the Community Broadband Act, designed to eliminate restrictions on the ability of local governments to provide broadband services. But by and large, as reflected in his tech policy, McCain’s chief accomplishment for tech — and his plan going forward — is to not do anything and let the private sector work its magic.

If you are satisfied with the “King Log” approach to tech policy and don’t mind that AT&T, Verizon, and other carriers get to call the shots over what Blackberry and other companies can do on wireless networks, then McCain is absolutely your man. If Holtz-Eakin was trying to make the point that McCain will let wireless carriers continue to “own the customer” and control how Blackberry and other devices evolve, and we peons should be content with whatever technological “miracles” the carriers graciously allow us, then he has a point. But if Holt-Eakin was trying to say that McCain got out there, showed real leadership in the face of political presure, and established lasting policies that even his political rivals now try to embrace as their own, sorry. I lived through it, and that ain’t how it happened.

Stay tuned . . . .

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