After the Elections: Now What?

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Since the much ballyhooed 2006 midterm elections have ended, most Americans have probably calmed down and found themselves wondering, “OK, but what does this mean for me?”

For IT pros, it’s likely to mean positive change, as the 110th Congress has the potential to be very technology friendly.

Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi represents California’s 8th congressional district, which encompasses most of San Francisco, so her constituency is closely aligned with Silicon Valley. One plank of her platform — her “innovation agenda” — calls for broadband access for all Americans by 2010.

Moving beyond campaign promises, however, one IT-related issue for which the 110th Congress might quickly enact positive change is in legislation pertaining to H-1B visas.

H-1B is a nonimmigrant visa category that allows American companies and universities to temporarily employ foreign workers who have the equivalent of a U.S. bachelor’s degree. This allows immigrants to be temporarily employed in the United States in a “specialty occupation” for three to six years.

Computer programming is one such specialty. H-1B provides tech companies with a pool of highly skilled professionals from which to draw. But Congress has the number of H-1B visas granted each year capped at 65,000, with an additional 20,000 for those with U.S. graduate degrees. With tech-friendly California representatives taking over leadership positions in Congress, this cap likely will rise.

The flip side of this issue is companies outsourcing their IT services offshore. In this case, Congress doesn’t have its hand on the throttle, but it could offer incentives to businesses to keep tech jobs in the United States or restrict the flow of outgoing labor through legislation. It will be interesting to see how the new Congress approaches this issue.

Another matter the 110th Congress seems likely to resolve is that of Net neutrality. In a nutshell, telecommunication and cable companies want to charge premium rates for faster navigation of the Web, while tech companies and concerned academics say this would stymie the Internet’s growth and create a wide gap in America’s already sizeable socio-economic divide.

Net neutrality is of particular significance to IT pros because a lack of it will hamper their profession in the long run. With the explosive growth of the Internet, IT has become more flexible, adaptable and viable than ever before. The higher the number of Americans with Internet access, the easier it is for IT pros to connect with and service clients and for IT to grow as an industry. Profit-motivated moves by telecommunication and cable companies that would work to the detriment of the extension of Internet access to all Americans would be bad for IT. Furthermore, charging premium rates for faster navigation of the Web would stifle innovation of the Internet as a medium of communication.

Congressional attempts to outlaw charging premium rates for faster navigation failed last year, but with Pelosi — who supports Net neutrality — at the helm, the issue likely will be at the forefront of the forthcoming Congressional agenda, and may mark the most significant steps forward for technology.

Democrats making up the majority in Congress doesn’t mean they can do anything they want, but now they will set the agenda. With any luck, they’ll see this as an opportunity to strike a tone of bipartisanship.

It goes without saying that Democrats and Republicans are divided on a range of issues. These issues will now, to some extent, divide Congress from the White House. But just as mathematics is hailed as the universal language, technology-centered issues might be those that Democrats and Republicans are most easily able to grasp and agree on.

The Bush administration is pro-business and acknowledges that few things are better for business than investing in American technology and the American technology workforce.

With seemingly no argument on that point coming from the other (now majority) side of the aisle, it will be interesting to see how IT fares as the 110th Congress takes the reins. IT could stand to make great gains in the years ahead.

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