Republicans Vow Less Gov't Interference with Net

CHICAGO (04/20/2000) - In a roundtable discussion between Republican Congressmen and representatives of the technology industry yesterday, politicians did their best to pander to the concerns of the high-tech industry, promising less regulation, a continued moratorium on Internet taxes, more H-1B visas and expanded trade opportunities with China. The debate was held at Comdex/Spring 2000.

Opening the doors to trade with China and creating more H-1B workers visas were the top concerns voiced by the industry panel, which included representatives of Microsoft Corp., Motorola Inc., Electronic Data Systems Corp. and several small to midsize companies.

The congressional delegation included some of the most active Republicans on technology issues, such as Chris Cox, a Republican from California, chairman of the House Policy Committee, and Billy Tauzin, a Republican from Louisiana, chairman of the Telecommunications Subcommittee.

A day after President Clinton called on the Comdex crowd to help close the digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots, several Republicans discussed their approaches to the issue. Jerry Weller, who hosted the roundtable, struck a chord with the technology industry panel when he discussed two acts he is proposing.

One proposal would allow companies to depreciate the costs of their PCs in one year instead of five. The other idea would be to provide companies tax credits for PCs they give to their employees.

Weller lauded General Motors Corp., American Airlines and other companies for providing PCs to workers. "Unfortunately, what these companies have learned is that the IRS wants to tax it," said Weller. He also said he hopes to see "some action" before the end of the year on his proposal to reduce PC depreciation to one year. John "Mad Dog" Hall, president of Linux International, proposed that year-old PCs could be donated to schools.

Tauzin, who monopolized much of the three-hour debate, called for further deregulation of the telecommunications industry, saying competition is the best way to assure that consumers everywhere get access to cheap broadband Internet access. He called on industry representatives to come out in support of H.R.

2420, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999 he introduced, which may soon have enough co-sponsors to bring to the floor of the House.

Tauzin said laws that aim to guarantee universal access to broadband should only be considered as a last resort.

Several speakers came out against government interference in guaranteeing privacy on the Internet. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia, criticized the approach taken in Europe and claimed the European Union's privacy regulations have generated "very little results."

Goodlatte pointed out that strong consumer reaction against U.S. companies that have infringed on customer privacy has caused these companies to recoil. But Tauzin argued that the issues involved aren't yet sufficiently understood. "We are not at all ready to sort this out; we need some help," said Tauzin, calling on technology industry representatives to attend an information session about privacy in May.

John Sampson, who works in Microsoft's federal affairs department, said he believes that tools are needed to help consumers protect their privacy on the Internet, including those that clearly define the kind of personal information they are prepared to divulge to a Web site.

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