Presidents and Computer Literacy

Bill Clinton Using Computer Photo Jane Hamsher wants to know, “If You Can’t Use a Computer, How Can You Be President?”

I chuckled when I saw the story at memeorandum since, after all, it’s unlikely that any president before Bill Clinton could “use” a computer in any meaningful sense. (Maybe Jimmy Carter, who was a nuclear engineer in a past life, could, too, but proficiency with punch cards probably didn’t come into play very often during his stint in the White House.)

Clicking the link, I see that Jane is echoing an idea put fort by Tracy Russo, who served as John Edwards’ chief blogger. Mark Soohoo, John McCain’s deputy e-campaign manager, who recently said, “You don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand, you know, how it shapes the country. … John McCain is aware of the Internet.”

Jane summarizes Russo’s retort: “Tracy said most emphatically that you do, and that someone who is going to be expected to lead the country through the social, political, economic and communication upheavals that are happening as a result of the changes in computer and online technology very much needs to be able to use one.”

This strikes me as nonsensical. I’d venture that 99.9 percent of daily computer users have no clue whatsoever about said upheavals and that some tiny fraction of those who do has any idea what public policy responses, if any, would be appropriate.

It’s a rare day that I don’t spend twelve hours in front of a computer. Furthermore, studying politics is my livelihood and I’ve been at it for more than a quarter century now. While I’m by no means a power user, I’m on Fark, Digg, Reddit, Facebook, LinkedIn and various other social media outlets more than most. And I’m something of an amateur sociologist, interested very much in cultural changes. Yet, I wouldn’t pretend to any especial expertise in analyzing these “upheavals” of which Russo speaks.

Going out on a limb, I’d also guess that Russo’s in the same boat. She’s a communications professional, field organizer, and fundraiser. I’m guessing that she’s not on the short list for the National Security Council.

Photo: Assistive Technologies

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Science & Technology, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    I chuckled when I saw the story at memeorandum since, after all, it’s unlikely that any president before Bill Clinton could “use” a computer in any meaningful sense.

    Computer illiteracy might have been OK in the last century, but it strikes me as a decent sized handicap in this one. My mother is 75 and she is pretty good on a computer & can function on the internet with a reasonable amount of skill. What’s McCain’s excuse?

  2. Michael says:

    I chuckled when I saw the story at memeorandum since, after all, it’s unlikely that any president before Bill Clinton could “use” a computer in any meaningful sense. (Maybe Jimmy Carter, who was a nuclear engineer in a past life, could, too, but proficiency with punch cards probably didn’t come into play very often during his stint in the White House.)

    And no presidents before Truman really knew anything about nuclear weapons, that doesn’t mean it’s not important for a current President to know about them.

    There are going to be more and more internet related issues in the next 4 and 8 years, net neutrality is only one. If McCain thinks that the internet is just like a “series of tubes”, how can he make proper decisions on how to handle them?

    Think about AP’s recent copyright cases, if McCain doesn’t understand how a hyperlink differs from a newspaper’s printed attribution, do you think he could make an informed decision on whether to veto or approve changes to copyright law?

  3. dan in michigan says:

    Please. Jimmy Carter is NOT a nuclear engineer. He just served on a nuclear submarine.

  4. c. wagener says:

    In some sort of fantasy world, I suppose it would be cool if the candidates understood computers, but this is pretty far down on the list. Neither candidate has much of a clue about business and economics and Obama demonstrates no knowledge of history.

    Better to have a president that doesn’t know what a hyper link is than one who doesn’t understand the underpinnings of western civilization.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    Actually, it’s the opposite, dan in michigan. Carter never served on a nuclear submarine but he did study nuclear power a little. And he did study engineering. Does that make him a nuclear engineer? Beats me.

  6. John Burgess says:

    There’s a big difference between being a propeller-top beanie wearer and being cognizant of the importance of the computers. I suspect that John McCain–and most every other politician today–has a useful idea of how computers and the Internet are being used today. Many might even have a clue about how they will revolutionize tomorrow.

    But given that he–and most every other politician–could not describe how a fuel injector works in a car, how an MRI works in a hospital, how corn gets converted into ethanol, I don’t think the fate of the world hangs in the balance of his being able to program in Linux.

  7. Dave Schuler says:

    I don’t much care whether either Sen. McCain or Obama is computer literate. I’d be satisfied if either one of them were economically literate. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be disappointed in that regard.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    Given that the personal computer has been around and in widespread use for a quarter-century, I’m curious to know why Sen. McCain hasn’t learned to use one. He doesn’t strike me as a guy who’s afraid of change or trying new things. But if he is, that’s a worrisome character trait.

  9. Michael says:

    But given that he–and most every other politician–could not describe how a fuel injector works in a car, how an MRI works in a hospital, how corn gets converted into ethanol, I don’t think the fate of the world hangs in the balance of his being able to program in Linux.

    There’s a far cry from being able to describe how a fuel injector works, and how to program in Linux. I would expect any President to be able to describe how a fuel injector works, and how an MRI works, and how corn gets converted into ethanol. I would also expect today’s Presidential candidates to know the difference between a hyperlink and attribution, the difference between peer-to-peer and direct downloads, and the difference between analog and digital information.

    I don’t want ISP throttling, broadcast flags, mandatory DRM or anything like that, and I want a President who is capable of understanding what they are and why I don’t want them.

    Seriously, would you want a President who didn’t know the differences between oil and ethanol production making energy policy decisions?

  10. James Joyner says:

    Given that the personal computer has been around and in widespread use for a quarter-century, I’m curious to know why Sen. McCain hasn’t learned to use one.

    I’m not sure what he knows in this regard. But, remember, McCain has been a United States Senator during most of the PC’s existence. He probably doesn’t know to work the coffee maker or copying machine, either, since someone is always doing that crap for him.

    He’s wants somebody to use the Google? Tell a staffer. Send an email? A staffer does that.

  11. Steve Verdon says:

    It all goes back to the President as a parental figure type of thinking. How is “Dad” or “Mom” going to help “Jr.” or “Daughter” deal with the information age when said parents are largely ignorant of the information age. Many people on the Left like the idea of a paternalistic government, hence things like universal health care, government gauranteed housing, living wages, the War on Drugs (which Presidents from both parties support/ed), government helping everyone go to college, etc.

  12. Matt says:

    My mother is 75 and she is pretty good on a computer

    My grandmother is 97 and we just got her a new laptop because she complained that the old one was too slow to play the online games she likes.

    Having said that, the presidency is a job that doesn’t allow for a lot of time to be spent mucking about on a computer. I’m not sure it matters all that much as long as he’s not pushing legislation without someone around who understands the ramifications.

  13. Anon says:

    But we are not talking rocket science here. How hard is it to learn how to use a browser and do a Google search? I would think that I could teach someone how to do that in about 20 minutes. If he can’t even do that, it suggests an inability to learn, which is more troubling.

  14. Fence says:

    Setting aside the merits, James, your response isn’t on point. The argument is that understanding computers is one of the prerequistes to having the qualifications to be President — not that everyone who understands computers is qualified to be President.

  15. Michael says:

    people on the Left like the idea of a paternalistic government

    So do people on the right, they just want the monster-protection aspect more than the food and shelter aspect.

    He’s wants somebody to use the Google? Tell a staffer. Send an email? A staffer does that.

    Again, this isn’t about McCain’s ability to use _his_ computer, it’s about his ability to make decisions about how _you_ can use _your_ computer.

    If McCain can’t use a coffee maker, I don’t want him making policy decisions about how coffee makers should be made and used. He can tell a staffer to make him some coffee, but I hope he’s not asking staffers to determine his administration’s policies with respect to the coffee industry.

  16. Fence says:

    Say what you want about Al Gore, but there is merit in choosing a leader who had a developed sense of the “information superhighway” and global warming BEFORE Matt’s 97-year old grandmother was playing video games. (20 years before). Sure, everyone knows those are big issues today, but what will be the big issues of the 2020s? If McCain doesn’t understand the present, one could argue that he can’t possibly foresee our needs for the future. I hope he at least surrounds himself with some people who might.

  17. od says:

    Unless you expect the president to be designing system architecture or doing a bit of object oriented programming, I don’t see how his being computer literate makes any difference. Most people use a computer to gain information or write reports, I’m guessing that the president has a staff to do that, some of which might even know a bit about computers. And in terms of gaining unfiltered information, I’d rather the president spend time talking to citizens one on one than surfing the net – much more useful.

    As someone else pointed out, very few people know even the basics of most of our technology. The people I know who could tell you the difference between the CPU and ALU have never heard of the Kreb’s cycle and would have a hard time telling you the difference between protein and DNA. Even people whose full time jobs involve understanding technology cheerfully tell you they know almost nothing outside of their specialty.

  18. Michael says:

    Unless you expect the president to be designing system architecture or doing a bit of object oriented programming, I don’t see how his being computer literate makes any difference.

    I don’t expect the President to be designing oil refineries, automobiles or weapons either, but I expect that he knows enough about each of those to make informed policy decisions about them. If McCain didn’t know that cars used gasoline, or that gasoline was derived from oil, would you want him making energy policy?

    As someone else pointed out, very few people know even the basics of most of our technology.

    And very few people are qualified to be President. If McCain had the same knowledge of economics as he does of the internet, would you want him as your President?

    I don’t want an average person in the Oval Office, it’s occupant should have above average knowledge in any relevant subject, and should be very knowledgeable in the ones most important to his constituency.

  19. anjin-san says:

    He’s wants somebody to use the Google? Tell a staffer. Send an email? A staffer does that.

    Please. I do not know a single executive who does not have at least basic computer/Internet skills. Most of them have decent to strong skills.

    So now we want a chief executive for the entire country that does not have them? That’s the GOP for you folks. Computers & the Internet have been one of the main engines for change and progress in the world for the last 25 years. If you are clueless about them, you are well, clueless.

    If McCain had the same knowledge of economics as he does of the Internet, would you want him as your President?

    I am pretty sure McCain is on the record admitting his ignorance of economics…

  20. Danny Glover says:

    I live and breathe the Internet and computers. Part of my job at Eyeblast TV is to convince conservatives of the undeniable truth (unlike the speculative theory of global warming as a threat) that the Internet is the present and the future marketplace for ideas in this information age. I wrote a blog about the impact of political blogs — you can’t get much more invested in all things online than that.

    But the notion that the next president can’t lead this country without knowing his way around a computer is ridiculous. The leader of the free world doesn’t do diplomacy via e-mail or IM; he doesn’t blog executive orders; and he doesn’t negotiate with lawmakers in bytes and pixels.

    It’s true that the next president needs to understand computers and the Internet if he wants to communicate effectively in the modern world — just as FDR understood and mastered radio and Ronald Reagan understood and mastered television. But it’s not a prerequisite for doing the actual work of the presidency. Maybe some day but not now.

    The next president’s most important role — every president’s most important role — will be to serve as commander-in-chief. It’s far more important that he actually know something about the military than about the mouse on his desk.

  21. od says:

    And very few people are qualified to be President. If McCain had the same knowledge of economics as he does of the internet, would you want him as your President?

    I don’t want an average person in the Oval Office, it’s occupant should have above average knowledge in any relevant subject, and should be very knowledgeable in the ones most important to his constituency.

    Okay, so the president should have working knowledge of every field which has a major impact on America. That would be computers, materials science (most modern industry relies on it – you can’t even build a computer without it), biotechnology, medicine, nuclear physics, organic and inorganic chemistry (again, most industry relies on one or both), agriculture, biochemistry, urban planning, electrical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering (oil refining is just part of this), industrial engineering, robotics (wave of the future), military logistics and tactics (CinC etc), aviation, environmental science, economics, finance … and I probably have left out a few dozen. I’d put computers in the middle of that list in terms of importance, and that probably an exaggerates its importance, things like agriculture are much more vital.

    Just off hand I can’t think of a single person who could fill this. The president’s primary tasks include guiding the economy, so knowledge of that is definitely useful – though given that its hard to get two economists to agree upon anything its debatable how useful.

  22. Michael says:

    But the notion that the next president can’t lead this country without knowing his way around a computer is ridiculous.

    How many times does this need to be said? It’s not about whether or not McCain can use a computer! It’s about whether or not McCain will be able to make good policy decisions regarding computers, the internet and technology in general.

    He doesn’t have to be an auto mechanic to be able to make policy decisions that effect Detroit, because he understands enough about what cars are, how they work, and how they are used. If he doesn’t have at least that level of knowledge about computers and the internet, he’s not qualified to make policy decisions that effect them.

    It’s true that the next president needs to understand computers and the Internet if he wants to communicate effectively in the modern world — just as FDR understood and mastered radio and Ronald Reagan understood and mastered television.

    Imagine if Ronald Reagan has said he never watches TV, doesn’t know how TV works or what people watch on them, but he’s going to be giving directives to the FCC about what you can watch, and how you can watch it.

    The next president’s most important role — every president’s most important role — will be to serve as commander-in-chief. It’s far more important that he actually know something about the military than about the mouse on his desk.

    The office of the President is not a military post, being Commander-in-Chief is only one facet of his responsibilities, and it no more important than any other. We are not a military state, please stop thinking it makes you tough to act like we are.

  23. Michael says:

    Just off hand I can’t think of a single person who could fill this.

    That doesn’t mean that the President shouldn’t fill all those, just that there isn’t currently anybody who can fill them that wants (or can get) the job.

    It doesn’t make them any less important just because none of the candidates fills them all, and it certainly doesn’t mean we should ignore a below-average (or complete lack of) knowledge on any one.

  24. anjin-san says:

    The argument is not that the President need to be about to write macros for Excel to function well in his job.

    It is that, in order to understand the world we live in here in the 21st century, the world he is going to be the most powerful person in, he must have at least a decent grasp of how information technology affects pretty much everything we do now.

    Its pretty hard to lead that which you do not understand…

  25. Anon says:

    od, no one has said he needs to be a computer expert. To use your analogy, he does not need to be an auto mechanic. But, as someone else pointed out, he should have ridden in cars, experienced congestion, seen auto accidents, etc.

    He does not need to have a working knowledge of every specialty, but he should understand what science and technology can do. Now, certainly it might be possible to gain this understanding indirectly. However, the more firsthand the understanding, the better.

    Now, if it were very difficult to experience the Internet firsthand, then it might be understandable that he gains this understanding indirectly. But this is not some esoterica here. We are only asking him to invest 20 minutes so that he can experience firsthand what many millions of Americans, of all ages, incomes, and educations, experience daily.

  26. Anon says:

    Also, od, I do not expect him to have a working knowledge of computer science. But the difference between knowing how to use a computer and having a working knowledge of computer science is about the same as knowing how to drive a car and having a working knowledge of mechanical engineering.

  27. Fence says:

    but he’s going to be giving directives to the FCC

    Actually, no. The FCC is an independent agency, and does not have to take orders from the White House unless they care about political favors for their post-FCC careers. The President of course does have a role in appointing the Chairman but after that communications policy is largely out of his hands, and in the hands of Congress and the FCC.

    this isn’t about McCain’s ability to use _his_ computer, it’s about his ability to make decisions about how _you_ can use _your_ computer.

    I would prefer that no one in the government get to make decisions about how I can use my computer. The left blogosphere’s recent un-informed love affair with “network neutrality” is itself an example of why it is preferable for those in power to actually understand technology and the capital markets.

  28. Michael says:

    The left blogosphere’s recent un-informed love affair with “network neutrality” is itself an example of why it is preferable for those in power to actually understand technology and the capital markets.

    I don’t follow, what part of the left blogosphere’s support for net neutrality was un-informed?

  29. od says:

    Also, od, I do not expect him to have a working knowledge of computer science. But the difference between knowing how to use a computer and having a working knowledge of computer science is about the same as knowing how to drive a car and having a working knowledge of mechanical engineering.

    I can’t say I see much benefit to the country if the president’s knowledge of computers is on the level of how to use them. What kind of decision is that level of knowledge likely to influence? I’d go so far as to say I don’t think its important that a president knew how to drive either.

  30. Michael says:

    I can’t say I see much benefit to the country if the president’s knowledge of computers is on the level of how to use them. What kind of decision is that level of knowledge likely to influence?

    Going back to my AP example, suppose John McCain doesn’t now the difference between a hyperlink in a blog and attribution in print. He may think, attribution doesn’t get the original author any ad revenue, therefore neither do internet links, therefore bloggers are stealing ad revenue by quoting AP articles. Any casual internet user will know the difference, but does John McCain?

  31. James Joyner says:

    Going back to my AP example, suppose John McCain doesn’t now the difference between a hyperlink in a blog and attribution in print. He may think, attribution doesn’t get the original author any ad revenue, therefore neither do internet links, therefore bloggers are stealing ad revenue by quoting AP articles. Any casual internet user will know the difference, but does John McCain?

    So, McCain is going to be the first president without a staff?

  32. Michael says:

    So, McCain is going to be the first president without a staff?

    His staff isn’t going to be the decision maker, they won’t be signing or vetoing any bills. They also won’t be elected to represent you and me.

  33. rodney dill says:

    A president wouldn’t have time to use a computer and filter out themselves all the ‘blog’ type information into something useful. Much of what the President receives as information has been summarized and condensed down to basics.

  34. James Joyner says:

    His staff isn’t going to be the decision maker, they won’t be signing or vetoing any bills. They also won’t be elected to represent you and me.

    But they’ll be preparing decision papers, no? That’s how presidents make decisions, not based on their extensive knowledge from surfing the Internet.

  35. Michael says:

    But they’ll be preparing decision papers, no? That’s how presidents make decisions, not based on their extensive knowledge from surfing the Internet.

    So your argument is that a President can made qualified decisions based entirely on second hand knowledge?

  36. Fence says:

    I don’t follow, what part of the left blogosphere’s support for net neutrality was un-informed?

    Not sure I have time to do the topic justice. But as a general matter, I’m skeptical that the government could regulate something as fast changing as broadband and not do more harm than good. This is the same government, after all, that brought us the Iraq war, the tax code, TSA “security,” and subsidies for pumping water uphill to irrigate cotton farms in the Arizona desert while paying farmers in Mississippi money not to grow it.

    Net Neutrality seems to be entirely premised on “saving” the Internet as we know it. Thank god no one accomplished that in 1995 or I’d still be using my 14.4kbps modem. If ISPs can make more money by selling preferential access to Google or whoever, that’s an alternate source of income that can be used for upgrades that doesn’t have to come from directly from subscribers. No one argues that NBC can’t charge more for a Super Bowl ad than an ad on a 3am re-run. Say Disney wants to be able to sell real-time, HD downloads, and they’d pay the ISP more to assure service quality. Under net neutrality the government would not let Verizon do that because it would give preference to Disney packets over spam packets and packets of your neighbor downloading pirated porn. A mandate that all packets are created equal and that operators can do nothing more than be dumb pipes isn’t network neutrality, it is network neutering. Verizon and Comcast have risked billions in upgrading their networks and they need to do more, but will they keep doing that if the government basically confiscates their assets?

    We’ve made it this far without any net neutrality rules, and I am not aware of any really compelling evidence that we’ll need it more tomorrow than we do today. If anything, the need will only lessen as wireless broadband becomes a more viable alternative . . . assuming net neutrality rules don’t make such investments unattractive.

  37. James Joyner says:

    So your argument is that a President can made qualified decisions based entirely on second hand knowledge?

    Experience certainly helps guide decisions. Half a century of immersion in military affairs makes McCain more qualified and likely than Obama to push back against bad advice. Ditto, presumably, some domestic policy issues that Obama has spent the last decade plus involved with that are only peripheral interests for McCain.

    What we’re talking about here, though, is operator-level knowledge. I’m not sure that a CEO needs to have done the job of a factory hand or an office clerk to make decisions about the strategic direction of the company, although such experience might be helpful in some ways. Similarly, it’s not clear that knowing how to send an email attachment has much bearing on, say, the net neutrality debate.

    And, again, I spend most of my waking hours on a computer and don’t really have a firm view on that one. Keyboarding skills don’t have much bearing on those kind of policies.

  38. Michael says:

    Net Neutrality seems to be entirely premised on “saving” the Internet as we know it. Thank god no one accomplished that in 1995 or I’d still be using my 14.4kbps modem. If ISPs can make more money by selling preferential access to Google or whoever, that’s an alternate source of income that can be used for upgrades that doesn’t have to come from directly from subscribers.

    The thing is that Google already pays a whole lot of money to get access to the internet. I pay my ISP their requested amount of money for access to the internet. My ISP and Google’s ISP have a network connectivity agreement that says they will pass any data from one network to the other. At what point, then, should my ISP be able to charge extra for me to access Google?

    It’s like Ford wanting to charge McDonalds, because they wouldn’t be making so much drive-through money if it weren’t for Ford’s cars. I pay to get on the internet, I should have equal access to any site on the internet, my ISP should _not_ be deciding which parts of the internet I should have access to, and which I shouldn’t.

    A mandate that all packets are created equal and that operators can do nothing more than be dumb pipes isn’t network neutrality, it is network neutering. Verizon and Comcast have risked billions in upgrading their networks and they need to do more, but will they keep doing that if the government basically confiscates their assets?

    Packet preference and quality if service I’m fine with. VoIP and video packets should get different service than data packets. If the ISPs want to do traffic shaping based on the _content_ of a packet, that’s a good idea. What I don’t want is ISPs doing traffic shaping based on the _source_ of the packet.

    Going back to your super bowl analogy, imagine if NBC decided that beer commercials should have to pay more per-minute than MoveOn.org commercials, because the beer companies make more money. Would you be okay with that?

  39. Michael says:

    Experience certainly helps guide decisions. Half a century of immersion in military affairs makes McCain more qualified and likely than Obama to push back against bad advice.

    I’m not saying he won’t puch back against bad advice, I’m questioning whether he will be able to distinguish good advice from bad on a subject he has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of. It would be like trying to write a movie review based solely on what other people have told you about it.

    What we’re talking about here, though, is operator-level knowledge. I’m not sure that a CEO needs to have done the job of a factory hand or an office clerk to make decisions about the strategic direction of the company, although such experience might be helpful in some ways.

    The CEO does need to know how those jobs are done before he makes strategic decisions about how they will be done in the future. I’ve seen plenty of times where upper-management mandates a process change for those at lower levels that is _worse_ than the existing process, because he didn’t know anything about the existing process. I’m not saying he has to have done them, but he does need to know how they are done.

    Similarly, it’s not clear that knowing how to send an email attachment has much bearing on, say, the net neutrality debate.

    No, but knowing what an email attachment _is_ would be important. Knowing why they don’t clog “tubes” like paper-mail in a processing office would be important.

    Keyboarding skills don’t have much bearing on those kind of policies.

    Again, I don’t care how proficient he is a typing out emails, I just don’t want him making decisions based on a lack of knowledge on the subject. You don’t have to be military brass to make policies about the military, but you do need to at least know what the military is, what it is capable of, and how it operates. If Obama’s knowledge of the Military was at the same level as McCain’s knowledge of the Internet, I wouldn’t want him making military decisions either.

  40. anjin-san says:

    Experience certainly helps guide decisions. Half a century of immersion in military affairs makes McCain more qualified and likely than Obama to push back against bad advice.

    Not necessarily. He many have a Navy-centric mindset. He may be resistant to necessary changes to modernize military operations. He may have emotional reactions that would cloud his judgemen when dispassionate calculations are critical. He may have a mindset based entirely in the last century which is not up to dealing with the challenges of this one.

    Not saying this is the case, but you can make a reasonable argument that that “half a century” can be a liability for a President.

  41. Fence says:

    Going back to your super bowl analogy, imagine if NBC decided that beer commercials should have to pay more per-minute than MoveOn.org commercials, because the beer companies make more money. Would you be okay with that?

    Let’s change your example from NBC to Comedy Central. In that case, absolutely. It is their network. As for NBC, the public airwaves thing might cloud the argument, I’d prefer not to go there since my own view is that it bad policy that we give away free airwaves to for-profit TV stations.

    I see you have the Google script. Yes, poor Google is paying so much for internet access to reach you that they can barely afford to develop new products. Google may be paying for backhaul and peering but they aren’t paying Verizon even though they are using Verizon’s huge investment in the loop to your house. You are too focused on your notion that you “pay to get on the internet.” You buy the product they sell. If they want to change that product they can (I doubt you have a contract that commits them to much of anything), and if you don’t like it you can buy from someone else.

    I think your Ford McDonalds thing doesn’t work. If McDonalds wanted to make a deal with Ford that it would always serve Ford cars first, and Ford was willing to pay for that in order to make Ford cars more valuable, they could. If Ford wanted to say bug off, McDonalds would still provide regular access to Ford vehicles, because it certainly doesn’t want to lose the business of Ford drivers.

    Comcast generally decides which TV channels to carry and which not to carry. They built their network. There’s no reason they have to provide unfettered access to illegal download sites that hog so much bandwidth it degrades the service of the 98% of their customers who don’t use it. The fact is that they do provide access to these sites because they do still want the business of that other 2% as well, but it should not be at the point of a gun. Especially because that gun will almost surely have unintended consequences. Why let the people who can’t provide basic services after a hurricane run the Internet?

  42. James Joyner says:

    I’m questioning whether he will be able to distinguish good advice from bad on a subject he has absolutely no first-hand knowledge of.

    Obama has no first-hand knowledge of military affairs, let alone war. Is he therefore unable to make decisions? I’d say No. On that particular subject, I say: Advantage McCain. But we’ve had presidents with military experience who made poor Commanders-in-Chief and those with none who made good ones.

    He many have a Navy-centric mindset. He may be resistant to necessary changes to modernize military operations. He may have emotional reactions that would cloud his judgemen when dispassionate calculations are critical. He may have a mindset based entirely in the last century which is not up to dealing with the challenges of this one.

    Sure. Experience works both ways. But you’re not arguing, therefore, that Obama’s relative dearth of experience is therefore an asset?

    Back to the computer thing, perhaps Obama has had bad experiences online that were anomalous but that nonetheless cloud his judgment. That’s always a risk.

  43. Michael says:

    I see you have the Google script. Yes, poor Google is paying so much for internet access to reach you that they can barely afford to develop new products.

    This isn’t an emotional debate, I don’t care about whether Google is rich or poor. What I care about is getting what I paid for, and that is unbiased access to any site on the internet.

    Google may be paying for backhaul and peering but they aren’t paying Verizon even though they are using Verizon’s huge investment in the loop to your house.

    Correction, Google is paying their ISP to get their data onto the internet. I am paying Verizon to get data off of the internet and into my home. Google isn’t using Verizon’s network, I am using Verizon’s network. The fact that I am using the bandwidth I paid for to transport data from Google shouldn’t matter to Verizon.

    If they want to change that product they can (I doubt you have a contract that commits them to much of anything), and if you don’t like it you can buy from someone else.

    That’s fine, but if we’re going to let them do that, then we have to make them open up their high-speed data lines to competitors. Otherwise there isn’t really an option. Currently I have Bright House for internet access. If I don’t want them, I either have to buy satellite TV service, or buy land-line telephone service, I can’t just use “Google Internet Access” over the cables connected to my house.

  44. Michael says:

    Quick question, is Verizon allowed to charge QVC or HSN more than others because people call them more often, or because they make money over Verizon’s telephone service to my house?

  45. Michael says:

    Obama has no first-hand knowledge of military affairs, let alone war.

    Correction, he has no first-hand experience. He can obtain first-hand knowledge of the military without actually serving, just like he can have first-hand knowledge of how a car works without actually building one.

  46. James Joyner says:

    He can obtain first-hand knowledge of the military without actually serving, just like he can have first-hand knowledge of how a car works without actually building one.

    How so? And how does this differ from McCain and the computer?

  47. Michael says:

    How so? And how does this differ from McCain and the computer?

    McCain can gain first-hand knowledge of how computers work by watching somebody work on one. Similarly, Obama can gain first-hand knowledge of how the military works by watching it work. Given current events, Obama has had plenty of opportunity to observe how the military works. McCain also has had plenty of opportunity to observe how computers and the internet work, the question is has he, or hasn’t he?

  48. James Joyner says:

    Given current events, Obama has had plenty of opportunity to observe how the military works.

    I’m not sure I’d classify that as first-hand knowledge.

    McCain also has had plenty of opportunity to observe how computers and the internet work, the question is has he, or hasn’t he?

    I’m sure that he has, at least in the sense that Obama has observed the military.

  49. Michael says:

    I’m sure that he has, at least in the sense that Obama has observed the military.

    I would hope so too, but his campaign hasn’t exactly been making that point, which makes me worry that maybe he hasn’t.

  50. Fence says:

    Quick question, is Verizon allowed to charge QVC or HSN more than others because people call them more often,

    Yes, QVC and HSN’s telcos charges them for calls they receive. Multi-line Business calling plans are different from residential

    or because they make money over Verizon’s telephone service to my house?

    No. Traditional phone companies are not allowed to discriminate in that way, based upon monopoly-era laws. Those rules do not apply to Internet providers, and the Internet seems to be working just fine without it.

    I’m not making a point, just attempting to answer the question.

  51. Michael says:

    Yes, QVC and HSN’s telcos charges them for calls they receive. Multi-line Business calling plans are different from residential

    That wasn’t the question. The question was can _my_ telco charge them for the calls I make to them.

    No. Traditional phone companies are not allowed to discriminate in that way, based upon monopoly-era laws. Those rules do not apply to Internet providers, and the Internet seems to be working just fine without it.

    Only because thus far the ISPs haven’t been using their monopoly muscle. Indeed, in the era of dial-up, they didn’t even have a monopoly. Now that you have one, maybe two real choices for broadband, and you almost always have to buy it as part of a bundle of other services (telephone or tv), it’s a different playing field.

  52. Fence says:

    Google isn’t using Verizon’s network, I am using Verizon’s network.

    That’s like saying Comedy Central doesn’t use Comcast to reach consumers. (Of course, Comcast pays Comedy Central, and not the other way around).

    The fact that I am using the bandwidth I paid for to transport data from Google shouldn’t matter to Verizon.

    It does if Google wants to pay Verizon more for better access. You’re losing the point here. ISPs don’t manage the network to degrade non-harmful services like Google, they want the option to favor premium services which could hep consumers by giving our ISPs a source of revenue other than us, just as cable and TV networks do with advertising. Since ISPs are now too scared to proactively file-sharing degrade sites, they will just start charging us more when we use a certain level of bandwidth rather than today’s all-you-can-eat.

    if we’re going to let them do that, then we have to make them open up their high-speed data lines to competitors.

    And then they are going to invest to upgrade your house from 6mb to 100mb when?? I’d rather have two or three providers offering me 100mb in 2012 and 1gb in 2020 than 10 providers offering me the same repackaged version of what we have today.

    I agree that the fact that you don’t have many choices does help make the case for regulation, but it also makes the case against it — the fact that you only have a couple is no longer anything to do with regulatory barriers, it is to do with the huge cost of building broadband. So if new regulations make broadband investment even less attractive, we make it even more likely that we will fall even further behind the rest of the world in broadband deployment.

    I’m not claiming to have a perfect answer, just saying that I don’t think rank and file consumers who say they support it have fully thought it through. Once they do, many backtrack, as I did. (I am a recovering net neutrality proponent). How else to explain why the fully Democratic Congress hasn’t adopted a net neutrality bill (oh, right, the huge donations from Verizon and AT&T do also explain that).

  53. Fence says:

    That wasn’t the question. The question was can _my_ telco charge them for the calls I make to them.

    No, it is the other way around. Your telco gets charged a small amount by their carrier on a per minute basis for completing the call. Your carrier could charge you based on usage if it wanted to, but most US carriers don’t do that to residential customers because we don’t spend enough time on the phone for them to want to bother, especially since their costs for usage keep declining. But when dial-up was booming, they were starting to think about it because your carrier lost a bundle paying your dial-up ISP’s carrier for all those 120 minute calls.

    In any case, historic telco regulation is not exactly my idea of the best model for anything new.

  54. Michael says:

    And then they are going to invest to upgrade your house from 6mb to 100mb when?? I’d rather have two or three providers offering me 100mb in 2012 and 1gb in 2020 than 10 providers offering me the same repackaged version of what we have today.

    Without competition, why would they ever offer you 100mb, let alone 1gb?

    I agree that the fact that you don’t have many choices does help make the case for regulation, but it also makes the case against it — the fact that you only have a couple is no longer anything to do with regulatory barriers, it is to do with the huge cost of building broadband.

    I’m pretty sure that both of my choices are government-regulated monopolies in my area.

    No, it is the other way around. Your telco gets charged a small amount by their carrier on a per minute basis for completing the call.

    Not quite, my telco charges their telco a the same rate to connect my call to anybody on the other carrier’s end. I’m pretty sure that this exact setup exists for data transfer between networks.

    What is being proposed now is that my ISP wants to charge Google, on top of charging Google’s ISP, for transferring data to their network. Even worse, if that data crosses a third-party network, that ISP will want their cut from both ISPs, plus Google. Now Google is having to pay 3 different ISPs to get their data to me.

  55. anjin-san says:

    I would think that for a President, the internet offers a wonderful opportunity to escape the filtration of information that is entailed in staff and government reports.

    Most of the information that a President receives is prepared by people who have an agenda of some sort. The chief of staff controls access to the President. It is easy to become isolated in the Oval Office. Clearly it happened to GHW Bush.

    With the internet, a President can access unfiltered information. He can find out what average people are thinking and even interact with them if he chooses.

    The internet is the defining technology of our time. It has enriched most of our lives in many ways. I know it enable me to triple my income and have a much more rewarding career.

    I am arguing that a President who is computer illiterate has a pretty big handicap. It also raises the question of lack of intellectual curiosity and ability to change, adapt and grow with time…

  56. od says:

    I am arguing that a President who is computer illiterate has a pretty big handicap. It also raises the question of lack of intellectual curiosity and ability to change, adapt and grow with time…

    As an electrical engineering graduate student a decade ago I had a co-supervisor who could barely turn a computer on, let alone use it – he was, as you might guess, a theoretician (in digital communications, ironically enough), and in fact a highly successful one if you go by his publication record (several Proceedings of the IEEE, and a host of other IEEE journal publications). His research grants supported nine graduate students, a post-doc, and two full time technicians. He also provided several high end workstations for his students and staff to use, including myself, who’s thesis topic was a mixture of computer and electrical engineering.

    He could also play the piano to near concert standards, spoke five languages, was probably better read than most English profs (okay, possibly exaggerating a bit on that one), and loved to argue history and current events with his graduate students, both of which he was very well informed about. Lack of intellectual curiosity and ability to change, adapt and grow would not be on anyone’s list of his attributes.

    When we teased him about why he never learned how to use the computer, his response was always that it wasn’t necessary for his work (pen and paper does it for many theoreticians), between family, grad students and research he had too many things on the go as it was, and he hired computer savvy staff for the occasions on which it was necessary. I suspect the same argument, only stronger, could be made by a president of the United States.

  57. anjin-san says:

    I am sure that there are quite a few highly intelligent people in the world who have no interest in computers.

    In McCain’s case, I have seen no evidence that he is highly intelligent. And there is at least some evidence that he is, at best, an average intellect. So, even empirical evidence that he lacks of intellectual curiosity and ability to change, adapt and grow with times is worth a look.

    He is not running for co-supervisor, he is running for president. And recent history has provided ample evidence that intelligence in a president is a good thing.

  58. Fence says:

    I’m pretty sure that both of my choices are government-regulated monopolies in my area.

    “both of my choices” are monopolies?

    Without competition, why would they ever offer you 100mb, let alone 1gb?

    Because one of your “monopoly choices” is competing against the other. Verizon already offers 50mb with Fios and is spending billions to roll that out to more and more homes. Bright House and the other big cable companies are working on a major upgrade that will enable them to offer 150mb within a couple years, and they are doing that as a reaction to Fios, and Fios (and DSL before that) was a reaction to cable modems.

    And Google is investing in a joint venture to provide nationwide wireless access. Funny thing, they aren’t lobbying to put restrictions on giving themselves preferential access to that service.

    What is being proposed now is that my ISP wants to charge Google, on top of charging Google’s ISP, for transferring data to their network.

    This is an urban legend. None of the major ISPs have “proposed” to do this. They couldn’t manage billing everyone even if they wanted to, many or most would refuse to pay, and if ISPs blocked access to those who didn’t too much would be blocked and their customers would revolt. This really isn’t about charging Google unless Google wants to pay. It is about offering a competitor to Google the ability to pay to secure premium service quality to try to break into the market, to make itself more visible as the volume of content on the internet becomes more and more overwhelming. Google knows this isn’t a bad idea — after all, they do quite nicely selling sponsored links, another version of the same thing.

    But what this really is about is that if the federal government writes into law rules on what ISPs can’t do, those prohibitions will stay on the books for decades and have untold unintended consequences — all to accomplish what? Where exactly is the harm we are suffering today with no net neutrality laws on the books?

    The actual facts on reciprocal compensation and access charges (the mechanisms between carriers for exchange of telecom traffic) or peering (exchange of Internet traffic) are more complicated than your comment suggests but it is not worth getting into because it is not relevant to the question of whether Congress should pass new laws to regulate access to the Internet.