A new year, new congress, and new laws?

Written by Brett Thomas

December 29, 2006 | 16:03

Tags: #broadband #congress #neutrality #senate

As we head into 2007, there seem to be a lot of potential changes on the horizon. One of the biggest is in the United States Congress, which is changing hands from Republican control (for twelve solid years) to Democrats when it meets again in January. Government policy in the US has a lot to do with how the world gets its info, so PC World was kind enough to write up a little summary of possible things to look forward to.

First up on the list is a net neutrality issue. In the US, internet providers would like to boost their own traffic, and so want to be able to promote sites that are using their internet services. That means that sites that don't use them could actually see their allowed bandwidth reduced or even blocked entirely - this concept could generate a huge pay-to-play issue. Republicans staunchly supported the measure as the rights of a business, and the vote in 2006 was expected to be straight down party lines.

At the time, Democrats used a stall tactic to put the bill out of commission. This time around, it's rumoured that they could push for a bill that bans selective bandwidth entirely and therefore stop the debate. However, it's likely that Republicans will give it the same fate as their own bill met - one Republican staffer even said as much anonymously. If it did pass, it would essentially turn internet into a public utility, which could have considerable benefits.

Another big issue this year is patent reform. It's a little more grey than the neutrality issue, as there is no clear winner or loser. Everybody is hoping that patents could be made a bit harder to get, and that they would require more specific declaration of what technologies are being covered. The Supreme Court is already stepping into the ring, so it looks like there could be some genuine headway on this.

Also in the patent law debate, many bigger companies are banding together in hopes to limit injunctions on their products. There have been several scenarios in 2005 and 2006 where very small inventers who never had the ability to bring their ideas to market in the first place have asked for big companies to be prevented from releasing already finished products, often for one small, trivial bit of code. For instance, in 2006, Ebay was threatened with an injunction for its "Buy it Now" feature, though thankfully the courts refused.

Of course, there are many other potentials floating around aside from these two topics. Things like Municipal Wi-Fi (which internet companies are lobbying to ban), government technology subsidies for lower-income areas, and even highly-skilled migrant visas are all being looked into. Whether much, if anything, comes from these has yet to be seen - but expect 2007 to be a legal firestorm in the technology sector, even if nothing actually gets burned up.

Got a thought on the year ahead? Any legislation you're particularly concerned with on either side of the pond? Tell us your thoughts in our forums.
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