Sweeping initiatives like elevating minimum wage and lowering prescription drug prices, not technology topics, took the forefront. What that meant was a year of largely unfinished business--or, less charitably, unfulfilled promises--for high-tech companies.
Attempts at overhauling the U.S. patent system proceeded further than ever before, with the House of Representatives backing the most significant revamp in decades. But the Senate hasn't acted yet amid lingering battles over the bill's approach, and now a vote isn't expected until 2008.
Another longtime Silicon Valley priority--bumping up the number of H-1B temporary worker visas and green cards for skilled foreign workers--once again appears destined to fail, already a casualty of a divisive immigration bill that perished earlier this year.
Post-election plans from the Democrats to require paper trails of all oft-maligned electronic voting machines used in federal races also appear to have collapsed, thanks to concerns from state election officials about the cost of implementing such a plan.
It was also a quiet year for an issue that so dominated the political debate in 2006: Net neutrality. Just after Congress opened its new session, two senators reintroduced a 2006 bill that would generally prohibit broadband operators from prioritizing Internet content, and House Democratic leaders predicted it would top their tech agenda this year. But no action has been taken on the Senate proposal; no counterpart bill has emerged in the House as of mid-December; and no congressional hearings were held, although thousands of comments on the topic poured into the Federal Communications Commission during the summer.
Still, the debate doesn't appear to be over yet: Sen. Barack Obama has pledged to enact Net neutrality laws if elected president, and reports this fall about Comcast's filtering of BitTorrent file-sharing traffic have spurred new calls for such legislation from the Hill. Rep. Edward Markey has said he plans to reintroduce a similar version of last year's House proposal, with hearings to follow, when politicians reconvene in January.
As usual, Congress did a lot of spouting off about how to manage perceived Internet perils. Hot topics this time around included foreign cybersecurity threats to U.S. government systems, terrorist cells flourishing on the Web, inadvertent file sharing through peer-to-peer networks, and sexual predators ensnaring unsuspecting youth through online social sites. And for a third time, the House passed not just one, but two, different bills aimed at deterring spyware.
Digital copyright-related moves were minimal, although the entertainment industry saw some action on its frustration with piracy on university networks, with a House panel backing a bill that would require schools to take a series of new antipiracy steps.
The year wouldn't have been complete without calling a number of technology-related companies onto the hearing-room carpet. Sirius Satellite Radio CEO Mel Karmazin was forced to defend his company's proposed buyout of XM Satellite Radio; Google and Microsoft sparred over the search giant's plans to swallow up DoubleClick; and Yahoo executives, including CEO Jerry Yang, endured a verbal lashing from members of a House panel over the company's dealings in China.
Arguably the biggest victory scored by the high-tech industry--although some would say it didn't go far enough--was Congress' last-minute renewal of an expiring ban on Internet access taxes. After some jockeying over the length and breadth of the law, both chambers agreed to extend the moratorium until 2014.
Congress also managed to get President Bush to sign off on some $34 billion's worth of new government-sponsored research, education, and teacher-training programs in the science and tech arena over the next few years. There's no guarantee, however, that Bush will approve the follow-up spending bills that would actually bankroll those programs--and, in fact, he's already warned politicians on the hefty price tag and potentially "duplicative" efforts.
Agreement reached in AT&T-BellSouth merger could set the stage for renewed action on Capitol Hill.
The new majority's early agenda lacks Silicon Valley priorities, but the industry says it's not worried yet.
Federal law makes it illegal to buy, sell or obtain personal phone records through fraudulent means; violations could yield prison time.
Rep. Rick Boucher's plans include sanctioning city-sponsored Wi-Fi, weeding out bad patents, settling Net neutrality debate.
Troubled by irregularities, they say it's urgent to enact federal laws requiring voter-verifiable records of ballots cast.
Key House Democrat, Real exec blast recent ruling that ups fees paid by Webcasters. Also: Sirius CEO grilled on proposed merger.
All American households desiring converter boxes to let analog TVs play digital broadcasts may apply for up to two $40 coupons.
Democrats, Republicans alike respond to report detailing the mishandling of requests for phone, Net and financial records.
Two years after voting for federalized ID cards, some politicians are having second thoughts about the rules.
House votes for a supposed antispyware bill that opponents say will imperil legitimate Web sites too.
Opponents of controversial law win vote in the Senate to restrict uses of forthcoming digital ID cards, signaling the political winds may have shifted.
House of Representatives panel chairman says peer-to-peer networks pose a national security threat, new laws needed.
Congress takes major step toward changes long sought by big tech companies. But there's no guarantee that proposal will become law.
Jerry Yang and lawyer are ripped by both parties over allegedly withholding key information about role in cases leading to imprisonment of Chinese online dissidents.
House approval means most consumers will continue receiving tax-free Net connection bills. President is expected to sign off before current law expires.
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