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Tech at Night: Amazon taxers try to circumvent the Perry Veto, Dana Rohrabacher fights a patent disaster, and more House business

Tech at Night

Lots to cover tonight, thanks in part to skipping Monday for Memorial Day. But of course I’ll start with my own post on the AT&T/T-Mobile deal, explaining from the ground up why the George Soros/Sprint arguments contradict themselves. Government should get out of the way, especially state governments like California’s getting too big for their britches. It’ll be better for all of us who buy wireless services.

Speaking of states running amok, here’s the bill that tax-and-spend Texans have put the Amazon tax into. Unless I’m mistaken, which is possible since I’m not particularly familiar with Texas inside baseball, SB 1 is being considered in the special session of the legislature. Let’s hope Texas can strip that tax out, after Governor Perry already vetoed it once. Texas needs to be America’s example of small government. Texans: get loud and back up the Governor! Give the Governor a harrumph!

Of course, there’s lots of policy whirling around in DC. A lot of it in the House is good, but some of it is troubling. Here’s a survey of it all:

The “good” category includes a letter by Fred Upton and Greg Walden asking the FCC to eliminate the Fairness Doctrine. As long as it’s on the books, it is a potential threat to free speech.

Another good idea will take some explaining. Greg Walden is backing so-called incentive auctions to free up new spectrum for our nation’s ever growing need for wireless data. What are incentive auctions? Simply, they’re an effort to reduce the burden of broadcast television, offering cash to get stations to give up their spectrum for wireless providers to buy.

Walden is right when he says “Any incentive auction in which a licensee forfeits spectrum rights must be voluntary. This is not only good spectrum policy, it is good economic policy.” Television stations have invested in their spectrum and shouldn’t have it taken away. But at the same time, we need more spectrum. It’s silly that a firm like AT&T has to do something like acquire T-Mobile to get more spectrum, but until we’re able to shift more from television to wireless data, it’s what we’re stuck with. And incentive auctions are probably the way to go to fix that.

Of the plan to provide incentive to shift spectrum to wireless data, CTIA said “some economists have stated that the wireless industry’s investment in next generation wireless technologies could create as many as 200,000 jobs, which doesn’t include positions in adjacent fields…. Spectrum is vital to our industry. It is what fuels the ‘virtuous cycle’ of innovation and competition, which is why we are seeing tremendous consumer usage and demand for wireless Internet anytime and anywhere…. We appreciate the support of the President, many members of Congress, the FCC Chairman and Commissioners, and other policymakers to make more spectrum available for the U.S. wireless industry so we can remain the world’s leader.” And yes, they’re also right.

Less easily supported is the current fad in Washington of talking about “cybersecurity.” Democrats have long been attempting to use that buzzword as an excuse to pass sweeping government controls online, which is one reason I’ve called out Anthony Weiner’s problematic behavior from the beginning. Obviously Democrat proposals like the Internet Kill Switch are completely out of the question, but we need to look closely at Republican plans as well.

One concept I’m more likely to support is a a narrowly-tailored plan to aid parts of the power grid (which really is an interconnected network all its own) in the event of a terrorist attack. We should be cautious, but when the Congress can identify specific attack vectors that need covered, and wants to ensure they are covered, this is reasonable.

I’m less happy to see talk of “Plans for Comprehensive Review of Data Security and Electronic Privacy”. Maybe I’m overreacting, but when I see phrases like that I imagine a fishing expedition for reasons to legislate. And maybe I’m old fashioned, but I don’t think the Congress should be looking for reasons to legislate. It should spend more time looking for reasons to remain silent, and only act when the decision is clear. To do otherwise too much runs the risk of picking winners and losers in the marketplace, as the President does all the time.

And lastly, I’m alternately angry and terribly disappointed to see House Republicans falling in line to back the Patrick Leahy “patent reform” bill. This proposal is the darling of the American Bar Association and a nightmare to small-time inventors. You know, the ones who hope to use patents to create jobs and wealth, rather than use patents to gin up government-backed, cross-licensed cartels. You see, this patent plan changes the fundamental character of patents in America. Since the founding, American patents have been awarded to the person who first invented the ideas. Sounds obvious, right?

Well, the first to invent system is not obvious on Capitol Hill, apparently. Because the House and Senate book look ready to pass a law to change us to the first to file system. This proposal would eliminate the reward for being the first to come up with an idea, which most of us thought was the whole point of a patent to begin with. Instead, it doesn’t matter who came up with the idea first, because we’ll now give the patent to whoever has patent lawyers standing ready to file the patent first.

A first to file patent system is the kind of idea that turns the patent system from a net benefit to society, to a crushing tax on American business that serves no useful purpose. It’s looking grim, but if conservative activists can get energized, and back opponents of the bill like Dana Rohrabacher of California, then maybe we can win this fight after all.

Quick hits to finish the night: even as online criminals continue to threaten Sony, we find that Microsoft seems to be playing a game of appeasement. I hate cyberterrorists with the fire of a million suns, but part of me hopes Microsoft’s plan of appeasement would backfire at some point, as appeasement always does.

Meanwhile, Funimation is taking the opposite approach. Having already lost in one federal district court, Funimation is trying a different district in a second attempt to sue BitTorrent users allegedly engaged in copyright infringement. I support copyright, but I’m also wary of forum shoppers.

I hope the WHO gets no government money, given that it’s doing some stupid scare mongering about phones and cancer.

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