In the 114th Congress, tech issues could unite Republicans, Democrats on growth

Even in a city where partisanship is a way of life, there are glimmers of hope that 2015 will be a year in which Congress gets down to work on issues that drive the nation’s $1 trillion information technology economy.

That’s why representatives of nearly two-dozen state-based technology groups — including the Wisconsin Technology Council — met in Washington in mid-February to trade ideas and “talk tech” with members of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Their agenda included extending a 17-year-old ban on taxing Internet access charges; writing rules to protect an open Internet; better sharing of cybersecurity threat data; freeing unlicensed wireless spectrum for rural broadband, Wi-Fi, and more; helping keep highly skilled immigrants in the United States; and providing incentives for research, development, and private investment.

While Republicans hold a 58-seat majority in the House and a 10-seat margin in the Senate, they lack the supermajorities needed to ignore Democrats — and President Obama still holds a veto pen in the White House. That means 2015 could be a last hurrah for bipartisanship before the 2016 presidential election sucks most of the air out of the marbled rooms of Congress.

“The atmosphere can bring a new willingness to work together and finish outstanding legislative efforts,” said Elizabeth Hyman, executive vice president of TechAmerica, an industry coalition that worked to bring various state tech groups and associations to Capitol Hill.

Hyman pointed to new leadership on key committees — a category that includes several members of Wisconsin’s 10-member delegation — and a list of bills and issues that gained ground in the last session of Congress before the 2014 midterm elections. Here are examples of what the 114th Congress will debate:

The Internet Tax Freedom Act was passed in 1998 to ban federal, state, and local governments from taxing Internet access charges, as well as assessing multiple taxes on electronic commerce. The rise of the Internet as the defining economic disruptor of our time is proof enough of how well the moratorium has worked. The ban has been extended five times; Congress will be asked to make the moratorium permanent before it expires Oct. 1.

“Net neutrality” is a phrase used to describe efforts to keep the Internet operating as a data freeway versus a partial toll road, where service providers may block or slow Internet traffic when there’s too much congestion. The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to regulate the Internet much like a public utility, using rules first developed in the 1930s. Telecommunications providers say such a move will hurt their efforts to invest in the very improvements needed to keep the Internet robust for all. The FCC is expected to act soon, but Congress may step in with a plan to keep the Internet open for all businesses — large and small — while providing certainty for industry investment.

With cyberattacks on the rise, threatening government, business, and consumers alike, proposals have emerged to improve sharing of cybersecurity “threat data” with voluntary incentives that draw upon industry best practices.



Although the United States is one of the world’s most efficient users of electromagnetic spectrum to transmit radio, television, and wireless data signals, the nation is still nearing a spectrum shortage. With the demand for wireless data and images growing by leaps and bounds, Congress and the FCC are examining how to free more unlicensed spectrum — some of which is television “white spaces” — to meet demand and help bring wireless broadband service to hard-to-reach locations.

At the close of 2014, there were a reported 580,000 postings for IT jobs nationwide. Companies and institutions are having trouble finding enough workers with the right skills to perform in an industry that is never static. Bills are pending to establish adjustable, market-based caps on H1B visas for skilled immigrants and to create a visa for foreign-born students in certain science, tech, engineering, and math fields.

Some of the same tax incentives that have propelled Wisconsin’s startup economy since 2005 have been proposed at a federal level, especially for angel capital investors who often take risks on young companies. Other proposals include renewing the federal Research and Development Tax Credit, which expired at the end of 2014.

Innovation, economic growth, and job creation should comprise a trinity of bipartisan goals. Congress has a chance to put its stamp on all three before the coming presidential election supplants policy with politics.

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