New Commerce Committee chairman to influence range of IT policies

By Jennifer Jones, InfoWorld |  Government

THE NEWLY NAMED chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, Louisiana lawmaker Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, will likely put his strong stamp on IT policy in the coming Congress, according to observers.

"Fasten your seatbelts, we are in for a wild ride," said Ken Johnson, communications director for the committee, which is the renamed House Commerce Committee.

With his primary Web site written in Cajun French, Tauzin calls himself the "Cajun Ambassador to Congress." Along with his Cajun heritage, Tauzin is perhaps best known for his hand in crafting the landmark Telecommunications Act of 1996.

And until Jan. 4, Tauzin served as head of the Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade, and Consumer Protection before taking over leadership of the full committee from retiring Tom Bliley.

Tauzin is expected to continue his telecom activism and parlay that into the broadband industry as the 107th Congress gears up for its new session beginning Jan. 20.

"We have not yet articulated our agenda," Johnson said. "But in the telecom arena we certainly want to reauthorize and reform the [Federal Communications Commission]. One mistake we made when we passed the Telecom Act of 1996 was that we did not reform the agency at the same time."

Johnson said Tauzin views the FCC as a "horse-and-buggy agency trying to bridle supersonic technology." Tauzin's specific efforts to overhaul the FCC would likely include "reining in its power concerning merger review," Johnson said.

Meanwhile, Richard Delaney, president of Washington-based Delaney Policy Group, predicted a stepped-up role for Congress in broadband-related issues. "With Billy Tauzin replacing Tom Bliley, we will certainly see big changes in terms of the committee's focus on broadband and broadband access," he said.

Specifically, Tauzin also is expected to weigh in on behalf of the Baby Bell companies struggling to get their data transport and Internet efforts out from under current regulations that keep those companies from providing long-distance service.

Johnson confirmed that Tauzin might move in such a direction. "We are going to take some bold steps to try to jumpstart competition in the broadband market. And one way we want to do that is to unshackle the Baby Bells from their regulatory burdens and allow them to compete immediately with the AOL-Time Warners of the world," he said.

Other big-ticket technology items likely to appear frequently on the Commerce Committee agenda include online privacy.

Last year, Tauzin held hearings on online privacy, coming down particularly hard on practices at the federal government.

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