New NTIA Chief Picks Battles Carefully

The Bush Administration is poised to wade into several technology policy debates including privacy and junk e-mail, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The Bush administration is poised to wade into several technology policy debates, including those concerning privacy and junk e-mail, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

In addition, the administration has heavily researched broadband technology policy, and may choose sides in that rancorous Capitol Hill battle too, said Nancy Victory, the newly appointed chief of the Commerce Departments National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Victory designated broadband policy as one of four primary interests of hers and of the NTIAs, telling a group of reporters in her office Wednesday that the agency would soon host Broadband Day, during which industry representatives, government bureaucrats and the media will talk about broadband policy.

To date, the Bush administration has not actively pursued telecommunications policymaking.

Victory, who has been on the job one month, would not say whether the administration is leaning towards any particular approach to broadband. The debate on Capitol Hill revolves around a bill introduced by Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin, R-La., which favors the regional Bells by letting them develop and sell more broadband with less restrictions, and a competing bill by Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, D-S.C., which proposes breaking up the regional Bell companies.

Victory said the administration may opt to give its imprimatur to one or more of the bills on the Hill, it might cobble together its own policy plan for aiding broadband or it may choose to do nothing.

Currently, gridlock over telecommunications policy looms. The involvement of the administration could move things in any direction.

Privacy, Victory said, has also captivated the attention of select high-level policy wonks, including herself, sprinkled throughout the administration. Together, they are working on crafting "an omnibus and comprehensive policy" that would include policy on junk e-mail, or Spam, and would not limit itself to the issue of online consumer privacy, she said.

The privacy debate has simmered on Capitol Hill for more than two years. During that time, members of both houses of Congress collectively submitted hundreds of bills wrestling with possible solutions. The few bills that passed dealt with specific industries, such as health care and financial institutions. More sweeping bills have languished.

Involvement in the issue by the administration would certainly effect the political calculus girding the direction of the debate, but its unclear whether the administration would call for broad legislation or not.

Victory championed industry attempts at self-regulation, but she also said more work needs to be done to protect consumer privacy.

Timothy Muris, the new chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, has said that privacy is one of his top priorities and that he is spending more time researching the privacy issue than any other before the FTC. He is expected to make a privacy policy announcement in coming weeks.

Recently, several bills addressing spam have gained traction in Congress, and there is hope among spam opponents that a bill may pass this year. Victory said the administration "is aware that legislation will move, so we will weight in at the appropriate moment" on that issue, she said.