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.

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