RSS - Regulations, Statutes and Standards TMC

So how will the Congressional power shift affect tech?

November 14, 2006

I can't think of a more timely and relevant way to kick off our new RSS (Regulations, Statutes and Services) blog than to take a look at what this election means for the Internet and telecommunications industries.

The best macro answer to this question is not so much an answer but an introduction. The shift of Congressional power from the Republicans to the Democrats isn't going to mean all that much.

That perception, I must admit, runs counter to the engrams long imbued in the way that a large number of corporate types and entrepreneurs reflexively regard the two main U.S. political parties; the Republicans as the party of free enterprise and entrepreneurship; the Democrats as the part of regulation.

In fact, while bounding around the corridors at the IPSCON Internet service provider show the Wednesday after election day, I heard more than one concerned ISP mumble the words "Pelosi" and "Socialist" as epithets, and in close proxmity to each other at that.

If it were only so simple. As with so many other matters of life, the best answer to the question I posed in this post title is, "it depends."

If you are an Internet content provider, you may like the Congressional power shift. The winds are now bringing the presence of pro net neutrality-advocate Rep. Ed Markey to the chair's post of the quite vocal Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. It defies logic that Markey won't try to revive net neutrality legislation that was effectively bottled up in the last Congress.

Now if you are a carrier, though, your main concern will be the cost of ongoing lobbying and the distractions involved in stating your case once again.

The "worst-case" scenario for the anti-regulatory crowd is that these issues will be debated in relative obscurity, and that any enabling legislation is not going to be a top priority for the new, Democratic majority.

In fact, it is by no means clear that Pelosi and her minions will refuse to listen to high tech's concerns. According to Cisco's own Tech Policy blog:

"In a recent BusinessWeek article, Mrs. Pelosi said that Cisco CEO John Chambers will likely be one of the industry leaders that she will "consult regularly" with. So, hopefully, the technology industry will be well represented within the new Congressional agenda."

Ted Hearn- Washington, D.C. bureau chief of cable television (and by extension high speed cable broadband Internet) trade publication Multichannel News for longer than I can remember, believes that Speaker Pelosi's imperatives lie elsewhere, and that in the U.S. Senate, institutional safeguards will mitigate the risk of too much regulatory action likely to bother broadband Internet service providers.

Ted's sources note that in both the House and the Senate, the Democrats achieved a majority without significant campaigning about net neutrality and other regulatory issues. As a result, other priorities like health care reform and Iraq are likely to dominate the agenda.

And what if something net neutrality-related should slip thru the House? Well, there's always the Senate.

"Institutional forces would assist cable if the industry wound up needing to block bad legislation," Ted writes. "House leaders can ram a bill through the chamber, but the same is not true in the Senate, where a 60-vote supermajority is needed to quell filibustering by minority opponents. Democrats will have a 51-49 (Senatorial) margin in the 110th Congress."

And then there's the matter of the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Look for a more active veto pen.

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