McCain's Technology Outlook John McCain may not use e-mail or the Internet very much, but adviser Michael Powell says he has an understanding of technology from serving as chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology. He envisions technology solutions for education, health care, homeland security and other issues.
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McCain's Technology Outlook

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McCain's Technology Outlook

McCain's Technology Outlook

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Now we're going to spend some time hearing about the candidates' positions on tech policy. Michael Powell is an adviser on technology for the McCain campaign. He was the FCC chairman under President Bush from 2001 to 2005.

Welcome to the program, Mr. Powell.

Mr. MICHAEL POWELL (Former FCC Chairman): Thank you. It's good to be with you.

NORRIS: First of all, as we just heard, Senator McCain admits that he doesn't much use e-mail, and he's just now starting to use the Internet. Do you think his reluctance to use technology on a very personal basis will have any effect on the way he uses or even encourages technology on a public policy level?

Mr. POWELL: No, I don't think so. I think in many ways Senator McCain is like millions of Americans who've had, you know, this wizardry of tech gadgetry come into their lives and is adopting to it, sometimes with anxiety, sometimes with enthusiasm. But I think he understands technology very well, having chaired the most powerful committee in Congress overseeing the evolution of communications systems.

You know, the president of the United States doesn't invent anything. He doesn't make a business model, he doesn't go on Facebook, but he does have to create the economic and social conditions for those things to thrive. And I think he has a lot of experience with that through his tenure in the Congress.

NORRIS: The candidates spend a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, health care policy, energy policy - much less time spent talking about technology. If people really wanted to find the daylight between these two candidates, if you could just quickly help us understand the biggest differences between these two men when it comes to tech policy.

Mr. POWELL: Well, it's a good question. You do get a somewhat philosophical difference, which is Senator Obama and his advisers certainly have a much greater faith in government's role to be a steward of managing economic conditions and managing competitive choices in a much more intrusive way than Senator McCain does. I think there are certainly a number of specific issues where there may be some daylight, but sometimes they are method than principle, such as Net neutrality.

Senator Obama has said quite clearly that he strongly supports Net neutrality legislation and some of the principles of the telephone network regulating that part of the economy. Senator McCain has expressed a lot more skepticism about that.

NORRIS: What role should the federal government play in guaranteeing broadband access, particularly in rural communities?

Mr. POWELL: I think, actually - and he would agree - the government has an important role to play in broadband access in rural communities. In fact, the senator is promoting a program called People Connect, in which he would hope to provide tax benefits and financial benefits to companies who would provide those services to low-income users and rural users.

I think the problem in rural parts of America are that the economics are not nearly as compelling as they are in metropolises like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, and it may require some government assistance, either through financial subsidy policy or other kinds of creative tools like community or municipal broadband services that help bring those people into the cosmos of technology and connects them to the wonderful benefits that the Net provides.

NORRIS: Barack Obama has talked about creating, if elected, in his administration some sort of technology czar. Is this the kind of thing that John McCain would also be considering?

Mr. POWELL: Well, I think one of the things he said is that he believes that all branches of government need to help create demand and a better understanding of digital technology and online services, including a range of e-government initiatives and making more government services available online, including hiring individuals that have much more technology experience to populate throughout the government.

And I think that's important because technology is best understood as a component of the solution to a range of problems facing the Americans - health care, education system. It's not good enough to have a top tech guy sitting over in the White House, but you also need people who understand the role technology can play at the Department of Education, at Health and Human Services, Homeland Security. I think that he has said he'd be focused on that in the hiring decisions in his administration.

NORRIS: Mr. Powell, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. POWELL: Thank you.

NORRIS: Michael Powell is an adviser on technology for the John McCain campaign. He was chairman of the FCC from 2001 to 2005.

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