The 109th Congress convenes at noon today facing the same technology policy
questions the 108th Congress was uninterested, unable or unwilling to render
judgments on. Leftovers from the last session include the regulation of IP-based
network services, stock option expensing and providing more spectrum for
commercial wireless broadband providers.
The new, two-year Congress will also face renewed demands to
pass anti-spyware legislation, ban the peer-to-peer (P2P) technology used
for music and movie piracy and to pass measures curbing Internet
“I expect we’ll see all those issues and more,” says Jim DeLong, a senior
fellow at the Progress & Freedom Foundation, a Washington think tank.
Deregulation-minded Republicans will again control the Congressional tech
agenda, but the majority party in the 108th Congress often failed to follow
the legislation of its own technology leaders. A core group of GOP lawmakers
that blocked key tech legislation in the last session remains concerned that
the rush to deregulate will impoverish state, county and local treasuries.
But the biggest obstacle to the technology agendas of the next two years may
simply be time. President Bush’s vow to push through Social Security reform and widely expected Supreme Court nominee
debates, combined with the Congressional oversight of the war in Iraq, are likely to suck the air out most other debates.
“President Bush has never mentioned telecom reform,” DeLong notes. “I’ll bet
the word ‘broadband’ will not pass the lips of the president.”
Roger Cochetti, the group director of public policy at the IT trade group
CompTia, takes a more optimistic view of possible telecom reform in the
109th Congress: “Something will happen, but not quickly. Some revisions or
modifications in the original [1996 Telecommunications Act] will happen.”
Cochetti’s group, with more than 20,000 members, is currently fashioning its
own agenda for the 109th Congress, but he says the trade association is
initially focusing on “protecting the network economy from needless
regulations” and tax credits for IT workforce retraining.
At the corporate level, TechNet, the 150-member lobbying network of CEOs and
senior partners, will be pushing to rollback or quash pending stock option
expensing rules and expanding broadband penetration rates through both
regulatory and legislative means, according to spokesman Jim Hock.
Technology lawmakers and IT trade groups are also quick to note that issues
currently in play before the courts and the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) could further cloud their agendas.
“The Grokster case will put everyone in the deep freezer [on intellectual
property issues],” DeLong predicts.
The U.S. Supreme Court said last
month it would hear oral arguments in MGM vs. Grokster in March. The music
industry contends P2P companies such as Grokster and Kazaa should be held
responsible for the illegal distribution of copyrighted material on their
The argument has been rejected twice already by a district court and the
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The Supreme Court is
expected to issue an opinion in the case by early summer.
“Whoever loses is likely to go back to Congress screaming,” DeLong adds.
At the FCC, an ongoing proceeding
on IP-enabled services gives Congress at least six more months to examine
Chairman Michael Powell’s IT direction. The proceeding so far has resulted
in the FCC declaring Voice Over IP
subject to state regulations. It has also ruled that VoIP providers must
comply with federal wiretap rules.