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Saturday, 16 December, 2000, 11:13 GMT
High-tech 'not high priority for Bush'
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates
Microsft might fare better under Bush but not right away
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

The internet and the high-tech industry were conspicuously absent from a presidential campaign dominated by discussions of tax cuts, education and social security reform.

The internet was not a high-profile issue during the campaign, except when the Republicans mocked Al Gore for allegedly saying he invented it.

But now, the high-tech industry is trying to figure out what life will be like under George W Bush. There are many who believe the internet will not be a key policy priority for the president-elect.

A man using a computer
The internet will be a lower priority for George Bush than Bill Clinton
In a white paper released by the US Internet Industry Association, Dave McClure writes: "It is clear that the internet will not hold the same position of importance that it held in the Clinton administration."

Mr Bush did have a 440-member technology advisory council during the campaign, led by Michael Dell of the computer company that bears his name.

The council, which included Gordon Moore of Moore's Law fame from Intel, John Chambers of Cisco and Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems, drafted a technology policy plan.

Mr Bush's priorities are of great interest to the technology industry in general but not specifically the internet industry, says Mr McClure.

His priorities include:

  • Expansion of H1-B visas, which would expand the number of foreign high-tech workers that would be allowed to emigrate to the US
  • Promotion of biotechnology
  • Reform of technology export rules to allow for the export of more advanced technology while protecting national security.
Mr Bush also has a number of proposals with regards to the internet and international trade, including:
  • establishing the internet as a worldwide duty and tariff-free zone
  • eliminating non-tariff trade barriers to trade in information technology
  • strengthening efforts to combat piracy of US intellectual property and ideas.
But "even in these areas, technology will not be a legislative priority", according to Mr McClure.

He adds: "This does not mean that there will be no internet issues addressed in 2001 - only that these issues will be driven by the Congress and the regulatory agencies rather than the administration."

Microsoft future

Of course, as the US Department of Justice has pursued its anti-trust case against the software giant Microsoft, many people wondered how the election of George W Bush might affect the prosecution of the case.

In the short term, anti-trust expert Bill Kovacic says that very little will change.

The Bush transition team will take some time getting key appointees in place, and with the Microsoft appeal in court in February, the new administration may not have time to name a new assistant attorney general in charge of anti-trust.

Bill Gates
The Justice Department faces a tough battle against Microsoft in the appeals court
Mr Kovacic says that any attempt to abandon the case or resume settlement talks before a ruling by the appeals court would come at a significant political cost.

"It would reinforce claims that Bush is a marionette for the business community. Given that he enters office with so little political capital, he would not want to spend any of it in this matter at this point," says Mr Kovacic.

And even if the new administration made efforts to abandon the case, Microsoft would still have to contend with the states that brought the case, he says. More likely, he envisions a scenario in which the appeals court diminishes the scope of the government's victory.

"Let the appeals court swing that hatchet," he said, adding at that point, the Justice Department and the state attorneys general would be open to reconsidering a settlement.

Powells in power

A figure that will most likely play prominently in the technology policy in the Bush administration will be Michael Powell, son of retired General Colin Powell, who is himself widely expected to be the next secretary of state.

The younger Powell already wields significant power as a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

He will soon vote on the last regulatory hurdle for the proposed merger of AOL and Time Warner. Colin Powell serves on the board of AOL and has several millions of dollars in stock options.

Colin Powell
Colin Powell's son Michael is also likely to be prominent in a Bush administration
Many have speculated that Michael Powell would be named to head the FCC, but he might also be tapped to head the Anti-trust Division at the Justice Department.

He served as chief of staff of the anti-trust Division before joining the FCC in 1997, and is very well respected in the field, according to Mr Kovacic. And in a recent speech, Michael Powell outlined changes he would like to see at the FCC.

He wants the commission to focus on innovation and not just price competition. He also made several remarks that suggest a lighter hand if he were to head the commission.

He has said: "We must avoid the temptation to 'shape' the development of markets and instead let the market mechanism make those decisions."

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13 Dec 00 | Business
Markets ready for Bush win
26 Sep 00 | Business
Time on Microsoft's side
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