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High-Tech Senate switch will have wide impacts on high-tech

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Who in the West Coast tech community could have expected a Vermont senator to register on our Richter scale?

It seems James Jeffords’ decision to quit the Republican Party and become an independent in the U.S. Senate will have repercussions for the tech community here and nationwide. That is according to John C. McCarthy, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

With Democrats now a majority in the Senate, committee leadership will shift. McCarthy said in a May 24 research brief that people with a stake in high-tech may want to watch several committees.

Notable among these is the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Formerly chaired by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., it will now be headed by Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C.

The Forrester analyst said the “business skeptical” Hollings may look favorably on Internet privacy legislation that business groups have said would cost them dearly.

Among other things, proposed legislation deals with the collection of personal information from computer users, and the subsequent use of that information.

One organization that has sounded the alarm over such laws is the Association for Competitive Technology, an IT trade group (which McCarthy notes has backing from Microsoft Corp.).

ACT released a statement last month saying U.S. companies would pay between $9 billion and $36 billion to modify their Web sites to comply with proposed privacy laws. The laws will hit small businesses especially hard, the Washington-based group said.

With the musical chairs in Senate committees, Hollings may also leave his mark on broadband.

Forrester’s McCarthy noted Hollings is “a perennial Bell antagonist,” referring to the Bell operating companies. And he noted Hollings’ attitude differs from that of House Commerce Committee Chairman W.J. “Billy” Tauzin, R-La., who has a more hands-off attitude toward the regional phone companies. Several published reports say Tauzin has been trying to lift regulations that prevent the Baby Bells from providing high-speed Internet service. The analyst suggested Hollings might force his House counterpart to compromise.

McCarthy also said federal e-government services may get a boost as Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., replaces Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., as chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. Lieberman, incidentally, authored legislation this year to improve e-government services.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, formerly chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, will also be a panel to watch, the analyst says. But as of Memorial Day weekend its leadership had not been determined, according to one published report.

Send high-tech news to Graves via e-mail at bgraves@sdbj.com.


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