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NextGenTen: Burns Outlines Committee's Tech Priorities

Sen. Conrad Burns (R.-Mont.), incoming chairman of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, said Wednesday his top priorities for the 108th Congress include bills to require senders of unsolicited commercial e-mail (spam) to include easy "unsubscribe" options, spectrum reform and mandating 911 as a universal wireless emergency number.

Other issues on Burns' ambitious agenda include broadband expensing, ICANN reform, wireless privacy, online privacy, universal service reform, expanded and improved e-gov efforts and promoting free trade between the U.S. and Asia.

Burns, who is promoting the items as the "NextGenTen," aims to immediately tackle his top three issues of spam, spectrum and E-911. In the spring, items scheduled for committee review will include ICANN reform and wireless and online privacy while Burns promises summer hearings on broadband expensing, universal service reform and a U.S.-Asia trade network. The last item, expanding e-gov services, is scheduled for the fall.

"We are in an age where the Internet and telecom industries are at a crossroads," said Burns. "In this era of consolidation, terrorism, and rapid technological innovation, I intend to use this chairmanship of the Senate Communications Subcommittee to provide greater security and to shepherd much-needed reform for consumers."

Burns added, "This is a robust agenda, but also very realistic. We are already well underway in building a consensus within Committee that will lead to swift passage of many of these priorities. I am confident America will see the Spam bill leave the Senate before the summer."

In his Wednesday press conference, Burns outlined his priorities:

  • Spam. Burns said he would re-introduce in the Senate very shortly the Burns-Wyden Can-Spam bill, which passed unanimously out of the Senate Commerce Committee last May but didn't reach a floor vote. The bill requires senders of spam to make it easier for consumers to "opt-out" and imposes harsh penalties on spammers who falsify information to mask the origins of the sender.
  • Spectrum Reform. The senator said he is committed to moving away from the "failed current auction model, which has resulted in numerous bankruptcies at companies and failed promises for consumers." Burns will examine "potentially revolutionary ideas," such as using a royalty based approach. He said will work on a draft bill as soon as the second half of the GAO report is released at the end of this month dealing with the experiences of other countries.

    "Spectrum reform is long-overdue and I am eager to devote the initial months of my chairmanship to the issue. In Europe we have witnessed how the system failed consumers, and we must avoid implementing a similarly exploitative process in the United States," said Burns.

  • E-911. Burns plans to work with the co-chair of the E-911 Caucus, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), to promote a universal, nationwide public safety communications infrastructure. The kickoff of the E-911 Caucus is scheduled for Feb. 24.
  • ICANN Reform. According to Burns, the issue "demands immediate oversight." He said the "lack of accountability" of ICANN "poses serious problems for American national security," citing the recent denial of service attack on nine of the 13 Internet root servers in October. Also in Burns' target is whether the Commerce Department was within its rights to grant such a huge responsibility to ICANN in the first place.
  • Wireless Privacy. Burns plans legislation to ban scanners being used to eavesdrop and record conversations without a users' permission.
  • Online Privacy. The author of the first-ever comprehensive online privacy bill, Burns will continue to support strong protections for consumers in the digital environment. He plans to support the online privacy bill that passed out of the Commerce Committee last year that adopts a "two-tiered" approach, requiring an opt-in consent for sensitive information and opt-out for everything else. The bill also preempts inconsistent state laws or regulations.
  • U.S.-Asia Network. The focus of the U.S.-Asia Network will be to make sure that American technology products can compete on a level playing field in foreign markets. Support will go to a Technology Neutrality Initiative, which will address the problem of national government favoritism for domestic technologies.

    A multi-lateral process will eliminate government policies that impair international commerce and reduce consumer choice. Elimination of national government favoritism for domestic technologies will promote mutual economic growth, increase trade and investment, and expand consumer choice in the Asia-Pacific region.

  • Broadband Expensing. Burns' broadband bill creates a temporary tax incentive for providers in the form of "expensing," allowing an immediate deduction of a capital expenditure in the first year of service rather than depreciating that investment over time. In the case of "current generation" broadband investments in rural and underserved areas, the bill would allow 50 percent expensing of the investment, with the rest to be depreciated according to normal depreciation schedules. When providers build out "next generation" broadband networks, which are typically more expensive, the bill would provide for 100 percent expensing.
  • Universal Service Reform. Burns said he will continue to firmly support a solvent and stable Universal Service Fund that sustains consumers in rural America through the availability of high-quality and affordable telecommunications service."
  • Digital Democracy. Burns plans provide for a coordinated effort to make the legislative process available to citizens over the Internet through cybercasts and online documents.