My SXSW suckup was not in vain, even if it wasn’t efficient either. After a prolonged round of back-and-forth with the conference’s management, including one outright swap of topics, my panel on “Why Doesn’t Congress Grok the Internet?” is scheduled for 3:30-4:30 this Saturday afternoon in Austin.
The theme is pretty straightforward: Sixteen years after the Communications Decency Act, Congress still comes damn close to passing tech-policy legislation almost as boneheaded as that bill; what gives?
I’ll be discussing that topic with two staffers for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.): Jayme White, staff director of the Senate Committee on Finance’s Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness subcommittee and senior tech advisor to Wyden; and Jennifer Hoelzer, deputy chief of staff and communications director for the senator. Both worked on Wyden’s successful opposition to the Stop Online Piracy and Protect IP Acts.
I don’t intend for this panel to be a “Congress sucks” beatdown, as fun as that might be. I want to get into the institutional, political and economic factors that lead to tech-ignorant bills appearing as often as they do. Here are some of the questions I have in mind:
- The stereotype of Congressional knowledge of the Internet is Ted Stevens’ “series of tubes” monologue. Is that a fair perception these days?
- Looking at the relative influences of the entertainment and tech industries in Washington, how much of a difference can that make on a relatively obscure tech-policy bill? What about one that’s become a headline item?
- Describe the feedback your boss’s constituents typically provide about tech-policy issues. How often do they bring up the subject at all?
- How much does the need to raise campaign funds from people who may have intense interests in these matters tilt the legislative process?
- How would you grade the traditional media’s coverage of recent tech-policy disputes? Has it been part of the problem or part of the solution?
- What sort of input did your office get from entertainment and tech-industry types, respectively, in the run-up to SOPA?
- The revolving door is a reality on Capitol Hill (and, I should note, in many newsrooms). How much can the prospect of more profitable employment in private industry weigh on a staffer’s conduct? Among your former colleagues who worked on tech policy on the Hill, where did most of them end up?
- Did the way Hollywood got rolled on SOPA and PIPA represent a fundamental change in these debates, or was it the product of good timing and good luck?
Now it’s your turn: What questions would you add to that list? Would you strike any of those above?