A Maryland panel today will propose an ambitious package of Internet legislation and policies designed among other things to ease the way for electronic commerce, to move 80 percent of state agency services online by 2004 and to give everyone in the state e-mail addresses from birth.
"We want to make sure that Maryland positions itself as a leader in understanding the Internet's impact on the way we work, learn, live and play," said Major F. Riddick Jr., chief of staff to Gov. Parris N. Glendening and chairman of the Internet Technology Board, which produced the new set of policy recommendations. "We want to 'brand' Maryland as the e-commerce state," Riddick said.
The board was charged earlier this year by the Maryland General Assembly with making recommendations for promoting the Internet within the state. The report based on that work is being released at the Maryland Internet Summit, which begins today and is part of the fifth annual Maryland Technology Showcase, a two-day event in Baltimore.
The 23-page report is tied to a broad set of high-tech bills that will be introduced in the coming legislative session, Riddick said.
Among the provisions are plans to upgrade the port of Baltimore to make its services more tightly integrated with the needs of high-tech business and Internet commercial applications; increase economic development funding for Internet start-ups; and provide matching grants for university programs that teach electronic commerce. The e-mail address at birth idea is part of a proposed U.S. Postal Service initiative.
The report also calls for quick passage of the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act, a set of standards for online commerce that have been developed by a conference of state legislators and which is now being adopted by individual states.
The report treads lightly on taxation, one of the hottest Internet issues, simply saying that the board "endorses the principle that the taxation of electronic commerce should be based on fairness and tax neutrality," with the suggestion that if Internet taxes are passed by federal or state government that it be implemented in a way that is relatively easy for online companies to administer.
The state is well positioned for such a plan because of the high number of Internet businesses already in Maryland and nearby Virginia, the state's technology education resources and the high degree of Internet access among the citizenry, said Del. Peter Franchot (D-Mont.), who co-chaired the board's committee on electronic commerce. "It's not like we're just any old state saying, 'Hey, we want to be big on the Internet!' "
The Maryland effort tracks a recent Virginia Internet initiative and comes as a number of states are trying to look more at high-tech issues. Maryland officials--recognizing Northern Virginia's strength as a center of Internet business development--are determined not to let their neighbor and rival get out of range.
Around the country, about 22 state boards are examining high tech, said Jeff Richards of the Internet Alliance, a trade group.
"Maryland is one of the first to be comprehensive--to look across the board at a complete package approach," said Richards, who termed Maryland's proposals "an outstanding package" that focuses on economic development without as much of the regulatory and anti-crime provisions that have been the focus elsewhere. The proposals do have crime provisions dealing mostly with issues of fraud and misrepresentation online.
Virginia and Maryland, Richards said, are proof that "in fact, Internet policy is being made in the states."
The board also called for protection of individual privacy so that personal information is not peddled from business to business without consumers' knowledge or consent, and so that citizens are guaranteed the right to review the information that is collected about them. "Maryland must promote an environment in which personal information is protected," the report said.