Unless you’ve been way out of the country (visiting Jupiter, for example), you’re probably well aware of the imminent changing of the guard in Washington D.C. brought about by the national elections earlier this month. The vote in many races was “squeak by” close, as it has been in so many recent elections – but a win by one vote has the same result as a win by one hundred million. So our law-making bodies are now under the control of the “other side” for the first time in twelve years – a fact that makes some people very happy, others very sad, and many (who believe the only difference between the two major parties lies in the specific methods by which they’ll make our lives miserable rather than the amount of misery) a little indifferent.
Even if you live in another country, the actions of the U.S. government are likely to affect you in ways both subtle and overt. And those in the technology industry, like others in different fields, are wondering how this “takeover” will impact the issues that matter most to us.
As the old saying goes, there’s good news and there’s bad news. And your perspective is likely to depend in part on where you stand in the technology food chain (business owner, tech worker, or consumer). Perhaps surprisingly, the Democrats’ traditional stances on tech issues aren’t always friendlier to the “little guys” lower down the list.
An article that ran on CCN.com a week after the election proclaimed that “the new Congress may be the most technology-friendly in history.” That sounds like reason to celebrate – and if you own a software company, it just might be. The new legislators are expected to raise the ceiling on H1-B visas. That means tech companies will be able to hire more programmers and other skilled workers from other countries. That’s definitely good news for those companies.
It may not be such good news for American tech workers, who are typically used to much higher salaries than their counterparts in India and China. Will more foreign workers result in fewer jobs for Americans and/or lower pay all the way around? I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Meanwhile, lower paid tech workers might result in lower prices for consumers. That’s how it should work, and sometimes it even does.
The CNN article goes on to discuss the “net neutrality” issue. The new Congress is likely to be more in favor of laws prohibiting service providers from setting up “tier” systems charging more for higher bandwidth applications. Both consumers and content providers like Microsoft and Google are in favor of such laws. ISPs and libertarians who think the ‘net is already regulated enough oppose them. Should those who use more bandwidth pay more? It seems logical, but proponents of the neutrality laws say no. If ISPs are prevented from charging more for the high bandwidth use, will they just raise prices on everyone instead? That, too, remains to be seen.
What about an issue near and dear to the hearts of many at the consumer level: copy protection? You’d think the Democrats would be on the side of the little guys, right? Surely they’ll be rushing to repeal laws that allow big corporations and organizations like RIAA to harass elderly grandparents and eight year old kids for allegedly sharing a song. Surely they’ll get tough on music companies that install rootkits on their customers’ computers. Surely they’ll make it easier for us to enjoy our legally purchased music on multiple devices and make backups in case the originals are damaged or lost.
Oops. Think again. Based on their past votes, you shouldn’t expect the cavalry to come riding in on the wave of the mid-term elections. Remember that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) was signed into law by a Democratic president. That’s the law that makes it illegal for you to circumvent copy protection technology, even if you’re doing it to make your own backups of content you legally bought. And Congressional Democrats have proposed legislation that would make it legal for record companies and movie studios to hack into P2P networks. When you think about it, this probably shouldn’t come as a surprise at all, since Hollywood provides so much financial support to the party.
Just prior to the election, CNET News.com published a voter’s guide based on current legislators’ records on technology-based issues. Interestingly, the most technology-friendly member of the House was shown to be Ron Paul, a Texas Republic, who scored even higher than Democrats who represent Silicon Valley (80%). Republican George Allen of Virginia held the highest Senate score (78%). Overall, Democrats slightly beat Republicans in the House while Republicans scored an average of 10% better than Democrats in the Senate. You can read more here.
So what do you think? Selecting the candidates to vote for is always a trade- off, so most people cast their votes based on the issues they care about most (the war, taxes, privacy rights, abortion or some other “hot button” issue). Regardless of how you think they’ll do overall, do you think this election will be good or bad for technology innovators, workers and consumers?
Deb Shinder, MVP