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Congressional leaders promise action on tech

Federal lawmakers are ready to help the technology industry solve its problems--at least some of the issues.

LAS VEGAS--Federal lawmakers are ready to help the technology industry solve its problems--at least some of the issues.

That was the consensus from eight U.S. senators and representatives gathered Friday for a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show. Congressional leaders vowed concerted action on some hot-button tech issues, but warned attendees not to expect too much.

Some of the most vigorous debate focused on trade policy, with speakers describing a balancing act between encouraging free international trade and preventing an exodous of U.S. jobs to overseas locations.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said misguided concerns about jobs are setting the agenda now. "What we're seeing is a continuing assault on free trade," he said, adding that some lawmakers "want to punish companies that do business offshore."

"We've been in defense all year," Davis said. "The AFL-CIO is out there--they're taking book on this."

But Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., warned that fellow free-trade Republicans shouldn't make the mistake of thinking the jobs issue isn't real. "There's some realities out there that hurt Americans," he said. "There's a beginning of the erosion of the middle class in this country."

Debate was more unified on intellectual property issues, with lawmakers saying that while Congress will continue to support strong copyright protection, media industries need to come up with their own solutions to file-swapping and other issues.

Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., joined others in criticizing the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for suing alleged music swappers, calling the RIAA's legal tactics heavy-handed and against the intent of U.S. copyright laws, including the controversial Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

"The fundamental problem with the approach of the RIAA took is that it was based on legislation that created special property rights," Sununu said. "Suddenly, you had a private entity that's able to issue subpoenas, which is unprecedented."

"That's not what the DMCA was intended to do," he said. "We can't be writing legislation that gives holders of certain types of intellectual property special rights...We can't carve out special legislation to give special powers to certain types of content."

Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, said it's up to content creators to come up with business models that accommodate modern technology and attitudes. "I don't agree you're going to get teenagers and young people to believe they're doing something immoral" in file swapping, he said. "The industry has to decide on a different model."

Lawmakers also spoke in support of moratoriums on taxing the Internet, with Sen. George Allen, R-Va., saying lawmakers need to be vigilant against efforts by state and local authorities to grab a chunk of broadband service fees.

Sununu said those same force are hungry to take a bite out of the emerging market for Internet-based telephone service. "I think the most important policy issue we'll be dealing with over the next few months is voice over IP," he said. Sununu said Congress' job is "to try to protect it from taxation, to define it as an information service, so the technology can grow."