The Department of Commerce is under pressure to produce a plan by mid-January for moving the management of the Internet from government to industry. The fight over the plan involves numerous groups, including large companies trying to protect their digital trademarks and Internet activists concerned that commercial priorities will drown free-speech priorities. The department faces a deadline in March, which legally can be deferred six months, for expiration of the current management contract, now held by Network Solutions Inc., Herndon, Va.

President Bill Clinton has rejected Republican calls for the resignation of Ira Magaziner, now serving as the White House's ambassador to the high-tech industry and point man on Internet management issues. Republicans, citing a recent judgment by a federal court, claim that Magaziner lied to keep observers out of 1993 meetings called to draft a nationwide health care reform plan.

It seems the nation's judges will be kept busy this year deciding the nation's telecommunications laws. Already, the Federal Communications Commission is appealing a federal judge's decision in Texas to strike down a central provision in the 1996 telecommunication law that bars two Baby Bells from offering long-distance service until they open up their territory to fair competition. And in the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, two other Baby Bells are claiming Internet providers unfairly get low-cost access to the Bells' phone networks. The Bells want the FCC to raise the charges, but the Internet industry prefers the existing regime in which state-level boards keep a tight limit on access charges. A decision on this case may come by Easter.

The Federal Trade Commission has recommended that consumers' online privacy should be protected via voluntary action by companies, sparking protests from privacy proponents. Next up are rules to protect privacy of health care information, and the industry is already spinning up its congressional lobbyists. Industry lobbyists say nationwide medical privacy laws are needed to provide efficient health care across state lines, while privacy advocates say federal laws would trump more stringent state-level privacy protections.

-Neil Munro

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