Association for Computing Machinery
Timely Topics for IT Professionals

About ACM TechNews

ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


ACM TechNews is intended as an objective news digest for busy IT Professionals. Views expressed are not necessarily those of either Gateway Inc. or ACM.

To send comments, please write to technews@hq.acm.org.

Volume 2, Issue 111:  Wednesday, September 27, 2000

  • "Congress Moves Close to Passing Visa Bill Long Sought by the High-Tech Industry"
    Wall Street Journal (09/26/00) P. B15; Valbrun, Marjorie

    Congress seems poised to pass H-1B visa legislation that would bring more foreign high-tech workers to U.S. firms, as lawmakers have set aside their political wrangling over other immigration issues. The H-1B bill was stalled when Democratic leaders tried to attach a measure that would grant amnesty to roughly half a million immigrants already living and working illegally in the United States. Republicans objected to the amnesty provisions, which have now been separated from the H-1B issue, Clinton administration officials announced yesterday. The H-1B bill, which would boost the number of visas up to 195,000 annually, could reach a Senate vote today. Senate approval would likely help a similar bill in the House, which would raise the yearly visa cap to 200,000. The progress toward passing the H-1B legislation is seen as a victory for high-tech firms, as well as a testament to the tech industry's sway on Capitol Hill.

  • "FTC Ends 3-Year Intel Investigation"
    Associated Press (09/26/00) Liedtke, Michael

    The FTC announced yesterday that it is dropping its three-year antitrust investigation of Intel. The reasons for closing the investigation include the FTC's limited resources for conduct cases, Intel's cooperation with the agency, and the success of Intel's chief competitors Advanced Micro Devices and Via Technologies, antitrust lawyers say. The probe, which began in September 1997, aimed to determine whether Intel abused its power in the computer chip market to manipulate other computer part markets. One issue the FTC looked into was whether Intel withheld its chip technology to keep competitors from making compatible products. The FTC has also dropped its investigation into whether Intel's 1998 purchase of Chips & Technologies and its equity stake in Real 3D damaged competition in graphics components or other hardware markets.

  • "Capitol Hill Net Bills Suffer System Failure"
    CNet (09/22/00); Ross, Patrick

    This Congress has introduced an astounding 419 pieces of legislation that contain the word "Internet," yet just a few have actually been passed into law. To be sure, Congress appears to be taking Internet-related issues seriously, introducing bills and holding hearings on them with regularity, but it is no big secret among those in the know that the activity is more show than substance. Indeed, a Capitol Hill source says two recent high-tech bills--one a House amendment that outlaws regulatory fees on Internet traffic, and another that holds implications for ISP charges--are not expected to go anywhere. Still, some high-tech bills have a chance of passing this year, including one that seeks to increase the number of H-1B visas. Precursor Group President Bill Whyman says many members of Congress have been quick to point out how much they care about Internet privacy, yet have decided that online privacy is too complicated an issue to deal with this session. Congress is taking a cautious approach, one that assumes "victory is not doing anything dumb," Whyman says. Charles Schwab analyst Erik Olbeter concurs. "Congress doesn't make any big, grand moves without considering how it affects the Internet," Olbeter says. Making matters more confusing are the competing agendas of various Internet lobbying groups, many of which have only recently come into existence and have shown an inability to cooperate on issues of agreement. Any Internet bills that fail to pass this session must be re-introduced next session, if at all.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1004-200-2840147.html
    For information on ACM's work in the area of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm .

  • "Experts See Rash of Hack Attacks Coming"
    USA Today (09/27/00) P. 1B; Kong, Deborah; Swartz, Jon

    Experts warn that computer hackers are becoming much more bold, and a new slew of denial-of-service attacks similar to the ones that debilitated Yahoo!, eBay, and other major sites last February is expected soon. The FBI Computer Security Institute expects roughly $266 million to be lost due to computer-related crimes this year, and the difficulty of tracing an attack, the weak security most computers have, and law enforcement's relative inexperience in combating such crime will only encourage more of it, say experts. Copycats are expected to also mimic hacker activity, and there are a plethora of Web sites that give novice hackers instruction on how to breach and deface Web sites. Disney World was the latest major company to experience a Web attack when a hacker broke into its database containing the names, addresses, and pictures of 1,200 Epcot visitors.
    http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20000927/2690961s.htm
    For information regarding ACM's activities related to security, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/crypto.

  • "Y2K Shield Law Seldom Used"
    CNet (09/24/00)

    The Y2K Act, passed last year to protect businesses from a predicted deluge of lawsuits related to Y2K computer failure, has not had a very significant impact in court, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. Observers attribute this to the fact that most of the anticipated Y2K problems did not occur. The GAO report revealed that businesses invoked the Y2K Act, which made it easier for them to force plaintiffs into mediation, to fight class-action suits, and to move cases to the federal level, only 18 times. This proves the act's success, claims Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), because firms were able to concentrate on fixing their Y2K problems rather than spending their time worrying about Y2K-related litigation. Opponents argued that the act merely made businesses less responsible for correcting potential problems in their products.
    http://news.cnet.com/news/0-1009-200-2856571.html

  • "Modem Fee Legislation Stalls"
    Medill News Service (09/26/00); Kaplan, Simone

    A measure that would replace reciprocal compensation agreements between regional Bell telephone carriers and local exchange carriers with a "bill and keep" system has stalled out of concerns that consumers will see higher Internet rates. Local exchange carriers receive roughly $2 billion a year from regional Bell carriers under the current system. House Resolution 4445 would require each party to pay for each other's calls, but opponents fear the resolution's implementation would raise consumer Internet access charges. However, a spokesman for Rep. W.J. Tauzin (R-La.), the bill's author, claims there is no need to worry. "Despite the hysteria created by the [carriers], there's no evidence that Internet rates would go up under our legislation," says Tauzin representative Ken Johnson. Nevertheless, House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Bliley (R-Va.) has yet to make a ruling on the bill, according to a committee spokesperson.
    http://www.pcworld.com/pcwtoday/article/0,1510,18657,00.html

  • "Leaders of E-Commerce Map the Future in Miami"
    Miami Herald (09/26/00) P. 1A; Dorschner, John

    Improving consumer confidence in e-commerce will be the main topic of discussion among participants meeting in Miami for the second annual Global Business Dialogue on Electronic Commerce (GBDe) conference. The GBDe was founded in 1999 by Steve Case of America Online as an effort to facilitate Internet access and e-commerce worldwide. The international gathering of both government and corporate leaders will address concerns about privacy and cyber-security, online credit card use, taxation, and intellectual property conflicts that are hampering the global expansion of e-commerce. Over 350 people are expected to attend the event, including the top executives of AOL, Hewlett-Packard, Vivendi, Cisneros Group, Bertelsmann, eBay, Time Warner, Toshiba, EDS, Korea Telecom, and Andersen Consulting. Lower-level global company executives and leaders of local Spanish-language dot-coms are also expected. Ministers from Argentina and Japan will be part of the government contingent, while a keynote address will be delivered by U.S. Commerce Secretary Norman Mineta.
    http://www.miamiherald.com/content/today/docs/096417.htm

  • "Women Get Plugged In to High-Tech"
    Baltimore Sun (09/24/00) P. 3S; Bishop, Tricia

    The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) offers a Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT) that aims to help women enter the predominantly male high-tech workforce. Although women account for 51 percent of the overall population as well as the college student population, they represent only 20 percent of U.S. IT workers. Meanwhile, women earn less than 28 percent of computer science degrees, and that percentage is shrinking. CWIT offers a class called "Cybergrrls and Wired Women" that examines the social and psychological factors that discourage women from entering the high-tech field. CWIT also runs a program that certifies underprivileged women in computer hardware and operating systems. In addition, CWIT offers a speaker series featuring women who have succeeded in the high-tech world, such as Xerox research scientist Anne Balsamo. To interest the next-generation of women in technology, the center plans to begin a mentoring program that will match UMBC undergraduates with middle school girls. The shortage of women developing technology has led to a dearth of Internet resources geared toward women, says Joan Korenman, who created CWIT. Echoing this view, Lisa Scherr, program director of IBM's Women in Technology task force, says technology could better meet women's needs if women played a larger role in creating products. For its part, IBM is hosting community education efforts such as its summer 2000 technology camps, which focus on showing middle school girls the real-life applications of technology.
    Click Here to View Full Article
    To learn more about ACM's Committee on Women in Computing, visit http://www.acm.org/women.

  • "House Passes E-Commerce Enhancement Bill"
    Newsbytes (09/26/00); MacMillan, Robert

    The House on Tuesday gave its voice-vote approval to the Electronic Commerce Enhancement Act, legislation that calls for the creation of an e-commerce pilot program for small- and mid-sized businesses. The program, to be managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), would be charged with helping smaller companies develop e-commerce strategies. An NIST advisory panel created by the bill would be given 18 months to craft a report on the matter. The panel would consist of representatives from the Small Business Administration, the Technology Administration, and NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program. The Clinton administration opposes a similar bill sponsored by Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), which differs from the Electronic Commerce Enhancement Act in that it calls for the creation of the Center for Excellence in Electronic Commerce--an NIST clearinghouse center. Frist's bill gives NIST too much authority, according to the Clinton administration.
    http://www.newsbytes.com/pubNews/00/155733.html

  • "Analysts Say High-Tech Spending Boom Is Starting to Level Off and May Decline"
    Wall Street Journal (09/25/00) P. A2; Barta, Patrick

    The strong high-tech spending that has driven the U.S. economy is recent years could be slowing, analysts warn. Although companies are still spending large amounts on high-tech infrastructure, experts say spending growth in computers, software, servers, and switching devices is tapering off and could start to fall. This trend threatens not only the high-tech sector, but the whole U.S. economy, as tech spending has contributed 30 percent of the growth in the U.S. gross domestic product in recent years. One reason for the potential slowdown is that companies devoted so much money to Y2K upgrades and productivity improvements that they now have little need to buy more technology products. General Electric, for example, says its technology investments from past years have brought so many productivity gains that the company does not need to spend lavishly on technology. Meanwhile, some companies are being conservative with their tech spending while they observe the fates of struggling dot-coms.

  • "U.S., EU Move Toward Cybercrime Treaty"
    Interactive Week Online (09/27/00); Gruenwald, Juliana

    Some U.S. industry groups are just now beginning to bristle over a proposed international treaty on cybercrime that is being put together by the Council of Europe with help from several world governments, including the United States, Japan, Canada, and South Africa. The first-of-its-kind proposal, which has been in the making since April 1997 and is now nearing its final draft, urges signatory countries to pass legislation addressing several areas of concern. Among these would be legislation cracking down on online child pornography, computer fraud, and forgery. The treaty also outlaws hacking devices and gives law enforcement agencies the right to search computers for data and to seize that data if necessary. Telecom operators, ISPs, and others that are privy to the data would be forced to cooperate with law enforcement. A public draft of the treaty states that the assistance of ISPs and telecom operators "is vital to identify computer criminals and secure evidence of their misdeeds." Critics such as David Banisar of the Electronic Privacy Information Center suggest that the U.S. government--specifically the Justice Department--is using the treaty to grab power that Congress would not grant. Gus Hosein, deputy director of Privacy International, worries that the harmonization of international cybercrime laws could permit a country such as the United Kingdom to use its potent Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act beyond its own borders. The European Council released a first draft of the treaty in April and is expected to release a second draft as soon as this week.
    http://www.usatoday.com/life/cyber/zd/zd7.htm
    For information regarding ACM's activities on behalf of privacy matters, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm/privacy.

  • "EU Strengthens Consumers' E-Commerce Rights"
    TheStandard.com (09/22/00); Perera, Rick

    Consumers in the European Union now have the right to sue foreign-based e-commerce companies in the courts of their country of residence, thanks to legislation passed by the European Parliament late last week. The passing of the measure means that European consumers are no longer limited to suing e-commerce companies in the courts of the countries in which their base of operations are located. However, lawmakers granted industry a concession by toning down the legislation so that only "active" Internet sites--those that market directly in a customer's country of residence--would be affected by the jurisdictional changes. This concession is necessary to ensure that e-commerce can grow unabated throughout Europe, industry representatives said. European Parliament member Diana Wallis of the United Kingdom criticized the industry's stance on the issue, arguing that its fears that broader consumer litigation rights would hamper e-commerce growth are "vastly overexaggerated." "The research that's available tends to indicate that the number of cases that are consumer-to-business across member state boundaries is tiny," Wallis said.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/0,1151,18776,00.html

  • "Casting for New Sources of Wealth"
    Financial Times (09/19/00) P. 4; Brown-Humes, Christopher

    Iceland is attempting to reduce its economic dependence on fishing through the development of an IT industry. Iceland currently possesses the highest global penetration rates for mobile phones and the Internet. In a few years, IT will account for more than 10 percent of Iceland's export earnings, according to Kaupthing investment bank. Between 1990 and 1998, Icelandic software exports grew from practically nothing to roughly $25 million. A national character for trying out new things makes the country ideal for a technological testing ground, says Taeknival general manager Arni Sigfusson. Taeknival is developing a project to integrate the Internet with the country's North Atlantic fishing fleet while at the same time focusing on the domestic market along with such companies as Skyrr, EJS, and Opin Kerfi. Iceland's small market has prodded companies to enter overseas markets faster than continental businesses, according to Kaupthing. One such company is Oz, an Internet and software application maker that owns offices in Boston, Stockholm, and Reykjavik. Ericsson has invested $13 million in Oz in exchange for a 19 percent share. Oz is worth $250 million on the grey market, and other Icelandic companies should follow its example if a domestic IT market is to be successfully achieved.

  • "Carnivore Review Team Hired"
    Wired News (09/26/00)

    The nonprofit IIT Research Institute, which has ties with the Illinois Institute of Technology, has signed on to review the FBI's Carnivore email monitoring system, a process that will begin at once and conclude in December, the Justice Department announced yesterday. Carnivore will continue to be active while the study is being conducted, a decision that does not sit well with David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The IIT Research Institute will be charged with determining whether the use of Carnivore increases privacy risks to Internet users' electronic communications. "The review team will have full access to any information they need to perform their review," said Assistant Attorney General Stephen R. Colgate, head of the selection process.
    http://www.wired.com/news/politics/0,1283,39078,00.html

  • "Germany's Answer to Napster: A Hardware Tax"
    Industry Standard (10/02/00) Vol. 3, No. 39, P. 69; Sprenger, Polly

    The German electronics industry is locked in debate over a proposal to charge hardware manufacturers a fee to be paid to the musicians, artists, writers, and other intellectual property owners whose works are distributed via the Internet. Because the debate reflects the ongoing clash between copyrighted materials' online distribution and current intellectual property laws around the world, other countries are keepting an eye on the proceedings in Germany, Europe's largest Internet economy. The proposed fee would present a way to handle Internet distributors such as Napster, which offer artists' work without compensating those artists, says German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "This is not a tax but a fee given to people who produce [online works]," says Schroeder. Opponents of the proposed fee believe the charges are unfair and will reduce German Internet use. If the proposal is passed, electronics manufacturers plan to raise prices of new technologies to simply let the consumers pay the fee. The amount to be charged has not been determined, says Schroeder. The fees might begin as soon as the end of the year, says Dr. Frank Thoms of VG Wort. Personal computers and CD burners would be included under the fee, while other electronic equipment, including fax machines, photocopiers, and scanners, are already levied a small fee.
    http://www.thestandard.com/article/display/0,1151,18766,00.html

  • "Chip Challenges"
    Industry Week (09/18/00) Vol. 249, No. 15, P. 33; Bartholomew, Doug

    Semiconductor production is undergoing many changes more or less simultaneously, with the biggest shifts being the advent of copper interconnect technology, low-capacitance dielectric insulators, 0.13-micron lithography, and 300-mm wafers. Chipmakers will probably be making these conversions all at once, says IBM Microelectronics manager of interconnect technology James G. Ryan. The need for increased processing power is fueling the push for copper interconnects and low-capacitance insulators. Copper is a better conductor than aluminum and producing chips with copper interconnects will be less expensive. IBM is two years ahead of most competitors in this regard, says Ryan. IBM is also leading the conversion of lower capacitance dielectric insulation, which enables electronic signals to move faster when integrated into a chip. By using Dow Chemical's aromatic thermoset SiLK as a low-k dielectric material, IBM claims its chips will gain 30 percent more computing speed and performance. To pack more circuits and processing ability onto a chip, the industry has started to shift to 0.13-micron and smaller lithography, but sooner or later manufacturers will face the physical limitations responsible for the shift to copper interconnects and low-capacitance insulators. One solution to this problem may be extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography that can supposedly etch circuit lines smaller than one-tenth of a micron. Chipmakers are expected to employ this process in 2005. Because 300-mm wafers can carry two and a half times as many chips as 200-mm wafers with only a 15 percent raise in production costs, companies such as Intel are moving to the larger format.
    http://www.industryweek.com/CurrentArticles/asp/articles.asp?ArticleId=897

  • "Solving the Paradox"
    Economist (09/23/00) Vol. 356, No. 8189, P. 11

    The United States has enjoyed a surge in labor productivity since the mid 1990s, about the time when computers reached a 50 percent penetration rate. From 1975 through 1995 the average yearly growth in labor productivity in the business sector was 1.4 percent, but the figure has since jumped to 2.9 percent. And for the second quarter of 2000 the figure is up 5.2 percent. The information technology producing industries have been the greatest beneficiaries of the new economy, having seen productivity climb an average of 24 percent a year in the 1990s. However, market observers are not sure how much IT has impacted the rest of the American economy. Steve Oliner and Daniel Sichel at the Federal Reserve in Washington and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan are all optimistic about IT's contribution to productivity. Dale Jorgenson of Harvard University and Kevin Stiroh of the New York Fed have similar findings about labor productivity growing 2.3 percent over the next 10 years. However, some experts such as Northwestern economist Robert Gordon say IT has not had a wider effect on total factor productivity of the economy. Gordon's conclusions differ from those of other researchers largely because he takes the effect of the economic cycle into account. Nevertheless, other experts point out that Gordon focuses more on consumer e-commerce than B2B electronic transactions. With labor productivity and per capita growth projected over the long-term at an annual 2.5 percent, the impact of IT would be as big as electricity. For IT to be bigger than electricity, cars, and telephones, productivity growth would have to reach 3 percent to 4 percent over the next decade.
    http://www.economist.com/editorial/freeforall/current/index_su0832.html

  • "Rage Against the Machine"
    Interactive Week (09/18/00) Vol. 7, No. 37, P. 80; Brown, Doug

    Manifestos that describe what the future will be like as a result of networked computing are becoming more commonplace. Although the writings of Theodore Kaczynski are among the most widely known, technology manifestos have been written by a number of influential figures, including Sun Microsystems cofounder Bill Joy and the company's chief scientist David Gelernter. Bookstores are filled with titles that speak to the changes that will take place in the world. The Web is teeming with technologists and journalists who are putting out writings, such as the Web movement that is behind the Cluetrain Manifesto. Even major newspapers have produced their own offerings. For example, the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung touted Internet culture to Europeans in May. The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx, remains the most popular. Although not all manifestos are filled with doom, many are giddy and prophetic works that capture the ecstatic moments of technological hype. And while many experts do not consider technology to be a driver of change in society, they add that the writings tend to signal that a change will take place in today's culture. For Gelernter, the foremost change that has occurred is more convenient commerce. University of Maine professor of history Howard Segel says experts need to place networked computers in the historical context of other advances that have brought about social change. If they do so, Segel says it would be difficult for them to suggest that networked computers will be any more revolutionary than any other advance that has facilitated a cultural upheaval in past generations.
    http://www.zdnet.com/intweek/stories/news/0,4164,2630381,00.html