Tom Still

D.C. – Even in a city where partisanship is a way of life, there are glimmers
of hope that 2015 will be a year in which Congress gets down to work on issues
that drive the nation’s $1 trillion information technology economy.

why representatives of nearly two-dozen state-based technology groups –
including the Wisconsin Technology Council – met in Washington in mid-February
to trade ideas and “talk tech” with members of the Senate and House of

agenda included extending a 17-year-old ban on taxing Internet access charges;
writing rules to protect an open Internet; better sharing of cybersecurity
threat data; freeing unlicensed wireless spectrum for rural broadband, Wi-Fi
and more; helping keep highly skilled immigrants in the United States; and
providing incentives for research, development and private investment.

Republicans hold a 58-seat majority in the House and a 10-seat margin in the
Senate, they lack the super-majorities needed to ignore Democrats – and
President Obama still holds a veto pen in the White House. That means 2015
could be a last hurrah for bipartisanship before the 2016 presidential election
sucks most of the air out of the marbled rooms of Congress.

atmosphere can bring a new willingness to work together and finish outstanding
legislative efforts,” said Elizabeth Hyman, executive vice president of
TechAmerica, an industry coalition that worked to bring various state tech
groups and associations to Capitol Hill.

pointed to new leadership on key committees – a category that includes several
members of Wisconsin’s 10-member delegation – and a list of bills and issues
that gained ground in the last session of Congress before the 2014 mid-term
elections. Here are examples of what the 114th Congress will debate:

Internet Tax Freedom Act was passed in 1998 to ban federal, state and
local governments from taxing Internet access charges, as well as assessing
multiple taxes on electronic commerce. The rise of the Internet as the defining
economic disruptor of our time is proof enough of how well the moratorium has
worked. The ban has been extended five times; Congress will be asked to make
the moratorium permanent before it expires Oct. 1.


is a phrase used to describe efforts to keep the Internet operating as a data
freeway versus a partial toll road, where service providers may block or slow
Internet traffic when there’s too much congestion. The Federal Communications
Commission is proposing to regulate the Internet much like a public utility,
using rules first developed in the 1930s. Telecommunications providers say such
a move will hurt their efforts to invest in the very improvements needed to
keep the Internet robust for all. The FCC is expected to act soon, but Congress
may step in with a plan to keep the Internet open for all businesses – large
and small – while providing certainty for industry investment.

cyberattacks on the rise, threatening government, business and consumers alike,
proposals have emerged to improve sharing of cybersecurity “threat data”
with voluntary incentives that draw upon industry best practices.

the United States is one of the world’s most efficient users of electromagnetic
spectrum to transmit radio, television and wireless data signals, the nation
is still nearing a spectrum shortage. With the demand for wireless data and
images growing by leaps and bounds, Congress and the FCC are examining how to
free more unlicensed spectrum – some of which is television “white spaces” – to
meet demand and help bring wireless broadband service to hard-to-reach

the close of 2014, there were a reported 580,000 postings for IT jobs
nationwide. Companies and institutions are having trouble finding enough
workers with the right skills to perform in an industry that is never static.
Bills are pending to establish adjustable, market-based caps on H1B visas for skilled
and to create a visa for foreign-born students in certain
science, tech, engineering and math fields.

of the same tax incentives that have propelled Wisconsin’s startup
economy since 2005 have been proposed at a federal level, especially for angel
capital investors who often take risks on young companies. Other proposals
include renewing the federal Research and Development Tax Credit, which expired
at the end of 2014.

economic growth and job creation should comprise a trinity of bipartisan goals.
Congress has a chance to put its stamp on all three before the coming
presidential election supplants policy with politics.