Opening Statement of Rep. Tom Bliley (R-VA).
Re: House Telecom Subcommittee Hearing on HR 1858 (database protection).

Date: June 15, 1999.
Source: House Commerce Committee.
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Let me say at the outset that I thank my colleagues for their support of this legislation. This bill is a critical component of the Committee's electronic commerce agenda, and I look forward to working with them on ensuring swift enactment.

For many years, economists have wondered whether our country's enormous investment in information technology -- in computers and advanced telecommunications networks -- actually increased productivity.

But now, even the economists are believers.

No less an expert than Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently observed that the current economic prosperity we are enjoying in the United States is largely attributable to our investment in information technology.

Just the other day, the University of Texas released its study entitled 'The Internet Economy,' which finds that, in 1998 alone, the Internet generated more than $300 billion in revenue and was responsible for 1.2 million jobs. This is a mere five years after the birth of the World Wide Web. To give my colleagues some sense of comparison, it took the automobile industry 100 years to scale such heights.

The investment both the public and private sectors have made in our information infrastructure is finally paying dividends in terms of allowing us to access and use information in a manner unprecedented in history.

A farmer in the Virginia Piedmont is now able to access from his home a wealth of information critical to his business. He can learn about soil conditions, weather trends, new pesticides, genetically enhanced seeds, loans with low interest rates, and potential buyers in distant states.

A 'soccer mom' in suburban Richmond from her study is able to do price comparisons on a new
refrigerator . . . plan the family vacation . . . find a support group for her child with special educational needs . . . and even do her Christmas shopping.

All of the Members of this Committee are committed to promoting electronic commerce. We want to preserve consumers' privacy . . we want to protect security . . . and we want to promote the deployment of bandwidth.

But let's be clear about what this is all about: it's about information, and consumers' apparently insatiable demand for it.

And that's why today's hearing is so extremely important. This hearing will address a bedrock issue: who will control information in the Information Age.

On the one hand, we need to make sure that compilers of information have sufficient incentive to engage in their difficult but essential work.

But at the same time, we need to make sure that we do not lock facts up . . . that we do not give anyone monopoly control over facts.

For if we were to do that, we would greatly restrict the ability of new firms to create innovative databases incorporating those facts. As a practical matter, this would limit many of the wonderful uses of information the Internet permits us.

How do we achieve this delicate balance? Does existing law get it right, or is some fine-tuning necessary? Can this fine tuning be accomplished in a manner that does not run afoul of the First Amendment of the Constitution or Copyright Clause?

My own view is that some targeted, fine-tuning is needed, and it is for this reason that I introduced H.R. 1858, the Consumer and Investor Access to Information Act of 1999. I will be interested in hearing from today's witnesses whether H.R. 1858 embodies the appropriate approach for tackling this complex issue.