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Tech Policy: 2003 Year in Review

A Roundup of Key Developments

Wednesday, December 17, 2003;

Technology policy kept Congress, the Bush administration and the lobbying community quite busy throughout 2003. Some debates like spam and cellphone number switching finally were resolved, or at least appeared to be. Others show no signs of slowing down into 2004. Here's a roundup of 2003 developments in key areas:


It was a tumultuous year in the war to protect digital music, movies and software from the growing number of ordinary Americans using file-sharing networks like Kazaa. The fight shifted from Congress to the courthouse in 2003, when the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) won a court case allowing it to subpoena Internet service providers to obtain the identities of suspected file sharers.

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The RIAA used that power to sue hundreds of people who allegedly engaged in significant trading of pirated music online. The lawsuits, which targeted college students, grandparents and -- in one memorable instance -- a 12-year-old honors student, further polarized the combatants in the debate. In partial reaction to the RIAA efforts, file-sharing companies founded two lobbying groups to plead their cases to Congress and the American people. Congressional support has been generally lacking for the file-sharing business, but Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said he is thinking of trying to force the recording industry to go through several more hoops than it currently faces before it can subpoena records from ISPs.

On a less contentious note, 2003 saw the first real success in the legal music downloading business. Fueled by the popularity of the sleek iPod digital music player, Apple's iTunes music store debuted to tremendous success, selling digital copies of songs for 99 cents a pop.

Late in the year, the Federal Communications Commission approved for the first time a requirement that personal computers and other consumer electronics equipment contain "broadcast flag" technology to prevent the unauthorized copying of digital entertainment.

Related coverage:
* Music Industry Reluctantly Yielding to Internet Reality(Nov. 27, 2003)
* Kazaa Launches Legitimacy Campaign(Nov. 19, 2003)
* Senate Bill Targets Internet Pirates(Nov. 13, 2003)
* FCC Approves First Digital Anti-Piracy Measure(Nov. 5, 2003)
* Congressional Caucus to Examine Entertainment Piracy(Oct. 21, 2003)
* Music Industry Will Talk Before Suing(Oct. 1, 2003)

Do-Not-Call List

In reaction to growing consumer irritation with the 16 billion telemarketing calls made each year, Congress gave the Bush administration authority to create a national do-not-call registry that gives Americans the ability to get off telemarketers' pitch lists once and for all. The do-not-call list proved an immediate success, with the Federal Trade Commission reporting a sign-up rate as high as 108 phone lines per second. The telemarketing industry, fearing a dent to its $275 billion business, took the government to court over the list and won a ruling that said it violated free speech rights under the First Amendment. The federal government has appealed that ruling but no decision has come yet. In the meantime, the list remains in effect and is held up as a model for fighting spam.

Related coverage:
* Judges Hear Do-Not-Call Registry Case(Nov. 11, 2003)
* Ringing Around the Rule(Oct. 18, 2003)
* Do-Not-Call Compliance Put at 90%(Oct. 3, 2003)


Many members of Congress expressed irritation this year over continued delays by states, local governments and telecommunications providers in rolling out "enhanced" 911 (E-911) services. Federal E-911 plans call for wireless phones and 911 call centers to be upgraded so that emergency operators can instantly pinpoint the locations of 911 calls made from wireless phones. Governments and wireless companies have consistently missed deadlines, delaying the staggered rollout outlined by the FCC. In February, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers formed an E-911 caucus to pressure all E-911 stakeholders to pick up the pace. In November, the House of Representatives passed legislation to better fund and coordinate E-911 rollout efforts.

Related coverage:
* E-911 Gets First Aid From Congress(Sept. 15, 2003)
* Lawmakers Seek to Speed E-911 Rollout (Feb. 25, 2003)

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