White House unveils e-commerce plan

US President Bill Clinton today outlined the latest steps in the administration's ongoing electronic-commerce initiative, including a call to protect consumers who buy goods over the Internet.

Clinton said he has directed US Commerce Secretary William Daley to work with the US Federal Trade Commission to establish regulations ensuring that buyers of online goods have the same protections as those shopping in regular stores. While he made reference to both truthful advertising and privacy protections, Clinton's remarks were short on specifics.

The president said that the administration will work with other nations to develop laws protecting consumers and also will encourage the e-commerce and Internet industries to continue to self-regulate. The Internet should be largely free of taxes and government regulations, the president and Vice President Al Gore both said.

The US should take a lead in helping to provide incentives to companies to offer consumer protections and to opening up the Internet as a global shopping mall.

"Many people who surf the Web don't shop there," Clinton said, urging the creation of the Internet as a free-trade zone.

Daley further has been directed to work with other federal agencies and trading partners to foster faster connectivity to the Internet. Connections today often are too slow to encourage e-commerce, Clinton said, adding that shopping online is tantamount to having to "drive over dirt roads to get to the mall only to wait in line to get in the door."

Clinton and Gore were joined at the press conference by John Chambers, chief executive officer (CEO) of Cisco Systems, the networking powerhouse that is one of the fastest growing Internet-related companies. Also present was Meg Whitman, CEO of eBay, an online auction house that found a niche and exploded in the last year, allowing Internet shoppers to buy, sell and trade directly with one another.

By 2010, Chambers said, a quarter of global commerce will be transacted over the Internet.

"In short, it will change retail forever," he said.

Although the speakers were long on platitudes for those who have succeeded with e-commerce and also set forth a stream of predictions for Internet commerce growth, the remarks were short on offering much in the way of specifics for the "new" initiatives, which reportedly will include recommendations that the private sector and the World Bank fund Internet projects in developing nations.

The administration was also expected to name a successor for Ira Magaziner, the White House Internet policy czar who is leaving his job in January, but that announcement was not made.

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