|12/23. Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), who is
likely to be the next Senate Majority Leader, has not been
active on technology related issues. He is a doctor who has focused more on
health, drug, biotech, Medicaid, Medicare, and social security related issues.
Sen. Frist (at right) has a voting record on tech related legislation, and has either
sponsored, cosponsored, or spoken about a number of other technology related bills. This article
examines his tech record. Basically, despite his focus on health issues, he has
a record on tech related issues, and it is
Memberships. Sen. Frist currently sits on the
Foreign Relations Committee, and
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He previously sat on the
Senate Commerce Committee, which
has jurisdiction over many technology and communications related issues. He was
also Chairman of its Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space.
Sen. Frist is also Co-Chairman of the
Forum on Technology and Innovation, a bipartisan organization funded by the
Markle Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation,
the Sloan Foundation, and the
Kellogg Foundation. The other Co-Chair is Sen.
Ron Wyden (D-OR). Sen. Jay
Rockefeller (D-WV) was previously the Democratic Co-Chair.
Sen. Frist is also a member of the
Congressional Internet Caucus.
Local Competition. He gave a
speech in the Senate in June of 2001 that may give incumbent local exchange
carriers (ILECs) cause for concern. He
stated that "We need to ensure that the market opening requirements of the 1996
Act are vigorously implemented". See, Congressional Record, June 20, 2001,
at page S6515.
He further stated that "In this uncertain financial climate, it is imperative
that we maintain a
stable regulatory framework. The 1996 Telecom Act established three pathways to
a more competitive local telecommunications marketplace: a new entrant could
purchase local telephone services at wholesale rates from the incumbent and
resell them to local customers; a competitor could lease specific pieces of the
incumbent's network on an unbundled basis, using what the industry calls
unbundled network elements; or a competitor could build its own facilities and
interconnect them with the incumbent's network. Each of these alternatives must
remain available to new entrants. Making fundamental changes to the structure of
the 1996 Act will destabilize the already shaky competitive local exchange
industry, depriving consumers of even the prospects for meaningful choice."
Broadband Regulation. Sen. Frist has not been active in this area. No
bills have come to a vote on the Senate floor. However, several bills have been
introduced. Sen. Frist is not one of the 65 cosponsors of
S 88, the
Broadband Internet Access Act of 2001. This bill, sponsored by
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), is
intended to incent broadband deployment by providing tax credits.
Nor is he one of the dozen cosponsors of
S 2430, the
Broadband Regulatory Parity Act of 2002. This bill, sponsored by
Sen. John Breaux (D-LA), would require
the FCC to write "regulations to ensure that (1) all broadband services, and all
broadband access services, are subject to the same regulatory requirements, or
no regulatory requirements ..."
Diversion of USPTO Fees. Patent based sectors of the economy have
reason to celebrate Sen. Frist's likely elevation. He was one of only six Senators to sign a
criticizing the diversion of U.S. Patent and
Trademark Office (USPTO) fees to fund other government programs. On February
9, 2001, he and others wrote to President Bush to state that "underfunding the
PTO delays the development of new technologies".
They wrote that "Intellectual property is the currency for the new, high-tech economy.
Patent and trademark laws administered by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)
encourage invention, innovation, and investment. The PTO plays a critical role
in promoting the continued development of intellectual property in this country.
For established companies, patents improve competitiveness, increase
productivity, help bring new products and services to market, and create jobs.
For entrepreneurs, patents can make or break a new business."
This diversion is largely the work of the Clinton administration, and the
Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate. Technologies companies, and
many members of the Judiciary Committees (which have jurisdiction over
intellectual property issues) have opposed the diversion, but without success.
Sen. Frist's involvement in this issue is notable, because he does not represent
a technology intensive state, and he is not a member of the
Nor is he a member of the Senate
Appropriations Committee. But now, he may be
in a better position to deal with this diversion of funds.
R&D Tax Credit. This is a perennial issue in the Congress. Every few
years the Congress temporarily extends the credit, which technology companies
argue is an important incentive to innovate. In every Congress, bills are
introduced that would make the R&D tax credit a permanent part of the Internal
Revenue Code; but, they never pass both Houses. The bills which attract the most sponsors are
the ones that would simply make the credit permanent.
However, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM)
has sponsored legislation that would do this, and more. He argues that his
proposals would provide greater benefits to start up companies. Sen. Frist has
cosponsored Sen. Domenici's legislation. See, for example,
the Private Sector Research and Development Investment Act of 2001.
Sen. Frist has also frequently supported efforts to increase federal spending
on research and development.
Trade Issues. Sen. Frist has a voting record on trade issues that is
consistent with the position advocated by high tech companies and groups. For
example, in the current Congress he supported both trade promotion authority,
and the Export Administration Act of 2001.
Sen. Frist supported granting the President trade promotion authority. He
voted for final passage of
sometimes referred to as the Trade Act of 2002, on May 23, 2002. See,
Roll Call Vote No. 130. He also voted favorably on many votes leading up to
final passage. The House also passed the bill, and it has become law.
Sen. Frist also voted for
S 149, the
Export Administration Act, on September 6, 2002. See,
Roll Call Vote No. 275. It passed the Senate, but not the House.
Enzi (R-WY), the sponsor of the bill, recently announced that he will
reintroduce the bill in the 108th Congress. The bill would ease restraints on
most dual use products, such as computers and software, but increase penalties
for violations. It is strongly supported by technology companies that export
Copyright. Sen. Frist has not gotten involved in the raging debates
over copyright and music on the Internet. He is not a cosponsor of
S 2395, the
Anticounterfeiting Amendments of 2002. This is
Sen. Joe Biden's (D-DE) controversially
bill. Nor is he a cosponsor of
S 2048, the
Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act. This is
Sen. Ernest Hollings' (D-SC)
controversial bill. Neither bill has been voted on by the Senate.
106th Congress (Y2K Act and E-SIGN Act). One can discern more about
Sen. Frist's views on technology by examining his record from the last Congress.
He voted for, and was active in sponsoring and pushing through the Senate, two technology
related bills: S 96,
the Y2K Act, and
S 761 the
digital signatures bill.
S 761 was originally titled the Millennium Digital Commerce Act. However, the
bill that was signed into law was titled the Electronic Signatures in Global and
National Commerce Act, or E-SIGN Act for short. See also,
co-authored by Sen. Frist in support of S 761 dated September 29, 1999.
105th Congress (H1B Visas, SLUSA, Internet Taxes, and
Encryption). Sen. Frist also has a record worth examining from the 105th Congress.
Sen. Frist supported temporarily increasing the number of H1B visas given to
highly skilled technology workers. Technology companies fought for passage of
this bill. He voted for
American Competitiveness Act, on final passage on May 18, 1998. See,
Roll Call No. 141.
Sen. Frist also supported
S 1260, the
Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act of 1998 (SLUSA). Technology
companies sought passage of this bill. They argued that it would limit the
number of frivolous class action lawsuits filed against them. Sen. Frist
cosponsored the bill, and voted for it on final passage on May 13, 1998. See,
Roll Call No. 135.
Finally, however, there is an issue where Sen. Frist took an anti-technology position
-- Internet taxes.
The Congress passed the Internet Tax Freedom Act in late 1998. Its final passage
came a part of a huge omnibus appropriations bill. However, just prior to that,
the Senate passed it as a stand alone bill, S 442. The vote for final passage
was overwhelming, and Sen. Frist voted for it. However, the critical votes came
earlier while the Senate was considering amendments that shaped the bill. One such
key vote was on the duration of the moratorium. Sen. John
McCain (R-AZ) offered an amendment to extend the duration of moratorium on new
or discriminatory Internet taxes. Strong supporters of the moratorium generally
voted yes, while others generally voted no. It failed by a vote of 45-52.
Sen. Frist voted no. That is, from the perspective of some tech interests, he
was on the wrong side. See,
Roll Call No. 305, October 7, 1998.
The Senate also never voted on legislation pertaining to encryption rights.
Nevertheless, it was a huge issue at the time for the technology sector. One way
to determine a Senator's support for encryption rights is to examine the lists
of cosponsors of pro-encryption rights bills. Two bills would identify a Senator's
First, there is
S 377, the
Promotion of Commerce On-Line in the Digital Era (Pro-CODE) Act of 1997,
sponsored by Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT). It had
22 cosponsors. Sen. Frist was not one of them. Second, there was
S 2067, the
Encryption Protects the Rights of Individuals from Violation and Abuse in
CYberspace (E-PRIVACY) Act, sponsored by former Sen. John Ashcroft (R-MO). It had ten
cosponsors. Sen. Frist was not one of them.
More Bills in the 107th Congress. The technology related bills sponsored by
Sen. Frist in the 107th Congress
include S 461,
the Mathematics and Science Education Partnership and Teacher Recruitment Act of 2001;
S 722, the
Telemarketer Identification Act of
2001; and, S 2902,
the Mathematics and Science Education Excellence Act.
The technology related bills cosponsored by Sen. Frist in the 107th Congress
include S 1445,
the Internet Equity and Education Act of 2001;
S 1549, the
Technology Talent Act; and,
S 2760, the
Stock Option Fairness and Accountability Act. The purpose of S 1445 is to make
it easier for Internet based education to qualify for student loans. The Tech
Talent Act authorizes the National Science
Foundation (NSF) to award competitive grants to institutions of higher
education to increase the number of students studying science, mathematics,
engineering, and technology. The Tech Talent Bill was eventually enacted into
law as part of a larger NSF related bill.
More Statements by Sen. Frist. There are two significant statements
that Sen. Frist read at
subcommittee hearings that relate to his views and interests regarding
technology. First, there is his
statement [2 pages in PDF] on "Telemedicine Technologies", at a
hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee's Subcommittee
on Science Technology and Space, on September 15, 1999. Second, there is his
statement [3 pages in PDF] titled "The Role of Standards in the Growth of
Global Electronic Commerce", at a hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee's
Subcommittee on Science Technology and Space, on October 28, 1999.
TLJ Analysis. One might draw several conclusions about Sen. Frist from the
foregoing. First, technology has not been his main interest; health has been.
Second, he has not gotten involved in many of the highest profile technology
related issues today involving telecom regulation, broadband deployment, and
music on the Internet.
Third, he has taken a keen interest in promoting technological innovation in the long term.
There are several things that the government can do to promote technological innovation,
and Sen. Frist has been involved in all of them. The government can establish a
thorough patent rights regime, and an entity to efficiently issue quality patents. Sen. Frist has been one of the few Senators to criticize the diversion of USPTO fees.
The government can fund research and development. Sen. Frist has supported more
funding. The government can give tax credits for private sector research and
development. Sen. Frist has supported making the R&D tax credit permanent.
Finally, the government can fund education in fields that are related to
innovation. Sen. Frist supports efforts to provide more funding for math,
science and technology education.
Fourth, while Sen. Frist has not focused on technology issues related to
music or broadband, he has focused on some of the uses of the Internet that may
in the long run provide real social benefits. That is, whatever happens with
music and movies and copyrights on the Internet, it is all just entertainment.
Moreover, the debates over broadband regulation now largely pit DSL providers
against cable modem service providers; both technologies today provide
asymmetric service at speeds that facilitate faster web browsing and music
downloads -- entertainment uses. In contrast, to the extent that Sen. Frist has
focused on broadband, it has been in the context of Internet based education and
telemedicine. Both of these require more advanced technologies. And both have
the potential to provide real social benefits.