Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Technology Vs. Congress

As this is being written, a small airplane has strayed into the airspace above Washington, DC. Congress was suspended while Senators and Representatives have fled to safety. For a short while the Nation was safe. But alas, Congress has returned and the Republic is once more in danger.

It wouldn’t be so bad if Congress were more modern, but that is not the case. When Senator Al Gore announced several years back that he had invented the Internet, he was probably not making a partisan political comment, although Republicans had a lot of fun with it. No, Senator Gore was more likely making a Congressional comment, indicating the dismal state of knowledge Congressmen had attained. The comedian Fred Allen described the situation well and I paraphrase him with this statement: “The knowledge Congress has about the Internet (and modern technology) would fill the navel of a flea and leave room for the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.”

Telephone, television, radio, and the mail are regulated and taxed by Government. In the days when technology made slow improvements, Congress did a muddled job with their rules. But then came fax machines, and the flood gates were opened. Telephone companies and citizens were regulated and taxed under the premise that phone calls would be of a reasonable length. The U.S. Postal service expected a certain volume of first class letters. But fax machines resulted in short phone calls and fewer pieces of first class letters.

Congressmen may have barely grasped the importance of fax machines (after the fact) but they do not understand much of the newer developments. However, they want to tax and regulate everything. They are very frustrated. The world is changing very rapidly.

And there really is a lot of change out there. For instance, my son Caleb in Florida, many miles away, "held my hand" on the telephone as I branched out from email to blogs. He doesn't like computers much, so I asked him how he learned to work the Internet. He said someone "held his hand". It must be a contact sport (or science). There are probably no college courses--it is all happening too fast for that. Anyway, few would take time out to teach a college course when they are successful on the Internet.

The very first podcast (radio-type broadcast on the Internet) produced by anyone was made in November of 2004. Think of it: radio-type broadcasting across the world without the assistance, control, or cost of NBC, CBS, ABC, or FOX! In process now is an arrangement whereby a person can make telephone calls by Internet, without regulation.

As a result of modern developments, telephone companies can lose revenue. Aslo radio and TV networks and newspapers can expect to lose revenue for two reasons: 1) Many people get more and more of their news from the Internet (balanced in their favor), and 2) Many people use the Internet for newer forms of entertainment, such as podcasts and TV-type podcasts (in the offing). Complete movies on the Internet are also in the wings (Blockbuster, beware). After all, a person has only so many hours to devote to news and entertainment. Most people will seek the most efficient sources that provide that entertainment at the appropriate time for them.

Numbers of emails surpassed numbers of first class letters handled by the US Postal Service some ten years ago. As the USPS raises the cost of stamps, more people will use emails and bill paying by Internet, so the USPS will lose even more revenue. The USPS will try to regain their revenues with more junk mail. (The USPS is the main proponent of junk mail and will be, until the last tree is cut down to feed paper mills.)

Congress wants to regulate and tax all this technology that it doesn’t understand. In a feeble effort, it taxed extra phone lines in each house, but people switched to cable. Congress still does not understand that its laws change behavior.

What kind of handle on technology can Congress obtain? Will it tax emails and podcasts at a rate of a dollar each? How will it count them? Congress is having a very difficult time protecting copyrighted material, which, when digitized, seems to fly all over the world. How will a ponderous Congress ever catch up to modern technology?

Even if Congress could catch up, what Congress taxes and regulates, it may destroy. Some Congresspeople seem to have a dim understanding of this. They also understand that tax revenue is greatly enhanced when profitable companies emerge and when employees of those companies earn big salaries. Maybe Congress will have to rely on taxes from these enterprises. But I am afraid its need to regulate will lead to tinkering and destruction.

That is the nature of Congress.


David R. Mark said...

Of course Gore never said he "invented the Internet," but that didn't stop a conservative smear campaign in 1999. To read the blow-by-blow, you can go to

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