Advice for George Dubbya

Eight years was a long time even before the internet, and it is much longer now.

Eight years was a long time even before the internet, and it is much longer now.

Eight years is the length of time I've been writing this column. It is also the length of time that the Clinton/Gore administration has been in power (if that is a reasonable term in these days of political turmoil).

During the past eight years, the internet has moved from "never heard of it" to "the cause of the Nasdaq collapse." The internet has flourished in an environment of mostly benign regulatory neglect. There have been some exceptions, such as the Communications Decency Act, but on the whole the Clinton administration's regulators left the internet alone.

Considering what some people proposed, neglect was a good thing. But in a few cases maybe it was too much of a good thing. So herein is some unsolicited advice for the incoming Bush administration:

  • Follow traditional instincts to minimise regulations affecting the 'net.
  • Remember, the internet is not a phone company. Nor is it a cable TV company. Do not regulate it as if it were either.
  • The internet is a disruptive technology, so let it disrupt - innovation comes from this type of disruption. Do not try to "guide" the technology (to use a Newt Gingrich concept). For example, do not define internet-based phone service; let the innovators do that.
  • Do not try to protect the incumbent service providers. That would be as forward thinking as protecting the horse dung recyclers against the auto a hundred years ago. Fight against any effort anywhere to outlaw internet-based telephony.
  • Don't single out the internet for special - positive or negative - tax treatment. For example, all cross-state line sales should be treated the same whether internet, phone or letter initiated. But the rules need to be understandable and universal (at least for US-based sellers).
  • Empower the individual and remove the government from internet content control. The inevitable result of government content regulation is politically correct pabulum. Remove the current federal requirement for filtering software in schools and libraries. Let local people decide on their own.
Al Gore did help invent the internet. His legislation helped fund the research that got us to this point. But the job is not done. There is more to be invented. Federal funding for technology research should be increased and a mandate issued to fund more cutting-edge research -- research which, by definition, may fail.

Regulations are needed in one area. The previous administration licked the boots of those that sell personal information. Individual internet users must be given control over their own information with criminal penalties for companies and individuals that violate that control.

Now that the stock market seems to be over its irrational exuberance about all things internet, we have a chance to look at this collection of technologies in a calmer, more rational way. The 'net will continue to have a profound impact on the economy and society. If you let it do so.

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