White House to push for tech policy action in 2011

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration will push Congress next year to move ahead on critical technology policies, the White House’s technology chief said on Thursday.

A patron uses his laptop while having an espresso at the Silver lake location of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles October 19, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The White House will work with Congress on bills dealing with on patent reform, privacy and corporate taxation, said Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at a technology forum hosted by the Politico news service.

The administration needs Congress to help it reach its policy goals, he said.

“Much of the policy work is really contingent on congressional action or budgetary action, so you’re by default waiting for some bigger stakeholders to participate,” he said.

Chopra said he wants to find a balance between long-term policy goals, such as expanding high-speed Internet access and increasing government transparency and results that he can get in 90-day timeframes.

Republicans will take the House of Representatives in January, while Democrats will remain in control of the Senate. The divided Congress has led many political watchers to predict two years of legislative gridlock.

Lawmakers at the Politico forum echoed Chopra’s hope for movement on technology legislation.

“Spectrum, (universal service fund) reform, privacy issues -- those kinds of things we need to work on and we can work on in a bipartisan fashion,” Republican Senator John Ensign said at the forum.

Online privacy, which Congress has debated in one form or another for more than a decade, is being hailed as a consumer protection issue as more companies collect personal data and use it in advertising or sell it to third parties without telling people that they are doing it.

Patent reform, another recurring theme, has the backing of technology investors who say the system is not keeping up with the fast pace of software development and other innovations.

Ensign, ranking member of the Commerce subcommittee on communications, technology and the Internet, was less optimistic about prospects for Net neutrality legislation.

The underlying idea is that high-speed and mobile Internet providers should not give preferential treatment to content providers that pay for faster transmission.

Companies like Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc and Comcast Corp have lobbied against this because they say it would hurt their profits.

At stake is how quickly handheld devices, like Research in Motion Ltd’s BlackBerry and Apple Inc’s iPhone, can receive and download videos and other content.

“Parties are not going to agree on Net neutrality,” Ensign said, adding that there is no need for it.

Democrat Anna Eshoo, a candidate for ranking member of the House communications subcommittee next year, disagreed.

“I’m very concerned about what the Internet is going to look like,” she said at the forum. “Is it only going to be the realm for those that are giants in the industry? Is it going to remain open and unfettered?”

Still, she said, Congress likely will avoid the issue because of a lack of consensus.

Reporting by Jasmin Melvin. Editing by Robert MacMillan