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Tech Industry

Avoiding tech traps for the unwary

Bartlett Cleland, who heads the Center for Technology Freedom, says politicians should learn how technology really works before enacting policy.

    Congress and the White House are key technology players in America, but it's time for them to learn how technology really works, what drives innovation and how to get government out of the way of what could be a spectacular future. There are many issues to be addressed--issues that have been ignored. Congress tends instead to housecleaning items that are not as important as creating a permanent tax credit for research, permanently eliminating the threat of taxation discrimination against e-commerce, or even thoroughly reforming the tax code to produce an innovation economy.

    Some members of Congress do understand the importance of getting technology issues right for economic security reasons and guaranteeing that our civil rights are not eroded electronically. They have joined the Internet Caucus, a bipartisan group of members of the House and Senate who work to educate their colleagues about the promise and potential of the Internet. They are advised by the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee, an educational organization composed of nonprofit and industry representatives.

    This committee annually hosts a conference, reception and a technology exhibition known as the State of the Net Conference--which took place earlier this week. This year's conference focused on some of the most pressing concerns in the world of technology and public policy, such as global broadband, copyright, child safety and a handful of Web 2.0 issues.

    Broadband

    Ubiquitous broadband has long been desired by the technology industry, consumers and policy makers for health and safety reasons among others. The marketplace is working with new competitors, new products and great consumer demand. Government does not need to intervene with a so-called better way. Want to end innovation? Then try Net neutrality, which would only guarantee market share and monopoly-like status to powerful incumbent companies.

    Property rights
    Similarly, Congress must be skeptical of efforts to define property rights as antithetical to consumers' interests. In fact, copyright contributes mightily to the incentive to create--knowing that one can profit from one's own talents, intelligence or creativity. Those creators exploit their property themselves, contract with others to do so, sell their creations, or sometimes choose to do nothing. These fundamental rights must be protected. We cannot allow others to steal with impunity. Just the theft of movies costs our economy $20.5 billion a year, more than 141,000 jobs annually and $837 million in lost tax revenue a year--imagine adding in all the copyrighted industries.

    Business models
    One more trap for the unwary would be to curtail cutting-edge applications, technologies or business models. Overly broad language in legislation or a lack of technical understanding of how applications work can quickly eliminate companies or even budding industries. Congress must keep its hands off new advertising models or direct payment schemes that will be launched. Of course it must guard against fraud and criminality, but instead of fearing what lies ahead, Congress should marvel at the innovation.

    Child safety
    Importantly, Congress and the White House can play a pivotal role in helping to protect our nation's children--not by passing another law to make illegal what already is illegal, and not by passing more impotent content restrictions. Instead, they can demonstrate real leadership where leaders are most needed--in the home. Our elected leaders should use the profile that they enjoy on the national and local stage, in conjunction with such efforts as the Internet Caucus Advisory Committee's GetNetWise to educate parents how to protect children before predators strike. Perhaps they also could barnstorm the country with one message: "Talk with your children."

    We must insist that our leaders embrace the future. Too many have long fixated on the rung of the economic ladder on which we now stand. Instead, they should be firmly grasping the next rung--our future success. Let's hope that Congress learns what indeed drives innovation and how to get government out of the way of American's future.