Tauzin Takes Reins as New House Commerce Chairman
Tauzin Takes Reins as New House Commerce Chairman
Rep. Billy Tauzin
By Kerry Gildea, Contributing Writer As the new chairman of the House Commerce Committee, Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R- La., likely will push for legislation that establishes Internet privacy regulations and sets new parameters for broadband competition, congressional aides and information technology industry officials said.Elevated to the post from his assignment chairing the Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications, Tauzin replaces the now retired Rep. Thomas Bliley, R-Va., as the committee chair for the 107th Congress. Tauzin, serving his 12th term, also is the deputy majority whip. Tauzin is yet not prepared to talk specifically about his legislative agenda, spokesman Ken Johnson said Jan. 9. In general, however, Tauzin "will be very aggressive in trying to promote new opportunities for broadband providers and privacy issues," Johnson said.In the near term, the chairman is expected to hold a series of hearings investigating presidential election procedures and moves by the television networks to call the election early. But when that investigation dies down, Internet privacy will be next on his agenda, IT officials said.That issue is expected to receive similar attention in the Senate, where Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will continue chairing the Senate Commerce Committee."A lot of members are clamoring for more privacy legislation, while industry believes it is already doing a lot with self-regulation," said Jason Mahler, vice president and general counsel of the Computer and Communications Industry Association. The Washington-based trade group represents computer equipment manufacturers, software developers, telecommunications and online service providers, resellers, systems integrators and third-party vendors."Industry remains worried about what standards might be legislated. And we are worried that some members might try to 'out-privacy' others and raise penalties even higher," Mahler said.Industry representatives are hoping for the opportunity to brief Tauzin and others on their views regarding privacy regulations before too much legislation gets put on the table, Mahler said. "We think there is a lot of misunderstanding among members on what privacy might mean," he added. In some areas, privacy legislation has proven counterproductive, Mahler said. For example, there was an incident in Minnesota in which privacy regulations kept doctors from gathering data on the success rates of certain treatments and products, he said. "You can overreach with legislation," Mahler said.Tauzin in the past has done a good job of building consensus and pushing forward bipartisan and fair legislation, according to some IT officials."Congressman Tauzin is extremely conversant in these issues and artful in his command of the issues and compromise and moving strong bipartisan legislation," Ray Everett-Church, head of e-commerce privacy consultant business PrivacyClue in San Jose, Calif., said in a Jan. 9 interview.Last year, Tauzin was instrumental in helping craft a compromise on anti-spam legislation, Everett-Church said. Tauzin brought together three separate bills into one clean package that passed both his telecommunications subcommittee and then the full House, he said. The legislation died simply because there was no time left in the session to move it though the Senate, Everett-Church said.Tauzin, in his new role, is likely to push similar legislation this year that would enable consumers to take action against spammers that flood their systems and give the Internet service providers (ISPs) the right to stop spam and pursue spammers who don't comply, Everett-Church said.On the broader issue of privacy, Everett-Church said many e-business firms he deals with have a sense of inevitability that some type of privacy legislation is on the horizon. And the majority of IT firms see the benefit of some baseline protections in law for consumers, he added."I am looking to see a good deal of action on online privacy legislation this session," Everett-Church said.Last year, a lot of proposals were tabled, and no consensus was reached. "But some legislation is necessary, and we will see some of those issues debated and how far Congress will go this session," he said.Perhaps one of the top differences between Bliley and Tauzin that could shape the committee's agenda is their positions on broadband services. Tauzin, unlike Bliley, has been a strong supporter of allowing the regional phone carriers to transmit data outside of their region and carry long-distance data transmissions, which they are now barred from doing under the Telecommunications Act. Some ISPs are concerned that Tauzin will push legislation stalled in the 106th Congress to allow the regional bell operating companies to offer high-speed Internet data and backbone hub services in competition with cable companies and current backbone providers.Tauzin has said he believes his broadband deployment legislation would allow broader Internet access in rural areas, but some small ISPs are concerned they could get knocked out of the competitive market.Tauzin also has been vocal against Internet use fees. In the 106th Congress, he sponsored a bill to prohibit Internet access fees unconditionally. Tauzin vowed to work hard to ensure that such Internet access fees are never imposed.