Another Election, Another Congress, Another Set of Questions

By Pike, George H. | Information Today, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Another Election, Another Congress, Another Set of Questions


Pike, George H., Information Today


The historic elections of 2010 are now in the rearview mirror, and the lame-duck session of the 111th Congress is officially underway. The Republican Party is gearing up to take over the House of Representatives, and a nearly equal balance will exist in the Senate as the 112th Congress begins.

Much of the post-election focus of commentators and pundits has targeted the deficit, tax cuts, and healthcare reform. But Net Neutrality, patent reform, copyright penalties, internet privacy, and other issues that will (likely) remain unresolved as the lame-duck sessions end will re-emerge on Congress' agenda in 2011.

Committee Chairs

Each time a new session of Congress begins, the majority party in each chamber selects the chairs of the various working committees. These committees are where the bulk of the legislative work actually takes place. The committee chair has a great deal of power over whether and which bills proceed rapidly through the committee, proceed slowly through the committee, or do not proceed at all. With the election establishing a Republican majority in the House, all of the committee chairs will be new and Republican. In the Senate, the Democrats will again select the committee chairs, so there will be fewer changes there. However, the near-even balance in the Senate as a whole will be reflected in the makeup of the committees, so membership between the parties will be nearly even.

Several members of Congress who have been at the forefront of information and technology issues were defeated in the last election. Among the more prominent members who will not be returning are Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chair of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and a prominent voice on copyright and technology issues. In the Senate, the loss of three senators (Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; Arlen Spector, D-Pa.; and Ted Kaufman, D-Del.) is expected to have an impact on technology and privacy issues.

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Net Neutrality

Looking at specific issues, Net Neutrality may be the most at risk in the new Congress. The issue focuses on regulations that would prevent telecommunications and broadband providers from discriminating between internet services or charging premiums for favorable access. The issue has been before both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) without resolution. The FCC's authority to act has been uncertain, but direction from Congress has since been stalled.

That delay is unlikely to change in the next Congress. Net Neutrality opponents have noted that of all the candidates for House and Senate positions who pledged to support Net Neutrality, none were elected (or re-elected). Republican leadership in the House and on House Committees is unlikely to support a regulatory scheme that would restrict market forces and business interests. Finally, the absence of a strong push in favor of Net Neutrality in the 111th Congress suggests that there is less interest in a push in the 112th Congress. The FCC could still act, but that may also be less likely in the absence of congressional support.

Patent Reform

Patent reform proposals have been working their way through Congress for several years now. …

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