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Post-election tech-policy forecast: Nothing

By Rob Pegoraro

A few dozen Americans found out last night that they're losing their jobs. That's about the difference the election will make in tech policy.

As Ezra Klein wrote at greater length this morning, Republican control of the House combined with a continued Democratic majority in the Senate (I didn't write "control" because nobody controls the upper house anymore) in the current political climate is a recipe for very little getting done.

So if anything's going to happen with the technology-related political issues I've noted here--the broken patent system, net neutrality, your privacy online, or just the way the convoluted tax code has turned into a protection racket for the makers of tax-prep software--you're better off looking to regulatory agencies or the courts than to Congress.

Those other actors can do a fair amount by themselves (note to the Federal Communications Commission: Now it really is up to you all to do something about net neutrality), but the changes they can accomplish on their own tend to be smaller and more easily reversed.

(12:37 p.m. Cecilia Kang's latest post suggests that we could see bipartisan movement on Internet privacy. But I'll believe a bill increasing government regulation over a sector of the economy when I see it passed by a House now occupied by many more small-government types.)

There is one Congressional firing that I want to note by name: that of Rep. Rick Boucher (D.-Va.), defeated by Republican Morgan Griffith. Boucher has been consistently clueful about tech topics for far longer than I've been writing this column. In recent years, Boucher often failed to translate his good intentions into legislation, but he knew what he was talking about and didn't pluck talking points from the briefings of Hollywood lobbyists. That's more than I can say for a great many legislators.

The fact that you had tech-policy people who rarely agree with each other on anything agreeing that his departure is a setback should tell you something.

Have a different forecast for tech policy? The comments are yours.

By Rob Pegoraro  | November 3, 2010; 10:29 AM ET
Categories:  Policy and politics  
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The situation reminds me of Will Rogers’ observation that “People say Calvin Coolidge is a do-nothing president. Well, nothing is what the people want done, and Coolidge can do it as well as anybody.”

Posted by: 54Stratocaster | November 3, 2010 1:11 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for noting Rick Boucher's intelligent public service on tech issues Rob, which -- yes, before you started -- included proposing and co-authoring the legislation that opened up the Internet to commerce. He also, among many other things, brought fiber and municipal Wi-Fi to his own district when others were clueless. Tech people of all political persuasions were heartbroken to see him lose this election.

Posted by: rschwartz1 | November 3, 2010 3:00 PM | Report abuse

I have been working with legislators and staff for far longer than I will admit here - certainly longer than Rob's fine column. Rick Boucher is the finest example of a gentleman centrist Democrat. Coming from a rural district, Rick "got" the computer and then the Internet revolution. He worked hard not only with legislators across the aisle, but with those in his party representing interests that wanted to regulate technology Rick always worked hard to reach reasonable compromise, but ones that let innovation flourish. Rick will be sorely missed.

Posted by: jburger | November 3, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Not only has Cong. Boucher been a leader on tech issues, but he has also been a champion of libraries both in his district and across the country. From his first days in Congress, he understood the importance of ensuring access to information and services for his constituents and beyond, and how network technologies could make this happen more effectively. In addition, he has worked tirelessly to ensure that fair use and other library interests were protected and strengthened in the digital environment. We will miss him as will many others.

Posted by: padler1 | November 3, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

Congressman Boucher displayed political courage rare in Washington by taking copyright policy positions opposed by the entertainment industry. Although his views were pro-consumer, copyright policy is an esoteric enough subject that his consumer-friendly stance did not win him many votes in his district -- just the enmity of Hollywood. The path of least resistance would have been to just nod in agreement with the talking points recited by the movie stars and country western singers the entertainment industry rolled out whenever they wanted to expand their copyright monopoly. Instead, Congressman Boucher studied the proposed legislation, asked hard questions at hearings, and introduced -- and secured passage of -- significant amendments. Congressman Boucher played a significant role in fashioning the legal framework that has allowed the Internet to flourish. Hopefully he will continue to participate in the development of the nation's information policy for years to come.

Posted by: jband1 | November 3, 2010 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Rep. Boucher was a breath of fresh air. He stubbornly stuck to solid principles, even in the face of heavy corporate pressure. On copyright issues, in particular, he seemed light years ahead of the copyright industry itself. Had those lobbyists worked with him rather than against him, we might have had a more progressive and productive environment for making money for authors through the Internet. Instead, his detractors managed to mostly make piracy more profitable. He will be missed.

Posted by: lautaro | November 3, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Fortunately, it would be illegal for the FCC to "do something about 'network neutrality.'" It does not have the power to regulate the Internet as if it were 19th Century telephone service. Congress never authorized it to do so, and if it tries it will be slapped down by the courts.

And that is a very, very good thing, because nothing needs to be done. There's no problem to solve. And the people have clearly indicated that they do not WANT anything to be done.

All 95 members of Congress who signed the PCCC "network neutrality" pledge, listed at, lost their seats. Could voters possibly have sent a clearer message?

Posted by: LBrettGlass | November 3, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

Interesting observation:

Every single one of the 95 FreePress/PCCC House and Senate candidates that took the pledge: "I believe in protecting net neutrality -- the First Amendment of the Internet," lost in the mid-term elections Tuesday.

Posted by: Rewrite | November 3, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Rick Boucher will move up to Northern Virginia, and challenge Frank Wolf in the 10th district in 2012. The Dulles Tech Corridor needs a representative that understands tech policy!

Posted by: washpost86 | November 4, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Bob, Jim, Jon: Nice to see you all here. (It's possible I've met the rest of you in person, but I can't tell from your usernames.)

@LBrettGlass: The aforementioned people are all lawyers with years of experience in tech-policy issues. I am quite sure they'd disagree with your interpretation of the law.

Now about those 95 candidates losing: Clearly, their net-neutrality views doomed them, as the winning candidates in each race campaigned against net-neutrality regulations, repeatedly hammering the losers on this issue in ads and debates. Oh, wait, that didn't happen.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | November 4, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I think LBrettGlass is right. The lawyers may be right on the law, but the law may be unconstitutional.

For the next two years, gridlock is good. Don't make any more laws that hurt me or my family.

The internet isn't broke. Don't fix it.

Posted by: RepealObamacareNow | November 4, 2010 11:46 AM | Report abuse

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