Capital Roundup

Commission Comings and Goings<@VM>Y2K Woes<@VM>A Bill for E-Signatures<@VM>Still SAFE<@VM>A Wallop from Wallop

Jim Barksdale

By David Silverberg

After lengthy wrangling over the membership of the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the Senate majority leader, announced April 27 that Jim Barksdale, CEO of Netscape, had agreed to give up his seat. His place will be taken by Delna Jones, county commissioner of Washington County, Ore.

Under the terms of the Internet Tax Freedom Act passed last year, the commission will study and then recommend ways to tax electronic commerce during a three-year moratorium on Internet taxation. The commission's first meeting is scheduled tentatively for June 21-22 in Williamsburg, Va.
The Y2K Act, S-96, came within a hairsbreadth of a full Senate vote April 29. However, its sponsors, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., fell eight votes short of a cloture motion that would have cut off debate and made the Senate vote on the measure.

As of this writing, its sponsors are reconsidering their strategy and their next moves.

The bill limits liabilities of companies for Y2K failures provided they make a good-faith effort to fix problems arising from the millennium bug.

During a three-day debate, the bill was the subject of extensive negotiation, several rewritings and numerous amendments.

Wyden, whose state is home to numerous IT companies including Intel Corp., came in for considerable criticism from his Democratic colleagues for joining with McCain on the bill.
Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., has introduced the Digital Signature Act, HR 1572, requiring the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop minimum technical standards and guidelines for federal agencies to follow when using digital signature technologies.

The act also would create a panel in the Commerce Department to help establish national standards for digital signatures.

Gordon introduced the bill with two co-sponsors, and it was referred to the House Science Committee.

The Security and Freedom through Encryption Act, HR 850, introduced by Rep. Robert Goodlatte, R-Va., having made it through the House Judiciary Committee, now has been referred to the House Armed Services, Commerce and Intelligence committees for consideration. Action of the committees is due no later than July 2.

Last year the bill made it through all the committees only to be stopped by the Rules Committee. This year, the Rules Committee Chairman, Rep. David Drier, R-Calif., is one of the 249 co-sponsors.

Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative think tank headed by former senator Malcolm Wallop, has declared an initiative opposing lobbying efforts by America Online and the Baby Bells to obtain access to cable delivery of Internet services.

"Having failed to invest in [high-speed] broadband technologies when they had the chance, AOL, the Baby Bells and their allies are now forced to hire lobbyists to pressure the government into hamstringing competitors who have developed superior products that are up to 100 times faster than AOL's," Wallop announced in a press statement.

Wallop said the Frontiers would oppose the AOL and telephone effort, calling it "a slippery slope to 'e-taxes' and politically motivated regulation of Web content."

In reply, Richard Bond, co-chairman of the OpenNET Coalition, a corporate coalition of Internet service providers, telephone companies and content providers, said" "Sen. Wallop is certainly entitled to his opinion, but he's coming to it completely backward. We find it hard to imagine how what we're proposing is anti-competitive and anti-consumer.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if left unfettered, cable is potentially going to have an Internet gatekeeper monopoly," Bond said.

As an example, Bond noted that if a merger takes place between TCI and MediaOne, it will control 60 percent of the cable television market, Internet service providers will be adversely affected, and consumers will pay higher prices.

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