Information Technology Lobby Issues Wish List

Information Technology Lobby Issues Wish List

By David Silverberg, Contributing Writer

The information technology industry's legislative agenda for the coming year, set forth recently by one IT lobby, has two major items. One is to raise the bar on export restrictions, the other is to speed and facilitate broadband deployment.

While the Information Technology Industry Council cannot claim to speak for the entire industry, the goals are likely to be shared by the broad range of IT-related lobbies. ITI, an organization of 28 top IT companies, issued its wish list at a recent press conference.

On export restrictions, Dan Hoydysh, director of Unisys Corp.'s Washington office, cited as his goal the lifting of the government's classification of 2,000 MTOP (millions of theoretical operations per second) machines as the beginning of supercomputing and the point at which export restrictions kick in.

Given expected advances in microprocessors and multiprocessor systems, "This is a world where every single machine will be over 2,000 MTOPS," he said. With Pentium II and III Xeon chips coming on stream this year, plus the growing prevalence of machines using two to eight processors, not to mention Intel's long-awaited Merced chip due out in the 2000 time frame, computing is going to burst quickly through the 2,000 MTOPS barrier.

Adding to the urgency of lifting export restrictions, or at least raising the bar, is the growing proportion of American machines being sold outside the United States and the increasing competition offered by foreign computer makers. These competitors also are likely to be raising the computing level of their machines.

The technological pressures, plus the demands created by foreign competitors, are putting enormous pressure on American industry to be competitive and the U.S. export control system to keep up.

"You could have a collapse of the system," said Hoydysh. "The volume [of exports of high-performance machines] will be in the thousands. Can government expand fast enough?"

However, while Hoydysh was clear on what he did not like ? the 2,000 MTOPS barrier ? he was less clear on what alternative he would prefer.

"In the short term, the solution is to raise the barrier above 2,000 MTOPS. In the long term, we are still discussing the possibilities," he said.

The situation is less grim on the broadband front, where Peter Pitsch, director of communications policy for Intel Corp., said industry stands "at the threshold of a new 'virtuous cycle' with broadband deployment." Once broadband deployment occurs, Web site designers will design more robust sites, which in turn will encourage greater electronic commerce, which in turn will fuel greater economic activity.

Before launching that virtuous cycle, however, some policy issues must be resolved. Last December, ITI and computing and telecommunications companies joined to issue "Ten Principles for the Promotion of Widespread Deployment of Advanced Telecommunications Services." In keeping with those principles, ITI will be working this year to ensure that independent information service providers get equal access to the facilities, lines and central offices they need from incumbent local exchange companies or ILECs (less technically referred to as local telephone companies), so they can provide advanced services.

The other is to eliminate regulations that undercut incentives to local phone companies to provide the necessary access. The Federal Communications Commission is considering allowing the ILECs to offer advanced services through a separate affiliate. Some ILECs would prefer to offer the services through an integrated rather than separate entity. ITI would like to relax some of the rules governing the second option, giving the ILECs an incentive to speed deployment of advanced services.

"This industry is very nascent," said Pitsch. "It's not the telephone industry. The best policy that we can have is a policy that allows everyone into the marketplace."

ITI has expressed unhappiness with an FCC conclusion that deployment is advancing in a reasonable and timely fashion, but this is based on past industrial models that don't apply in this case, according to Pitsch.

In order to give a further incentive for lawmakers to cooperate with the IT industry, Rhett Dawson, ITI's president and chief executive officer, unveiled the organization's "High-Tech Voting Guide," grading members of Congress on their support for IT-related issues.

The guide lists 25 senators (16 Republicans and nine Democrats) who received a 100 percent rating and 26 House members (14 Democrats and 12 Republicans).

Despite the industry's successful 1998 record, Phil Servidea, chairman of ITI's government relations committee, noting issues like encryption and trade relaxation that were left over from last year, thought ITI needed to do better and cited the voting guide as a means to do that.

"We have failed to effectively communicate what our industry needs," he said. "We will need to educate Congress."

Last year, IT industry advocates enjoyed success in their big three issues: reform of securities litigation to prevent class action lawsuits against nationally traded companies, a three-year moratorium on Internet taxation, and immigration reform to allow in qualified foreign workers.

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