Some tech issues may move forward in split Congress

Tech firms and lawmakers voice different tech priorities during a policy forum, however

By , IDG News Service |  Security

Technology issues focused on growing the U.S. economy and creating jobs can move through a divided Congress next year, if lawmakers can set aside controversial issues such as network neutrality, some congressional observers said Thursday.

Starting in January, Republican will own a majority in the House of Representatives, while Democrats will control the Senate and the White House. While that's a recipe for gridlock on many issues, some tech issues could be exceptions, said Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a tech-focused think tank.

From 1994 to 2000, Republicans controlled Congress and a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president, yet several major pieces of tech-related bills passed during that time, Atkinson noted during a tech policy forum sponsored by newspaper Politico and Qualcomm. Legislation passing during that period included the Telecommunications Act, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Electronic Signature Act, and Congress passed new high-skill immigration rules and significantly increased money for tech-related research.

"There's a whole lot of things where President Clinton and the Republican Congress worked together," Atkinson said. "I don't think there's an inherent reason why these things can't work."

It's unclear, however, even if tech groups can agree on priorities for Congress in 2011. Representatives of Google, IBM and Dell, as well as Atkinson, voiced support for different priorities during the policy forum.

Instead of focusing on controversial issues, including the often-partisan argument over proposed net neutrality rules, Congress should focus on tech-related issues with broad support, including renewing a research and development tax credit, expanding high-skill immigration and expanding research funding at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and other agencies, Atkinson said.

Speaking earlier, Senator John Ensign, a Nevada Republican, also called on Congress to scrap the net neutrality debate and focus on areas of agreement.

But Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights group and supporter of strong net neutrality rules, said Atkinson and Ensign are wrong to dismiss efforts to prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.

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