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Lawmakers To Scrap Tech Agenda

Odds are good that bills addressing privacy concerns, such as the Platform for Privacy Preferences Project [H.RES.159.IH], will get swept away along with the debris from the recent terrorist attacks on innocent U.S. citizens. For now, you can likely forget about e-legislation initiatives including:

  • E-Government Act of 2001: Legislation crafted to take full advantage of the improved Government performance that can be achieved through the use of Internet-based technologies. [S.803.IS] [H.R.2458.IH]
  • National Digital School Districts Act: This legislation is intended to address the important role that technology and the Internet can play in enhancing and improving education in U.S. schools. [S.1337.IS]
  • Rural America Technology Enhancement Act of 2001: Purpose is to provide assistance to people in rural America to support the use of teleworking in information technology fields. Designed to promote teleworking arrangements, small e-business initiatives and create IT jobs in rural areas. [H.R.2847.IH]

Hung up along with these potential new laws are some 30 other bills introduced by the 107th Congress. This means that heightening community technology assistance programs, eliminating the so-called "digital divide," and accelerating broadband deployment across this nation won't happen this year.

Good riddance
Granted, few ISP operators would shed a tear over the demise of the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act [H.R.1542.RH]. Also known as the Tauzin-Dingell bill, this legislation would have deregulated high-speed data services at the expense of local ISPs because it would have allowed Bell operating companies to extend data-only services across interLATA borders.

File this one under good riddance to bad bills. While this piece of legislation is far enough along to pass through the House this year, it would likely come up for review only if Congress stays in session through December.

But what will become of the moratorium on Internet taxes and sales taxes on the Net?

Steady the course
The moratorium on Internet access taxes paid to ISPs, as well as any multiple and discriminatory taxes, is set to expire on October 21st. The idea of collecting sales tax from e-commerce companies has fueled one of the hottest debates surrounding e-legislation on Capitol Hill this year.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) plays a leading role in issues of IT industry concern including information security, taxes and finance policy, digital intellectual property protection, telecom competition, and e-commerce policy. ITAA members range from the smallest IT start-ups to industry leaders in the IT services, Internet, software, ASP, digital content, systems integration, telecom and enterprise solution fields.

Harris N. Miller, ITAA president, said that abandoning current bills proposed by the 107th Congress is not a bad idea.

"Ironically, it's good news," Miller said. "The tech agenda after all, is not to do anything. While I hope some bad bills go away, like bills allowing entrenched telecom monopolies to expand data services, or privacy issues already being addressed by the industry, not having tech matters before Congress is almost good news."

Miller added that at the same time, relatively sound legislation that would have broadened trade opportunities for tech firms, should somehow be keep alive by the America's lawmakers.

"Extending the Export Administration Act is a good idea," Miller said. "It would be unfortunate if trade issues fell by the wayside or disappeared."

Trick or treat
Just last month the nation's governors asked Congress to extend the Internet tax ban in part of a deal to get federal lawmakers to support for states' attempts to collect sales taxes from online retailers. In an effort to extend the e-tax moratorium, the House and Senate were expected to take up the issue again this month.

Such was our world before September 11, 2001.

Trap and trace legislation has been remembered. Internet taxation and the legally authorized delay of sales levies on e-commerce transactions have been all but forgotten.

But the clock continues to tick forward, counting down to just five Congressional business days left this month. Both houses are out of session this week in respect of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (which lasts from September 17 through 19 in most traditions).

If history provides any clue to the future, it's highly likely that in this emergency as in previous emergencies, Congress will act quickly to pass its federal appropriation bills. It's far more important to keep the federal government solvent than to waste lawmaker's time on more trivial matters.

The ITTA's Miller said that his organization would like to see an extension of the Internet tax moratorium as soon as possible.

"We're in the midst of a terrible tragedy, but the President has asked people to go out and get on with their business, which includes the business of passing thirteen appropriation bills," Miller said. "We've fought wars before, even during the attack on Pearl Harbor and during World Ward II, Congress stayed in session to pass legislation. Congress could plant an extension of the Internet tax moratorium into any one of the appropriation bills before Congress, quietly extending the moratorium for a year or so."

At this point, it appears that once the budget is passed, representatives will quickly disband this session and head home to be with their constituents. Odds are good that federal representatives will be home by Halloween. Such swift actions guarantee that democracy will be safe and secure with its leaders dispersed across the countryside. But if Congress fails to extend the life of our current e-tax moratorium, it would spell disaster for the Internet industry, making the end of next month a very cruel trick for e-businesses and ISPs alike.

Pat Fusco is the managing editor of sister site, ISP-Planet.