Tech Bytes – Tid Bits in Tech News: Gore Walks the Technology Plank on Democratic Platform

The platform Democratic delegates will adopt this week places great emphasis on praising the Internet and New Economy, but fails to offer policy recommendations to ensure the continued success and development of the new economy. The platform contrasts sharply to that of the Republican Party, which calls for a permanent ban on Internet access charges and a three-year moratorium on discriminatory Internet taxes. The Democratic platform contains no mention of either tax, although it does oppose duties and tariffs on international e-commerce.

In a recent interview, Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) chastised the Republicans for their moratorium language. “What Democrats are starting to rally around is a better way to collect (Internet) taxes that would put everyone on an equal playing field,” Landrieu said. Her conception of a “better way” would include discriminatory taxes on remote sellers to “keep the firemen and policemen working.” The notion that basic local services will cease to exist without discriminatory taxation is not only false, but so incendiary that it breaks the permissible bounds of rational discourse. That the Democrats would “rally around” such a premise is indicative of their unwillingness to enter a reasonable discussion on the issue.

The Democratic platform reveals substantive differences between the parties on key technology policy issues. People should stop listening to the sound bites and start reading the platforms.

It is also worthy of note that the Democrats’ platform calls for a crusade towards universal Internet access—“We must not rest until Internet access is universal”—but fails to address that which most contributes to restricting access: taxation. By failing to call for an end to the Federal Excise Tax and a permanent ban on Internet access taxes, it seems that the Democrats may not be as serious about universal access as they would like to appear.

In addition to these shortcomings, the platform also advocates regulation that could cripple the New Economy. The section that calls for an “Electronic Bill of Rights for this electronic age” would burden American consumers with anti-technological and contradictory regulations. In language that mirrors the FTC’s “Fair Information Practices,” the platform calls for online disclosure, choice, access, and security. No specifics are discussed, but the “rights” clearly imply that the Democrats believe that government is better fit to protect privacy than private-sector technologies.

This section is particularly troubling for consumers because it favors new laws over private sector solutions and big businesses over smaller competitors. Privacy laws that take the place of products such as Microsoft’s new Internet Explorer 5.5, Privada Network 2.0, and Novell’s Digital Me software, discourage innovation and marginalize the role of consumers. The success of businesses should be decided by consumers in the marketplace, not by bureaucrats and executives in smoke-filled rooms.

Similarly, privacy “rights” help big businesses who are little affected by compliance costs that could bankrupt their smaller competitors. Consumers will be deprived of products and choices if these regulations are implemented.

Speaking at a September, 1999 town hall meeting, Vice President Gore said, “governments should refrain from imposing new and unnecessary regulations, bureaucratic procedures or new taxes and tariffs on commercial activities that take place via the Internet.” If this is indeed what he believes, Gore should insist that his party’s platform is changed to reflect this view. If the platform remains the same, Gore risks widening a credibility gap between his rhetoric and policy positions.

The Democratic platform reveals substantive differences between the parties on key technology policy issues. People interested in keeping the information-technology economic boom alive should stop listening to the sound bites and start reading the platforms.