Should Govt Regulate Dot-Coms - or Become Them?

SAN FRANCISCO (01/28/2000) - Despite an unexpected snowstorm - so much for Web-based weather models -Washington plowed on in its attempts to shape the Internet Economy. The big news covered by most outlets was that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has exempted companies whose customers telecommute from any health or safety violations that occur at their employees' home offices. So you can keep working on the dining room table, even if you haven't cleaned up from breakfast.

Reuters and other wire services missed the second part of the story - as well as the appearance of a Labor Department flip-flop on the issue - but Frank Swoboda at the Washington Post didn't. Swoboda noted that employers are not exempt from liability for hazardous manufacturing work that employees perform in their homes, such as the manufacturing of electronic components. It's a good thing Linus Torvalds isn't constructing those Transmeta chips in his spare bedroom.

Whether working from home or braving the Metro, Washington suits continued to go after Microsoft. Government lawyers sent the expected response to the Microsoft response to Judge Jackson's findings of fact - are you following this? - and Microsoft will now get a chance to respond to the government's brief before February's oral arguments. Judge Jackson's conclusions will follow in March, and then there will be a remedy phase, which will probably run until the Redmond giant gets all the bugs out of Internet Explorer.

Although some Republicans have been quick to label the Microsoft action a political act engineered by Democrats against free markets, the Mercury News' David L. Wilson found that the lawsuit had made at least one strange bedfellow.

In a scoop, Wilson reported that the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a think tank staffed largely by former members of the Reagan and Bush administrations, would today recommend that Microsoft be broken up. That's a significant call:

It comes from an organization that was previously best known for sponsoring the college "course" that began Newt Gingrich's swift fall from House Speaker to analyst on an obscure cable network.

Even if Microsoft gets divvied up, Washington is unlikely to dip into the Net as deeply as Florence, Ala., a town not previously cited for Net trends. AP reports that the northwest Alabama town is about to become the first in its state - and one of only a handful nationwide - to offer its own commercial Internet service, under the appalling name Floweb. City employee Roger Lovelace, a computer programmer, says he hopes to lure a few customers away from AOL. Now that's what government is for!

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