Massachusetts Senate candidate Rep. Ed Markey‘s claims to have helped promote technological innovation drew jeers during his primary campaign against Democrat Stephen Lynch, when Markey claimed during a March 27 debate that he “took on the monopolies” and therefore deserved credit for such famed Internet properties as eBay, Facebook and Twitter. That claim drew comparison to former Vice President Al Gore‘s claim to have invented the Internet, but now Markey has made those claims the centerpiece of the first TV ad in his campaign against Republican Gabriel Gomez, and an examination of Markey’s role in telecommunications legislation shows the 66-year-old congressman could have difficulty defending his claims in a surprisingly competitive election.
Two polls this week show Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, within striking distance of Markey, with barely six weeks remaining until the June 25 special election to fill the seat of former Sen. John F. Kerry, whom President Obama appointed as Secretary of State. Public Policy Polling (PPP) showed Markey leading Gomez by only four points (44-40), while a WBUR-TV poll had Markey ahead by six points (41-35). Both polls showed independents leaning toward Gomez, a moderate Republican who has targeted Markey as a career Washington politician, saying that the congressman, first elected in 1976, is a “poster boy for term limits.”
Markey’s newly released campaign ad shows him in an office full of computers, saying that broadband, cell phones and the Internet didn’t exist 20 years ago. True enough, but an examination of the congressional record raises doubts about Markey’s claims — repeated in his campaign literature — that he played a key role in making these innovations possible.
Leading From Behind on Telecommunications
Big claims from the commonwealth Congressman. However, Markey was not the Chairman of the Committee on Commerce, although he was appointed to the conference committee. Examining his role in the passage of the uncontroversial Telecommunications Act of 1996 — a bill that received little debate — ViralRead discovered that Markey didn’t manage the bill on the floor, nor was he even a co-sponsor to the similar resolution in the House, H.R. 1555. Yet, the congressman, typically known around Washington for his competence on matters of policy, goes unchecked calling himself an “author” of the Act in press releases distributed from his Congressional office.
The bill originated in the Senate, S. 652 (104th), with Senator Larry Pressler (R-S.D.), when both chambers were controlled by Republicans after the 1994 GOP election sweep. The bipartisan bill met little opposition, with the conference bill passing the House 414-16, 27 minutes later passing the Senate 91-5.
But does the senior Democrat really want credit for the Act? Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-Ma.) calls the 1996 bill a “failure.” Frank’s criticisms are echoed by other prominent consumer advocates and legislative observers. Famed consumer activist Ralph Nader testified in 1999 that the Act gave the telecom industry $70 billion and “[handed] over the digital television spectrum to existing broadcasters.”
According to a comprehensive study done by Common Cause (PDF), consumers haven’t received on the promises from the Act.
Over 10 years, the legislation was supposed to save consumers $550 billion, including $333 billion in lower long-distance rates, $32 billion in lower local phone rates, and $78 billion in lower cable bills. But cable rates have surged by about 50 percent, and local phone rates went up more than 20 percent. Industries supporting the new legislation predicted it would add 1.5 million jobs and boost the economy by $2 trillion. By 2003, however, telecommunications’ companies’ market value had fallen by about $2 trillion, and they had shed half a million jobs.
In fact, some analysts assert, monopolies are a greater threat today — Google and AT&T (again) have both been targeted by consumer advocate groups and their competition, coming before the FCC several times in recent years. Markey relies heavily on the growth of the Internet to convince voters that he was ahead of the issue, however few credit the Act for its growth. Some entrepreneurs may even take exception to the assertion.
Who Is Against Broadband?
Beyond leadership on the bill, in the ad, Markey makes the claim the he helped usher broadband Internet to millions of Americans, however, last year the Democrat was looking to block Verizon from bringing its high-speed FiOS internet option to some residents in Massachusetts.
Common Cause says consumers are paying more and America has slipped as a broadband leader stating, “United States finds itself lagging behind the rest of the developed world in the deployment of broadband access to the Internet.” In further explaining how the Act may have failed to meet the broadband accomplishments touted by Markey they say “between 2000 and 2004, the United States has fallen from third to thirteenth in broadband penetration among nations.”
Markey and other liberal Democrats have championed taxpayer-funded “investments in infrastructure” that would include subsidizing costs associated with bringing broadband to rural areas across the country, even in a recession. With the economy still recovering, it’s unlikely any broadband bill will bear Representative or Senator Markey’s name anytime in the near future.
Smartphones, Social Networks, Skype, Search Engines — Thank Markey, Says Markey
The cell phone in your pocket? Markey wants credit for that too, again, referencing the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Though historical record stands in the politicians way again. Cell phones entered the market in 1992, with the first use of the term appearing in 1997, but the concept was tinkered with by industry innovators in 1973, a far cry from the Democrats’ desk.
Markey asserts in the television ad that 20 years ago, Internet giants that are now common household names were “the stuff of science fiction.” He mentions Google, Facebook, and Skype by name. A review of company records for the three tech giants revealed that none of them are headquartered in Massachusetts, although Google does have an office in Cambridge that opened in 2008 with 175 employees in both engineering and sales.
Governor Deval Patrick (D) played ping-pong there after all.
This isn’t the first time Markey has taken credit for innovative startups that have enjoyed success. In the primary against fellow Democrat Rep. Stephen Lynch, Markey name-checked all of the following companies: Google, Ebay, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Saying that he “took on the monopolies in the 1990s,” Markey claims the Act unleashed $1 trillion in private equity and venture capital that was sitting on the sidelines.
Markey defeated Lynch, 57% to 43% respectively.
While Massachusetts is known as a haven for liberals — Democrats enjoy a 3-to-1 advantage in party registration there — Democrats play friendly with private equity in the state, relying heavily on them for tax revenue and jobs and declared independents make up over 50% of all registered voters. All politics is local, and both Markey and Gomez appear to understand this.
In fact, during the 2012 election when the Obama re-election campaign went on to attack Bain Capital, a company started by Mitt Romney, Gov. Patrick went on to defend Bain. Bain, tight in the community, has also given heavily to the One Boston Fund to assist the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Whether or not voters will care or the press will mock has yet to be determined. However, Markey, 66, is painting himself relevant hoping the message resonates with Massachusetts independent streak, hoping to avoid allowing young Gomez, 47, to become the next Senator Scott Brown.