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Executive Summary

Antitrust

Lawmakers: Microsoft Has Been More Responsible

Five years ago, Microsoft settled its antitrust case with the Justice Department. Since then, the company has won favor with some lawmakers who say the company is acting more responsibly in the software marketplace. While the high-tech giant maintains its dominance in the market for computer-operating systems, Microsoft "appears to be cognizant of its obligations to adhere to the mandates of antitrust law," said Wisconsin Democrat Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee. From Kohl's perspective, the most significant step Microsoft has taken was unveiling guiding principles for developing its Windows system. That framework "can ensure a vibrant and competitive computer software market for years to come," he said. Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee, whose Washington state district is home to the company, said Microsoft is "more sensitive to concerns of industry and government regulators" and is more sophisticated about "how their competitors use regulation against them." See Technology Daily's special package for more retrospectives on the Microsoft case.

 

Trade

Tech, Entertainment Groups Want Action On Trade

The Consumer Electronics Association this week joined the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America in urging congressional leaders to pursue a strong trade agenda this year. The groups sent a letter to House and Senate leaders as CEA President, and CEO Gary Shapiro emphasized trade at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. While sales of electronic gadgets are projected to top $171 billion this year, Shapiro warned that the industry's success is not guaranteed. Innovation can be slowed, products can be priced out of reach, competition can be choked and services can be restricted. "Never before have I been this concerned that some in our country might hurt our leadership of the digital revolution," he said. "Storm clouds are gathering." The letter asks lawmakers to pass pending trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, and to renew trade-negotiating authority for the president.

Trade

 

Official Backs Reduced Tariffs For Tech Products

The Consumer Electronics Association has a key ally in trying to reduce foreign tariffs on technology products: U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab. "If there were ever an industry where you see the very, very clear convergence of the benefits of free trade, of free markets and of the protection of intellectual property, this is it," she told reporters at CES. Trade agreements involving Colombia, Panama and South Korea are pending, and there is discussion about a trade pact for electronics goods under the current round of global trade negotiations via the World Trade Organization. Schwab warned of "threats on the horizon" to roll back some of the benefits of the WTO's Information Technology Agreement, which lifts duties on high-tech goods. Schwab said U.S. imports and exports worth $800 billion involving the countries would be impacted by the deals. "You're talking about a big chunk of change here."

Telecom

Panel To Probe Martin's Leadership At The FCC

The House Energy and Commerce Committee announced an investigation into charges that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has short-circuited the commission's regulatory procedures and made the process less transparent to advance various initiatives. In a letter to Martin, committee Chairman John Dingell, D-Mich., and ranking Republican Joe Barton of Texas said they have formalized an unofficial inquiry outlined in a previous letter Dingell sent to the regulatory chief. On Dec. 3, Dingell wrote that Martin appeared to have bypassed procedures designed to ensure transparency in FCC decisions. Dingell pointed to a failure to post proposed rules in time for public comment or review by skeptical commissioners. Martin has been under fire from commission Democrats and from Congress for his effort to relax media-ownership rules. An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the investigation but pointed to Martin's written response to Dingell's Dec. 3 letter. In that letter, Martin defended his tenure.

On The Hill

 

GOP Lawmakers Blast Democrats' Tech Policy Record

A trio of Republicans blasted the Democratic-led Congress for not doing enough critical technology policy work in 2007. They predicted that the second session of the 110th Congress, the first led by Democrats since 1994, will be equally unproductive. "If you can't get it done when you're fresh and you are the new sheriff in town," the likelihood of passing meaningful bills during the second year is slim, said Joe Barton of Texas, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking Republican. The upcoming session will be marked by a sharpening and defining of issues already in play but there will be no real movement, said Tom Davis of Virginia, the ranking Republican of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Leadership from the White House is "the only thing" that could move the ball forward, California Rep. Darrell Issa said, but that won't happen in the final year of the administration.

Budget

New Rules Curb But Don't End R&D Earmarks

New transparency rules make it easier to track earmarks in the fiscal 2008 budget, but they didn't end the practice. The numbers show $939 million in research and development earmarks in the fiscal 2008 omnibus budget bill, which did not include defense spending. While fiscal 2007 saw a virtual moratorium on earmarks because Congress cleared a stopgap budget rather than traditional spending bills, the fiscal 2008 numbers show Congress did live up to its promise to curb R&D earmarks. The number had climbed to $1.5 billion in fiscal 2006 for federal budgets excluding the Defense Department. The Defense Department had the most earmarks for fiscal 2008, $3.5 billion of the $77.8 billion in R&D funding that passed as part of a separate budget bill. In the measure covering the other departments and agencies, the biggest R&D earmarks were found in the Agriculture and Energy departments.

Politics

Chamber Plans To Be Active In 2008 Hill Races

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce vowed to get more involved in congressional elections in 2008 than ever before. Chamber CEO Tom Donohue said the business organization with 3 million members is building grassroots teams of activists in 144 pivotal districts. "We'll be very, very engaged in this election," Donohue said. He estimated that the chamber spent $22 million during the 2006 election and said it likely will spend more this year to target races and promote candidates "who understand how fundamentally important a growing economy is to everything we value in our society." Donohue said it is more critical than ever that policymakers enact good economic measures. He and his chief lobbyist outlined their goals for the next legislative session. Donohue said the priorities impacting business are failing schools, crumbling roads, rising health and energy costs, trade and tax issues, and intellectual property protection.

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