Spectrum auctions and privacy protection top U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo's list of technological priorities, though with partisanship and the economy dominating Washington, D.C., progress on Internet issues may be tough to reach during the current legislative session, the Silicon Valley lawmaker told a group of tech executives and attorneys Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 27).
Eshoo (D-Palo Alto), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, highlighted some of the committees' ongoing efforts at the annual State of the Net West conference in the Palo Alto headquarters of the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Front and center, she said, is a bill to "reform spectrum as we know it."
"Everyone wants to go wireless," Eshoo said. "There's an insatiable appetite for it."
Eshoo said auctioning off broadcast spectrum, which is currently held by TV broadcasters, would bring the nation about $25 billion in revenues. The airwaves would be auctioned off to wireless carriers, with some of the proceeds going to the TV broadcasters. A portion of the spectrum would also be used to set up a shared broadband system for public-safety departments.
Boosting the capacity of emergency responders to communicate with one another is a top priority, she said, especially given that a decade had already passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York.
"Shame on Congress," Eshoo said, adding that creating a nationwide interoperable communications network for public safety was one of the key recommendations of the 911 Commission. "I still wonder to this day what lives could've been saved if in fact police and fire were able to speak to each other."
Another major issue that her committee is wrestling with these days is online privacy protections, particularly for children. The Congress passed the Children Online Privacy Act a decade ago, she said, and technology has changed greatly since then. Some in her committee believe it's time to update the rules.
Though that debate is still playing out, one thing that Eshoo said the new rules should include is greater transparency. In other words, the customer should know, when he or she is providing information, how this information would be used.
"I don't want anyone tracking me," Eshoo said. "I want to know if someone is using any information about me and selling it to someone else."
The online-privacy issue is unlikely to get settled this year, she said. With Congress debating the national economy, the potential defaults of European nations and high unemployment, lawmakers may not have the appetite these days to rewrite online-privacy legislation. Because 2012 is an election year, progress on legislation will be particularly difficult to achieve, she said.