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Internet data traffic now exceeds telephone voice traffic in volume. This shift is bringing new policy issues to the forefront.
One such issue was pushed to center stage in the AT&T versus Portland lawsuit. When a Bell telephone company offers broadband services, the company must allow competitors to provide services over its infrastructure. When a cable company offers a comparable service, it does not face similar obligations. There is considerable debate as to what the current law requires, and what the law should require. An important bill on this topic came from the House Commerce Committee. The topic was also of great concern in the Senate, particularly for Senator Wyden who represents Portland.
Internet domain names: In the early days of the Internet, a few engineers handed out "domain names," such as cmu.edu. As the task became more onerous, the US Government hired a company called Network Solutions to manage these domain names. Now that the Internet has become a major marketplace, the number of domain names to manage (at a profit) are increasing rapidly, and commercial names like porsche.com are valuable properties. Network Solutions inherited monopoly control over all domain names ending with .com, .org, and .net, under some supervision from the US Government. The US Commerce Department is now in the process of transferring some control to a non-profit organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
The process has been highly controversial. The House Commerce Committee has oversight responsibility over the US Commerce Department. A hearing was called by the majority entitled "Is ICANN Out of Control?" I worked on this issue for the minority. We pushed to transform the hearing into a balanced exploration of issues surrounding both ICANN and Network Solutions. This controversial hearing fundamentally changed the debate. House Commerce Committee staff continued close oversight after the hearing.
Electronic signatures: Encryption technology can transform a datafile to incorporate the identity of the author. Thus, it is possible to apply an "electronic signature" to an electronic document that is comparable to a written signature on a paper document. This makes it possible to conduct business over the Internet that otherwise could only be done in a timely manner in person. However, policy has not kept pace with technology.
I first worked on these issues on behalf of Commerce Committee Democrats in the House. Three House members introduced bills. I dealt with the issue again in the Senate, where discussion focused on the Abraham-Wyden bill. Since it is far easier to stop legislation than to pass legislation, especially when one is in the minority party, the challenge was to develop a bill that could gain broad support. Organizations wanting strong consumer protection had very different opinions from those that represented electronic commerce companies, or those representing financial services firms. Moreover, there were fundamental differences in opinion on the extent to which federal law should preempt state law. After many months of intense negotiation, a bill was crafted that could pass.
Satellite television: One of the more celebrated controversies before Congress in 1999 involved satellite television. This issue was driven by both short-term and long-term concerns. The short-term concern was that millions of angry viewers were losing their television. The law only allowed satellite television carriers to deliver network stations to
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FERET: The Fast Environmental Regulatory Evaluation Tool
Developing and commenting on environmental regulation is serious business. One of the key tools in this work is benefit-cost analysis. Scott Farrow (EPP) and his colleagues are building a software system to raise the quality of such analysis while making it faster and cheaper. In addition to enthusiastic support, their demonstrations to government and academia have evoked remarks such as: "It will raise the quality bar too high" and "You'll be putting a machine gun in the hands of children."
The Fast Environmental Regulatory Evaluation Tool (FERET) is a joint project of the Center for the Study and Improvement of Regulation which involves investigations on EPP and the School of Public Health at the University of Washington. The federal government requires impact and benefit-cost analyses for major regulations as do numerous states. There are frequently few personnel, little money, and less time to do the analyses. Large companies are also implementing environmental management plans that could include impact or economic valuation. FERET provides a common analytical platform, bibliographies, flexibility, and simulation capabilities. When users select health and economic studies from the bibliography they essentially perform a meta analysis of the studies selected. The output includes distributions of health impacts, dollar benefits, and costs. The current version focuses on criteria air pollutants and health impacts although extensions are under discussion.
So, does FERET raise the bar impossibly high or put a dangerous tool in the hands of the public? The answer is still coming in from field tests of the beta version in states and companies.
Industry Reporting of Pollution Emissions in China
In the 1980s, China instituted a nationwide system of mandatory reporting for air pollution emissions from industry. These data are used for national and regional planning, setting emissions permit levels, and enforcement of the national pollution levy. Because emissions reports from industrial enterprises are used in part to levy pollution fees against the enterprises themselves, there are obvious incentives for under-reporting. To examine this potential problem, EPP faculty member Keith Florig (EPP Ph.D. 1986) and Dr. Song Guojun of the Institute for Environmental Economics at Renmin University are evaluating emissions reporting data from 230 industrial enterprises in a city in Northeast China. The data includes emissions estimates for 870 boilers, kilns, and furnaces. Florig and Song are comparing reported emissions per ton of coal burned against both Chinese and US EPA norms for a given type of point source. The analysis shows good compliance with the letter of the reporting regulations. Although some emissions are indeed underreported, these underreports are more the result of ambiguities and oversights in reporting requirements than the result of efforts to avoid pollution fees. For example, dozen largest boilers in the city all have electrostatic precipitators that are partially or completely out of service about 30% of the time. Reporting regulations do not require that emissions estimates account for this downtime, resulting in nameplate removal efficiencies being used for all boiler operations.
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