The week's news: Tech's the talk of the Hill

The House passes a compromise bill to allow more skilled foreigner worker visas while also advancing controversial Net content rules.

4 min read
Amid all-consuming presidential impeachment proceedings, the House found time to pass a compromise bill expanding the number of skilled foreign worker visas while a committee advanced controversial Net content regulation, but Net tax legislation stalled in the Senate.

Tech legislation to the fore
After a late-night deal with the White House, the House passed legislation that will increase the number of highly skilled foreign workers allowed into the country each year while laying out some assurances that U.S. workers won't be displaced by H1-B visa holders. Following negotiations with Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Michigan), the Clinton administration agreed to boost the number of H1-B visas to 115,000 from 65,000 in 1999 and 2000, in return for increased Labor Department monitoring. The Senate is considered likely to pass the Workforce Improvement and Protection Act, which cleared the House by a 288-133, since it passed similar legislation in May.

In other legislative doings, the House Commerce Committee passed a controversial Internet content bill that would slap commercial sites with stiff penalties for giving minors access to "harmful material"--up to $50,000 or six months in jail. Rep. Mike Oxley's (R-Ohio) Child Online Protection Act now faces a full House vote as the first piece of legislation to address Net content standard since the Communications Decency Act was ruled unconstitutional last summer. Opponents say it's ironic in the wake of the House's rushing to post the sexually explicit Starr report on the Net.

The Senate was slated to consider amendments to the Internet Tax Freedom Act passed by the House in June, which imposes a three-year ban on "discriminatory" Net taxes, but the bill was pulled from the schedule.

As if to recognize high tech's role in Washington this week, President Clinton made an appearance at a TechNet fundraiser on Friday night.

Busy Microsoft
According to evidence not yet made public in the high-profile lawsuit between Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, Redmond so feared that Java would undermine its Windows franchise that its highest executives cemented partnerships with influential companies to prevent Sun Microsystems from getting them first. Targets included Metrowerks, Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Fujitsu.

In addition, Microsoft explored ways to talk its most important ally, Intel, into dropping work relating to Java media technology Intel was collaborating on with Sun. In July, citing "changing Java market conditions," the leading chipmaker quietly abandoned work on its Intel JMedia Player, a software developer kit Intel had spent at least 14 months developing. Silicon Graphics also quietly backed away from the project.

Back to business
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of credit card numbers, home addresses, and phone numbers were exposed for months through a gaping security hole left open by software used to run many small Internet auction sites, raising serious questions about the effectiveness of online safeguards. Administrators of several of the sites secured their systems.

Intel will cut 675 jobs from a recently acquired Massachusetts plant, in a move separate from its earlier goal of reducing headcount by some 3,000. Graphics chipmaker Cirrus Logic also said it would slash its capacity and eliminate as many as 500 jobs, while taking restructuring charges of up to $500 million.

IBM will have to discontinue its line of Intel-compatible processors as a result of the termination of its foundry agreement with National Semiconductor.

Nvidia, a rising star in the graphics chip market, was hit with yet another patent infringement lawsuit, this time from 3Dfx, over use of "multitexturing" technology.

Rumors continued to swirl that Cisco Systems will acquire Ciena, in the aftermath of Ciena's failed merger with Tellabs and the company's subsequent stock drop.

iMac hits the big time
Apple Computer's iMac was the second-best selling PC in August, earning 7.1 percent of all sales despite being available for only 17 days. Apple's overall share jumped 6 points to 13 percent, good for third place.

A start-up backed by South Korean PC giant Trigem and display maker Korean Data Systems is planning to usher in the $399 PC era next month with three ultra-low-cost systems.

Advanced Micro Devices released a 300-MHz K6 processor for notebooks, a move that should advance the slow but steady march toward low-priced portables. The $229 chip is hundreds of dollars less than Intel's 300-MHz Pentium II.

Also of note
Microsoft will go after the server application market beginning next month ? Lotus cut upgrade prices on Notes and Domino, and launched a program for customers of rival products ? online auctioneer eBay rose 163 percent on its first day of public trading, nearly tripling its share price in ending a month-long IPO dry spell ? the next day, Barnesandnoble.com said it would file to go public ? Dell teamed up with AT&T WorldNet, SBC Communications, and Excite to offer Net access on a home and small office PC line ? President Clinton's videotaped testimony about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky hit the Internet, but sites held up OK.