During the last fall's political campaign it was difficult to find much of a difference between the two presidential candidates or the platforms of the two major parties. This was especially the case in their attitudes towards the Internet, on telecommunication issues, or high-tech policies generally. Now, given the inter-party acrimony spawned by the near-eternal presidential election and the narrow split in Congress, any new legislation will have to be virtually bipartisan. Looking ahead, it is probable Congress and the White House will tackle the following issues:
e-Government: There is general agreement that government at all levels must become more accessible to the average citizen via the Internet. Various initiatives towards this end will be extended and expanded. The goal will be that any citizen trying to do business with any federal agency will be able to do so completely on the Web.
Privacy: Congress and the White House are not going to wait for the private sector to implement policies to ensure the personal privacy of persons using the Internet, especially e-business customers. While Republicans in Congress will still try to push for reliance on self-regulation by business, this is one area where voter concerns seem to outweigh the traditional Republican opposition to regulation.
Internet Security: With viruses and hacker attacks on both government and corporate Web sites on the rise, some believe Internet security should not be left to the private sector, nor is it something the government itself can provide. Look for movement towards expanding public-private efforts to protect the integrity of the Internet.
Internet Sales Tax: The ongoing controversy between the states and the federal government over whether Internet sales should be subject to state sales taxes will likely not be finally settled for years to come. Look for the present moratorium to be further extended, as all sides struggle to find some kind of permanent resolution.
High Tech Export Controls: Congress will attempt to overhaul the current high-tech export control system to make it easier for companies, especially small businesses, to do business abroad while still preventing restricted technologies from falling into the wrong hands.
Broadband and Spectrum Issues: Congress, the Federal Communications Commission, and the private sector will still struggle over how to guarantee access for competing technologies to an ever-decreasing radio spectrum. There is a movement underway to start collecting royalties for the taxpayers, limit the amount of spectrum, and open it up to possible broadband uses. This could develop into the most heated technology battle of the next two years. In addition, late last year the FCC proposed the establishment of what amounts to a secondary market for spectrum, to allow companies and industries that have excess spectrum to sell it or lease it like any other commodity. This will be hotly debated.