A national policy on the Internet?

David McClure, CEO of the US internet Industry Association, writes on CNET that the United States needs a policy on broadband. Actually, he writes about a lot of stuff, though the result is such a muddled agenda that it is not hard to see why this particular special interest group isn’t seeing success on Capital Hill.

McClure begins by correctly pointing out that the economic recovery isn’t reaching into the Internet industry:

…manufacturing jobs fell 24,000 in October, led by yet another decline in computer and electronics-related manufacturing. We lost 6,600 of these jobs, including 2,300 for computer equipment, 700 for communications equipment, 4,100 for semiconductors and 200 for electronic instruments.

In fact, the economic recovery isn’t reaching very many industries. There’s hardly a recovery to speak of, given the fabulously large incentives offered up to investors by our supply-side gurus in the White House. But McClure uses this to jump off on a series of demands that he says are essential to the revival of the Net industry:

Make spam illegal. As much as I dislike spam, making it illegal would be the worst thing for the Net, as so much of the excess capacity built in the late 1990s is soaked up by this junk. Don’t make spam illegal, make it cost the spammer. This could be implemented by deploying an accounting system and address registry that allowed users to bill the spammer for bandwith and storage consumed by unwanted email.

Pass a permanent moratorium on taxation of Internet access. This conflates a couple different tax issues. First, the application of local sales tax to Internet purchases is well understood and easily calculated based on the location of the seller and the buyer. We should not begrudge taxation of revenues realized in a particular locality, but we should resist the layering of multiple and arbitrary tax regimes on transations. Second, McClure makes specific reference to taxation of Internet access–this is a matter for local tax districts to decide based on debate and discussion among the people who reside in each locality. It would be unreasonable to expect people to pay taxes because their packets pass through a locality where they don’t live, but leave the state, county and city governments of the country the right to decide how they will deal with local access taxes.

Deregulate the Internet. This is such a broad statement, one that is unexplained, that it is impossible to assess what McClure means. What he seems to be complaining about is not the lack of deregulation, but the lack of subsidies and public spending to promote various physical network build-outs: “Wireless Internet is barely considered at all; satellite Internet is ignored; and policies that could spur investment in voice over Internet Protocol may finally get some consideration–next year.”

Create a national broadband policy. Again, we need more policy for the Internet, even though it needs to be deregulated? Get the story straight before you head into the Beltway. It’s pretty clear that the agenda McClure lays out is full of contradictions. If so, then deal with the issues one at a time based on the priorities appropriate to each goal, but don’t go to Congress with an agenda that would have them make laws on the one hand while endorsing deregulation on the other.

This is a truly muddled lobby.

Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.