Congressional Roundup

by on November 16, 2006

Via Ed Felten, here’s a good write-up of the implications of the election for tech policy issues. For the most part, it looks like the change in leadership won’t have major effects on recent legislative fights. It looks like we can expect more government funding for basic research and more government regulation of private companies’ privacy practices. Apparently Democrats are more hostile than Republicans to allowing more high-skilled workers into the country.

There’s hope on copyright and e-voting reforms, but it looks like those will hinge on who gets key committee assignments and how much political capital they expend. Rep. Holt is the voice of reason on e-voting, and Reps. Boucher and Lofgren are supporters of DMCA reform. All are Democrats. But it remains to be seen if the new chair of the House Administration Committee, Juanita Millender-McDonald, will see Holt’s legislation as a priority. And as we’ve discussed before Boucher may or may not get to chair the IP subcommittee.

This is probably the most depressing part of the forecast:

Regardless of who is in power, the days of a laissez-fair approach toward the Internet by policymakers are over. Like privacy, we can look at internet regulation through a couple of lenses: the regulation of providers and the regulation of content.

Congress tried to pass telecommunications reform legislation earlier this year, but it quickly stalled because of conflicts over so-called “Network Neutrality” rules. Democrats were much more supportive of having the Federal Communications Commission set strict Network Neutrality rules that would have prevented ISPs from charging content providers for preferred service. Republicans, in general, opposed these so-called rules. Another contentious issue was requiring that broadband providers “build out” their networks to serve entire communities in areas where they were granted franchise agreements. Democrats generally supported efforts to force ISPs to expand services, and Republicans generally opposed these proposals. Both of these efforts did not attract unanimous support from Democrats, but both will be in a much better position next year than they were this year.

The new Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Dingell (D-MI), has already stated that he plans to work on “fixing the problems of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.” Many lobbyists have said that any major telecommunications legislation will not move next year, but it is hard to see the new Chairmen in the House and Senate just dropping this issue.

I’ll be rooting for gridlock. I’m also not quite sure I understand the bit about build-out requirements and franchise agreements. The major franchise issue I’ve seen discussed is a nationwide franchise agreement for video services. Is this build-out requirement an aspect of that debate, or is it a completely different issue? I wasn’t aware that providing broadband service required franchises at all, and it seems to me we ought to keep it that way.

A final question: how come all of these surveys focus so heavily on the House? Other than here on TLF, I don’t think I’ve seen a single description of how changes in the Senate will affect tech policy.

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