RealTime IT News

IT Execs Swarm Capitol Hill

There was a tech boom in Washington this week as IT executives from around the country trekked to Capitol Hill, just as Congress is beginning to ponder the need for telecom reform, improved cyber security, intellectual property rights and consumer online privacy.

The executives testified before Congress, met with White House and government agency officials, hosted dinners and parties and manned a small tech trade show.

As Voice over IP poster boy Jeff Pulver said at a Wednesday night reception, "We've come a long way in just a year."

Several hundred Hill staffers and the occasional lawmaker attending what amounted to a private tech trade show for Congress surrounded Pulver. Two years ago, the event drew a dozen exhibitors. This year, dozens of booths lined a cavernous room displaying everything from VoIP to IP-based television to the latest in 3G cell phones.

Microsoft , SBC , the Consumer Electronics Association, eBay , the Entertainment Software Alliance, Kodak , NTT DoCoMo , Sony , Verizon and Vonage were among the exhibitors.

"Security, safety, privacy - all these things still face us," Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) told the crowd. "The bad guys are keeping up."

Burns used the occasion to introduce his e-Eleven tech agenda, which centers on anti-spyware legislation, and strengthening the current CAN SPAM Act. Other items on his agenda include reform measures aimed at Universal Service, ICANN and spectrum management.

"We are in a digital age. It is no longer a world where we can distinguish between voice, video and data," Burns said. "Everything now is in the indistinguishable form of ones and zeroes. This will pose new challenges as we continue forward with reform legislation."

Earlier in the day, CEOs from Motorola , Siemens , Alcatel , Qualcomm and Lucent all testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet on the need for a light regulatory touch on IP-based networks and services.

While the CEOs were testifying, House and Senate staff members attended a day-long briefing on the major tech issues hosted by the Congressional Internet Caucus. The chief sponsors of the event were Time Warner , VeriSign , MCI , Microsoft, the Recording Industry Association of America, Verizon and RSA Security .

On Thursday, the Business Software Alliance (BSA) brought the chief technology officers (CTOs) of some of the IT industry's leading companies to Washington for a series of high-level meetings with government officials. The BSA has been bringing CEOs to Capitol Hill for years, and the trade group now hopes the CTO briefings will become an annual event.

"The technologists are the leading creative minds, and they are able to provide insights on what it takes to bring new products to market," Diane Smiroldo, a spokeswoman for the BSA, said.

The CTOs met with Karen Evans, the Bush administration's e-government chief; John Marburger, the White House's chief science administrator; and Phil Bond, the Commerce Department's undersecretary for technology.

"We wanted to re-emphasize how big an impact IT has on the economy," said Chris Voice, vice president for technology at Entrust .

Heading the CTOs wish list is a new emphasis on cyber security, federally funded research and development, improving federal information systems and improving e-government options.

One CTO contacted by internetnews.com said he didn't sense from the Bush administration that there was a "scramble to put out a fire" when it came to cyber security. But Burt Kaliski, vice president of research at RSA, emphasized the CTOs focus was on long-term security development.

"There is a growing recognition that a lack of security has a larger indirect impact: loss of consumer confidence," Kaliski said. "Security was talked about in an overall sense to raise awareness. We wanted to dispel some of the hype and misconceptions. We talked about building security into long-term developments like sensor networks and RFID."

Voice also stressed that lack of security is undermining consumer confidence in the Internet.

"We're not talking about teenage hackers anymore," he said. "Now, it is the hacker with a business plan. ID theft is a for-profit crime, and it is being done systematically."

Kaliski said he was "pleased with the level of cooperation, particularly the dialogue" in the meetings.