Republicans Vow Less Interference with Net

CHICAGO (04/24/2000) - In a roundtable discussion last week between Republican congressmen and representatives of the technology industry, 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 discussion took place at the Comdex/Spring 2000 trade show here.

Opening up the doors to trade with China and creating more H-1B visas for foreign high tech workers were the top concerns voiced by the industry panel.

Its members included representatives from Microsoft Corp., Schaumburg, Illinois-based Motorola Inc., Plano, Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corp. and several small and midsize companies.

The congressional delegation included some of the most active Republicans on technology issues, such as Reps. Chris Cox (R-California), chairman of the House Policy Committee, and Billy Tauzin (R-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 problem. Rep. Jerry Weller of Illinois, who hosted the roundtable, struck a chord with the technology industry panel when he discussed two acts he has proposed. One would allow firms to depreciate the costs of PCs in one year instead of five. The other would give companies tax credits for PCs they give to 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 [such gifts]," he said. He also said he hopes to see action before the end of the year on his proposal to shorten PC depreciation.

Jon "Maddog" Hall, president of Amherst, New Hampshire-based Linux International, proposed that year-old PCs could be donated to schools.

Tauzin, who spoke during much of the three-hour discussion, called for further deregulation of the telecommunications industry, saying competition is the best way to ensure that consumers have cheap broadband Internet access. He also called on industry representatives to support HR 2420, the Internet Freedom and Broadband Deployment Act of 1999, 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 be considered only as a last resort.

Privacy Debate

Several speakers came out against government interference in guaranteeing privacy on the Internet. Bob Goodlatte (R-Virginia) criticized the strict regulatory approach taken by the European Union, saying that approach has generated "very little results."

Goodlatte said strong consumer reaction against U.S. firms 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 ready to sort this out; we need some help," said Tauzin, calling on technology industry representatives to attend an information session next month about privacy.

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