Billy Tauzin

Chairman, House Commerce Committee

Want a law passed in Washington? If you cant please the chairman of the appropriate committee, well, to paraphrase New Yorkers: Fuhgeddaboutit.

Thats what makes Louisiana Congressman W.J. "Billy" Tauzin a force in high technology. After 20 years on Capitol Hill, he is the new chairman of the House Commerce Committee, through which just about every piece of high-tech legislation and oversight must pass.

Tauzin, a Democrat when he was first elected to Congress in 1980, switched parties in 1995 in the throes of the Newt Gingrich-led GOP revolution. He is considered a skilled legislator and the consummate politician -- and hes staked the late stages of his career on telecom and Internet issues.

Tauzin was a force behind the massive and convoluted 1996 Telecommunications Act that aspired to bring competition to local phone service and promulgate new, high-tech services, including high-definition television. Now that its clear little of that promise has materialized, Tauzin plans to use the power of the committee chairmanship to re-examine everything from high-tech mergers to online privacy to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to the powers of the Federal Communications Commission, says Ken Johnson, Tauzins spokesman.

"The defining difference between Billy Tauzin and [former chairman] Tom Bliley is a preference for change vs. a preference for the status quo," says Jeffrey Eisenach, president of the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Understanding Tauzin may not prove easy. He wants to take a closer look at competition, in the wake of the AOL-Time Warner merger. On the other hand, he wants to overhaul the FCC -- and yank it out of the merger review process for deals like AOL-Time Warner. But figuring him out will be a must for anyone whose high-tech path might lead to Washington, D.C.