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Will Dems Change Tech Policy?

One-party rule in Washington ends next year when the 110th Congress convenes with Democrats taking over the House and the Senate.

What does this mean for technology policy?

A year ago this month, presumptive new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held a press conference and rolled out the Democrats' "Innovation Agenda." She promised that Democrats would double federal spending on a national broadband rollout and double funding for technology basic research and development.

Pelosi said Democrats would add 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians and engineers to America's workforce in the next four years.

The Democrats, Pelosi contended, support stock option expensing and scaling back some small business obligations under Sarbannes-Oxley.

It would also seem that under Democrats, network neutrality gets new life.

Rep. John Dingell, the likely new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, supports legislation to block broadband carriers like AT&T and Comcast from charging content providers fees based on bandwidth consumption.

Likewise for Rep. Ed Markey, who is line to take over the Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Republicans twice this year defeated Markey legislation imposing network neutrality provisions on broadband carriers.

Dingell and Markey are already calling for the Federal Communications Commission to take a harder look at the AT&T-BellSouth merger.

There's also a flicker of hope for fair use recording rights if Rep. Rick Boucher takes over the Judiciary Committee's Intellectual Property Subcommittee. Boucher has long supported rolling back some of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's more draconian provisions.

It all sounds promising, if the Democrats find time to get around to it.

They have been out of power for 12 years and voters didn't toss out the Republicans based on technology issues.

"Democrats have a lot priorities and a lot of special interests to take care of," points out Tom Galvin, a partner with the Washington firm 360 Communications. "I don't think technology is on that list. A significant technology agenda is not likely to be front and center."

Galvin may well be right. In the perverted time zone inside the beltway, the 2008 presidential election is already looming. Democrats are desperate to show their agenda is different from Republicans and, to be sure, the GOP is equally determined to thwart that effort.

In Washington time, that means the Democrats have only a year to introduce and pass legislation before the hammer-and-tong battle for the White House begins, legislative agenda be damned.

Judging by Pelosi and other Democratic leader's post-election statements the Democratic agenda is already full. No one has mentioned technology.

There's a new direction in Iraq to consider that will consume massive amounts of the 110th Congress' time and political capital. The Democrats are promising to raise the minimum wage. There are tax cuts to consider. As always, there will be the annual federal budget battles.

Then there's the Democrat's call for stem cell research, energy independence, ethics reform and lower prescription drug costs under Medicare.

At a Washington press conference Wednesday morning Pelosi ticked off the Democratic priorities. Technology wasn't mentioned.

Dingell held a teleconference and beyond the old news of his AT&T-BellSouth merger concerns, his focus was on energy policy. Technology wasn't mentioned.

This is not to say legislation won't be introduced, press releases issued and hearings held on a wide range of technology issues. The House, in particular, might even pass some tech-related bills.

In the Senate, though, any legislation still requires at least 60 votes to avoid a filibuster. That would require some Republicans to sign on to Democratic legislation. And, of course, any legislation would need the signature of President Bush.

All of this must happen in the course of little more than a year and only after moving the high priority agenda items first.

Washington technology lobbyists, trade groups and consumer advocates are used to this dance. It's been the only one offered by Republicans since their one-party rule of the House, Senate and White House began in 2000.

For the last six years, its always been next year, next Congress as one priority after another trumped tech legislation.

They never got around to it.

Don't be surprised if the Democrats don't either.