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Votes are cast--time to count the issues

A Republican victory is generally considered good for big business, but it's not always so clear-cut in the high-tech world.

It's finally over: President George W. Bush claimed victory in his re-election bid on Wednesday, a win that capped a tumultuous night of election results and propelled technology and other stocks higher.

Coupled with the Republican gains in Congress, the results of the 2004 election offer the president a long-awaited opportunity to consolidate his grip on power in the nation's capital--a prospect that could, depending on the details, help or hurt the technology industry.

Aside from a few spats about offshoring early in the year, technology topics have never been a priority for either Bush or Sen. John Kerry, his Democratic rival. But this week's results ensure that attitudes in Washington, D.C., toward broadband, spectrum management, taxes and Internet telephony will line up squarely behind Republican priorities through at least the midterm elections in 2006.

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What's ahead:
With the election decided, high-tech companies may be wondering what a second Bush term means to the industry.

Bottom line:
Republicans tend to help business on free trade and tax issues, but the some tech leaders might find presidential policies lacking on privacy or stricter copyright protection.

That news, or perhaps the simple elimination of electoral uncertainty, spurred the tech-heavy Nasdaq to leap as much as 2 percent Wednesday before ending the day up just 1 percent after oil prices surged. In addition, the CNET News.com scorecard reviewing votes over nearly a decade suggests that Republican legislators tend to be tech-friendlier than their Democratic counterparts.

During the 2004 campaign, Bush called for universal broadband for all Americans by 2007, touted Wi-Fi wireless links and hydrogen fuel cells, and recommended that portions of the radio spectrum be auctioned to the highest bidder. Bush, who wants to eliminate some tech-related corporate welfare programs and is viewed as more sympathetic to free trade, also has said the R&D tax credit should be made permanent and Internet access should not be taxed.


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"Americans could see great benefits from advances in Internet telephony, nanotechnology, advanced biotechnology, RFID and next-generation broadband and wireless services," said Rick White, president of nonpartisan advocacy group TechNet. "Yet we must ensure that our public policies protect entrepreneurialism, improve our education system, encourage public and private investment in R&D and eliminate hurdles to a new era of Internet growth."

On the agenda?
Four more years could herald a renewal of the controversial Patriot Act, which Bush has strongly supported and his Justice Department would like to extend even further. Unless Congress votes to renew the law, some portions--including ones dealing with Internet surveillance and search warrants for electronic evidence--expire Dec. 31, 2005. Kerry had supported modest amendments to the law.

Another area ripe for growth under a newly invigorated Bush is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which his administration has systematically exported to other nations as part of trade deals with Australia, Singapore, and Chile and might like to expand. Kerry had expressed interest in revisiting part of that law, which has inspired take-to-the-streets protests from the geek community.

One of the biggest differences between Bush and Kerry on Internet-related issues has been the president's support for Michael Powell, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Powell has taken a mostly deregulatory approach toward voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), saying that voice communications flowing entirely over the Internet must not be subject to onerous government regulations. But in February, two Democratic commissioners dissented from the FCC's decision to remain laissez-faire on VoIP--dissent that Kerry appointees might have echoed. An FCC vote on VoIP taxation is expected next week.

Aiding Bush on Capitol Hill will be a Senate with a probable 55-person Republican majority, and a House that is slightly more Republican than before. Gone is Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who sponsored the Induce Act--reviled by tech firms for potentially affecting electronic devices like the iPod. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., the author of spam-related legislation, managed to keep her job.

On the agenda for a "lame duck" session between now and the new Congress that takes office in January: Proposals related to Internet access taxes and spyware.

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