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Forbes proposes hands-off policy

Former presidential candidate and publishing magnate Steve Forbes tells government officials gathered at ComNet '97 to leave the technology industry alone.

WASHINGTON D.C.--Leave those technology companies alone.

That was the message from former Republican presidential hopeful and publishing magnate Steve Forbes to government officials gathered here for ComNet '97, a networking show dominated by government users.

Forbes implored the government to encourage competition among technology companies by easing regulations. He warned his listeners--just as he warned the American people during his bid for the presidency last year--that the bureaucratic practices of the federal government could stymie competition and innovation in the industry.

Forbes was an unusual choice for a keynote speaker for what is normally a traditional trade show, but most attendees considered his appearance a coup for ComNet. While his stump-speech rhetoric bypassed the daily business activities of the networking professionals in the audience, he still managed to pack the hall.

The interest in his speech may indicate a broadening interest in politics in the computer industry, particularly as the government gets increasingly involved in issues that affect the phenomenal growth of the Internet.

Forbes singled out the Federal Communications Commission for a special blast of critcism. He characterised the Commission as "too timid, given the rapid change of technology."

The FCC has been the focus of the networking industry's attention since the Telecommunications Act was signed into law one year ago this week. The industry is particularly concerned that the FCC will adopt regulations that might restrict the future growth of faster access routes to the Internet.

Forbes encouraged the FCC to adopt a "free-for-all" approach to the marketplace so that bandwidth innovations from the telecommunications industry can be sped to market.

He said the FCC has been too slow in implementing provisions adopted last year to deregulate the telecommunications carriers. Forbes compared the FCC's feet-dragging to a hospital patient that has to show progress before being allowed antibiotics.

"Regulation, unfortunately, too often gets in the way or distorts things like a pretzel," he said.

Forbes also took the opportunity to tell the networking industry how important it is to the country's economic future.

"We are on the cusp of an extraordinary new era," Forbes said. "It's going to be an era that will change the way we live and the way we work."

"Some people feel this new era will leave people behind. Again, not true. You succeed most when you provide a new service that people find easy to use," he continued.

Forbes took the opportunity to hit on his familiar campaign themes: reforming the tax code and legal regulations, and streamlining government.

ComNet '97 continues through Thursday.