The Digital Dirty Dozen: The Most Destructive High‐​Tech Legislative Measures of the 107th Congress

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The past year was a difficult one for the high-technologyand telecommunications sectors ofthe U.S. economy. Massive layoffs, plungingstock prices, dismal earning reports, bankruptcies,and a host of other problems plagued thismarket. Market mania and the general economicdownturn were primary causes of the tech sector'swoes. Once bad times hit, overinflated techstocks experienced a meteoric fall.

It is worth considering whether some of thetech sector's troubles can be linked to the uncertaintycaused by the threat of increasing regulation.Whereas legislative attitudes in previous sessionsof Congress were hands-off in nature, theyear 2001 saw policymakers introduce hundredsof bills that deal with tech policy matters.

Although very few of those bills were actuallypassed, the tech sector finds itself at an importantcrossroads: Will policymakers follow a hands-offmodel that stresses humility and regulatoryrestraint when dealing with cyberspace, leavingmost important decisions to market forces? Orwill they revert to the command-and-controlmodel that has long governed the telecom sector,with regulators molding the industry throughendless intervention in order to satisfy a publicinterest that they themselves define?

As shown in this review of our picks for the 12most destructive pieces of technology legislationintroduced in the 107th Congress, there is goodevidence that policymakers--whether throughconscious design or not--are adopting the telecomregulatory paradigm for the tech sector. Itappears that the tech sector may be pigeonholedinto that paradigm simply because it offers afamiliar set of rules and a bank of regulatoryagencies that can be activated on command.

If that happens, it will be a grave blow to theInternet sector. Policymakers would be wise toreject this paradigm and instead let the Internetand cyberspace evolve with minimal federalintrusion and regulatory interference.

Adam D. Thierer

Wayne Crews is director of technology policy and Adam Thierer is director of telecommunications studies at the Cato Institute.