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ACM TechNews is published every week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
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Volume 2, Issue 122: Wednesday, October 25, 2000
- "Foreign Workers Said to Lower Tech Pay"
Washington Post (10/25/00) P. E3; Johnson, Carrie
Salaries at U.S. high-tech firms are not increasing as quickly as they could because H-1B workers are accepting low wages in hopes of becoming permanent residents, according to a recent report from the National Research Council. The report, which stems from a year-long investigation of the U.S. high-tech workforce, closely follows the passage of H-1B visa legislation that raises the annual visa cap to more that 195,000. "We feel [the population of foreign workers] is so large that we are totally dependent on it, and it depresses wages," says Alan Merten, committee chairman and president of George Mason University. The U.S. employs over 5 million high-tech workers, about 255,000 of which are visa holders, the study says. Opponents say the H-1B visa program prevents U.S. firms from tapping older workers, women, and minority groups as a source of labor. The committee looked into the issue of age discrimination and found that employees over age 40 are more likely than younger workers to lose their positions. After finding new jobs, men over 40 often receive lower salaries than their younger male co-workers, the committee says. Still, the committee says it lacks sufficient information to reach a conclusion about age discrimination in the tech industry. Meanwhile, critics contend that the committee is biased toward the industry and is trying to postpone action on age discrimination by calling for more research into the area.
- "U.S. Calls for Global E-Commerce Rules"
E-Commerce Times (10/24/00); Enos, Lori
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, addressing members of the Federal Communications Bar Association on Monday, said new standards for e-commerce trade will increase the potential of the Internet economy. Barshefsky says e-commerce is already worth $700 billion and is growing at an exponential rate. She discussed the Clinton administration's "Networked World" initiative, which she said will give e-commerce "the same guarantees of freedom, fair competition, respect for intellectual property rights, and access to markets that more conventional commerce enjoys." Barshefsky added that not only can e-commerce make businesses more efficient, it can also improve consumers' quality of life. Therefore, the government has a responsibility to enact a policy that both encourages the growth of technology and protects consumers, businesses, and national security from the security threats that can arise from new technology, Barshefsky said. The Clinton administration will submit its "Networked World" proposal to the World Trade Organization and other international bodies, and Barshefsky noted that the WTO must act to treat e-commerce and digital goods fairly. For example, the WTO must decide whether music, books, or other media downloaded from a server not based in the U.S. qualify as imports.
- "As Competition Heats Up, So Does the Threat of Collusion"
New York Times--E-Commerce (10/25/00) P. 22; Labaton, Stephen
Companies are racing to establish online business-to-business exchanges, but experts say the marketplaces could allow major industry players to join forces and engage in anti-competitive practices such as collusion and price-fixing. Online exchanges can bring greater efficiency, lower costs, and faster production, and FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky estimates that over 900 companies are now planning to form such exchanges, marking more than a 50 percent rise in just the past few months. However, antitrust experts worry that B2B exchanges could exclude some companies and damage competition, or that they could force companies to use only one dominant exchange. Moreover, experts fear that buyers and sellers could engage in price collusion, and that technology would allow them to do so without leaving behind any evidence. Legal experts working with online exchanges say the ventures pose no threat if they are properly structured and certain checks are in place. Antitrust officials in the U.S. and Europe are approving the first of these exchanges on the condition that the exchanges will be closely monitored. For example, the FTC warned that it will continue to look for anti-competitive practices at Covisint, an online exchange that will allow major automakers to purchase supplies.
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- "Companies Push for Tax Breaks Under Guise of Easing Digital Divide"
Wall Street Journal (10/23/00) P. B1; McKinnon, John D.
High-tech companies are lobbying for a number of bills they say would help narrow the digital divide, but these bills would also provide corporate tax breaks and help providers build broadband networks. Phone companies, for example, are pushing to repeal the 3 percent federal excise tax on phone bills. However, this digital divide proposal would only save the average consumer about $35 annually, an amount unlikely to influence a person's ability to afford Internet access. Another proposal, backed by Gateway and others, would provide a tax break to PC makers for providing libraries and schools with used computers. Critics say poor adults would benefit more from the used PCs, and note that Gateway brings in many used PCs through its trade-in program. The digital divide has also been cited as an argument in favor of a bill that would give tax breaks to companies that build broadband Internet networks. Backing the measure is fiber-optic firm Corning, which would likely enjoy a sales boost from the legislation. The bill would provide a 10 percent tax credit for companies that build current-generation broadband networks in low-income and rural areas. However, the bill also calls for a 20 percent tax credit for companies that bring next-generation broadband connections to any residential area, regardless of income level. The bills would help providers speed up the slow rollout of broadband services, which require tremendous upfront investments. However, some critics question whether the bills would help close the digital divide, or whether they would merely create a new divide between those with broadband access and those without.
Readers interested in the digital divide and related issues may wish to learn more about ACM's upcoming Conference on Universal Usability: http://www.acm.org/sigs/sigchi/cuu
- "Policy Group Hails Congressional 'High-Tech 12'"
Newsbytes (10/25/00); McGuire, David
The Delaney Policy Group has released a report that sings the praises of nine members of Congress who will take a careful approach to crafting Internet legislation during the next session. This group consists of Reps. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), John Larson (D-Conn.), Gary Miller (R-Calif.), Charles Pickering (R-Miss.), James Rogan (R-Calif.), and Sens. Sam Brownback (R-Kam.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). The report also calls attention to three candidates for Congress who have significant experience with technology issues. The "High-Tech 12" have all been leaders in developing high-tech policy at the federal level, be it stronger online privacy protections, the legalization of digital signatures, or a moratorium on e-commerce taxes, according to the Delaney Policy Group.
For information regarding ACM's work on matters of public policy, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "Lingua Franca for the New Economy"
Financial Times (10/25/00) P. 12; Harvey, Fiona
As the importance of the Internet in everyday business transactions grew over recent years, companies found that they were acquiring volumes of data written in different computer languages. For example, a bank that does not want to be named says it once employed 1,920 incompatible computer systems. Interoperability is the key to successful e-commerce, and now companies ensure the free exchange of data in different languages with XML, or extensible mark-up language, a standard first devised by IBM and now endorsed by the World Wide Web Consortium. XML attaches a tag to each piece of text that signifies what the text means, allowing different computers to interpret the text properly. Essential to successful XML programming is the use of clear, meaningful tags. To provide this, many industries are developing standard tag terms for their operations, leading to sub-branches of XML such as SML, steel mark-up language, for the steel industry and so on. XML improves on the original Web-programming language HTML, which is more useful for displaying text than describing what text means. Also failing to satisfy programmers was an early version of XML called Standard Generalized Mark-up Language, or SGML. Although SGML also used tags to describe the content of text, programmers found it difficult to learn, let alone to implement. In contrast, XML is effective and easy to use, and more and more businesses are turning to it to ease the process of e-commerce.
- "IDC: More Linux Equals More Training Needs"
Network World Fusion (10/24/00); Evans, James
Linux server hardware vendors, Linux distribution and service vendors, and general IT training vendors can expect a growing market for Linux training services, according to International Data. The market for training services surrounding the open source Linux operating system may reach as high as $311 million by 2004, up from $10.9 million in 1999, IDC projects. "We expect it is going to grow, particularly since we are going into the e-learning space," agrees Melissa London, spokeswoman for Linux distribution vendor Red Hat Linux, which reports seeing a 16 percent to 22 percent increase in the number of professionals signing up for Linux training courses.
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- "Gold Rush Tarnishes for Tech Workers"
Boston Sunday Globe (10/22/00) P. A1; Denison, D.C.
The high-tech industry has changed dramatically over the past six months, as tech stocks spiral downward and venture capital dries up. Dot-coms that fail to meet expectations are collapsing, furthering the belief among investors that high-tech stocks were highly overvalued. The market downturn has provoked mixed reactions from the high-tech crowd. Some observers believe the days of fast, easy money are over, while others say the shakeout will have the positive effect of forcing players to focus on business strategies. "Today you need serious product development and customers with serious intent to purchase before you get funding," says YankeeTek Ventures venture capitalist Jill Krzewina. Meanwhile, some smaller companies are not feeling the impact of the downturn as strongly as larger firms, says Internet consultant Keith Dawson. Many smaller firms receive funding from people who profited during last year's high tech boom, and are therefore not feeling pressure from venture capitalists, Dawson says. Meanwhile, the downturn is taking an especially heavy toll on companies that obtained funding by pitching the idea of rapid growth, "because they are dealing with plans that only worked if they hit the home run, if they turned into another Yahoo!," says John Chu, an attorney who advises new companies. Overall, the high-tech community seems to view the recent downturn as a temporary setback, as many companies are still growing and the search for skilled workers continues.
- "On Broadband Future, Gore and Bush Offer Crucial Differences"
Wall Street Journal (10/24/00) P. A1; Davis, Bob
The winner of the upcoming presidential election will play a significant role in shaping future information-technology policy. The cable and telecommunications industries especially are wondering which candidate will occupy the White House next year and what his presidency will mean to their operations. Contributions to the two parties from the communications industry in this election have totaled $27 million, the Center for Responsive Politics reports. Observers believe George W. Bush would not impose heavy regulations on tech industries but also would not allow cable companies to dominate the market for broadband access. However, Bush and his advisers believe competitive market pressure, not government mandates, are the best way to open the broadband market to both small and large firms. Observers expect a Bush administration would also be less likely to interfere in proposed corporate mergers and other industry issues. Although this pleases larger, more established firms, some startups worry that they will not be able to compete in the broadband market in such a climate. A Gore administration would rely more on government intervention, observers believe. As vice president, Gore has shaped the telecommunications policy of the current administration and has drawn some criticism for guiding policy at the supposedly independent FCC. Gore is a strong proponent of competition and open access, and cable companies would likely face increased pressure, perhaps in the form of new regulations, to open their networks to other providers. Gore would also continue the current administration's E-rate program to provide broadband links to remote or underfunded locations. Smaller firms and Internet service providers would benefit from a Gore administration, observers forecast, because they would be on more equal footing with larger firms.
- "US Shows the Way in Global Patenting of E-Ideas"
Financial Times (10/24/00) P. 17; Barker, Thorold
U.S. companies are filing for significantly more business method patents than their European counterparts, and companies in Europe could find themselves lagging in the digital economy as a result, says a recent report from The University of Oxford and law firm Olswang. U.S. firms accounted for half of the business method patents filed last year in Europe, while U.K. companies represented only 5 percent, the report says. U.K. companies do not aggressively pursue business method patents because of European laws that limit patents on computer programs and business methods, says Olswang partner Paul Stevens. However, Stevens says such patents can be obtained in Europe, and U.S. companies are keenly aware of business method patents because of Amazon's patent on one-click shopping and other well-known examples. Meanwhile, 2,600 business method patents were filed last year in the U.S., while only 200 were filed in Europe, according to the report. "American companies are using the existing system and European companies are going to get locked out of markets," Stevens warns.
- "Internet Usage Soaring in Europe--Jupiter Report"
Newsbytes (10/24/00); Dennis, Sylvia
Internet usage rates in Europe are gaining fast on U.S. usage rates, and the sophistication of European Internet users is likewise improving, according to a study to be released next week by Jupiter Media Metrix. By 2005, 245 million households across the globe will be connected to the Internet, with markets other than the United States leading the growth boom, the study says. Jupiter says that marketers should use measuring tools other than unique visitors to gauge the outlook for nascent Internet markets such as France. Marketers should also focus on site stickiness when considering ad buys; usage-intensive sites are generally a good bet, says Jupiter. An audience that focuses its attention on a few Web pages is more valuable to merchants and advertisers than one that goes through many pages without spending much time there, according to Jupiter.
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- "ICANN Will Decide Last Word on the Web Addresses"
Reuters (10/22/00); Lawsky, David
ICANN's board of directors including the five newly elected members will receive recommendations from its staff prior to its November 13-16 meeting where it will decide which new domain name suffixes will join .com, .net, .org, .gov, and .edu. The organization's decisions will likely demonstrate whether ICANN is capable of representing the complex variety of Internet interests. ICANN, which took over Network Solutions' responsibilities when the company lost its monopoly, now has a contract with the U.S. government that is up for renewal in the coming year. ICANN's management of the applications currently in its possession will determine whether it will go on as an organization, says Sam Jabbour, the postal technology center head at the Universal Postal Union. Although ICANN CPO Andrew McLaughlin agrees that ICANN is still an experiment, recently elected ICANN board member Carl Auerbach thinks thousands of new domain suffixes should be created annually.
For information regarding ACM's Internet governance work related to ICANN, visit http://www.acm.org/serving/IG.html
- "Nanotech is Near: Celebrate or Take Cover?"
USA Today (10/24/00) P. 1B; Maney, Kevin
Scientists claim that the dangers of nanotechnology prophesied by pundits such as Sun Microsystems' Bill Joy are overblown, but hopes of commercial nanotech applications in the near future are just as unrealistic. Nevertheless, recent breakthroughs have helped drive federal funding for nanotech research at universities. Lucent Technologies started shipping nanotech-derived all-optical switches from Bell Labs this summer, while Corvis is developing its own version. The market for nanodevice-based switches will exceed $1 billion by 2004, predicts Cahners In-Stat Group. IBM and other companies are trying to build semiconductors using carbon nanotubes, while a quantum corral project headed by IBM's Don Eigler could herald a way to transmit data without the use of wires. Meanwhile, work with nanomotors conducted by Cornell and Oxford University could form the basis for microscopic drug-delivery systems that detect and treat disease within the human body. Major companies and nanotech startups are entering the fray, although it may take several decades before nanotech truly becomes commercial.
- "A Filipino Linked to 'Love Bug' Talks About His License to Hack"
New York Times (10/21/00) P. B1; Landler, Mark
Onel de Guzman, suspected by many of authoring the Love Bug computer virus that resulted in $10 billion in damage to computers all over the world, said he still does not know if he was responsible for the attack. Guzman, a 24-year-old resident of Manila, was the prime suspect in the May 4, 2000, unleashing of the Love Bug virus because of his history of hacking-it was the subject of a thesis he wrote in college-and because investigators traced suspicious traffic on the Internet to a computer in his sister's house. However, Guzman avoided charges because there was no law against computer espionage in the Philippines at the time of the incident. Now, however, such a law has been passed, and Guzman is reluctant to say too much about his role in the Love Bug incident for fear that he will be prosecuted under the new regulations. Guzman told the New York Times he did not hack into computers anymore but still engaged in "cracking", a practice by which he can download unlicensed software by breaking the numeric codes that should protect that software. Guzman said it is the software vendors' fault for making products that are so easily hacked. Although Guzman received numerous job offers in the immediate aftermath of the Love Bug incident, he said such offers have since disappeared. He may open a cybercafe, he said, and he may also attempt to develop a software program that no one could hack.
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- "E-Job Explosion"
Washington Post (10/21/00) P. A16; Smith, Dita
Internet-based companies will be responsible for employing over 10 million workers in Europe and the United States, according to a report by Andersen Consulting. Currently going through Congress is a bill to increase the number of H-1B visas available to specialized overseas workers, particularly Asians, in order to accommodate all the new jobs. Germany has also taken similar steps. The U.S. Internet economy will grow to $1.23 trillion by 2002, while the Internet economy of the five most prosperous European nations will grow to $597 billion, according to the Andersen report. The Internet beats all other industries in the amount of jobs created over such a short time, the report says. The report includes the results of a survey from roughly 160 leaders of Internet companies and traditional companies as well as from government heads in eight countries. Of the respondents, 44 percent strongly agree that Internet entrepreneurs currently possess enough capital, while 47 percent agree that there are not enough people qualified to fill e-jobs. The number of Internet employees in the United States will reach 5.8 million by 2002, 1 million in Germany, 852,000 in Britain, 565,000 in France, 337,000 in Italy, 225,000 in Spain, and 30,000 in Ireland, according to the report.
- "UCITA: Click 'I Agree' to Waive Rights"
Government Technology (10/00) Vol. 13, No. 13, P. 44; Marcotte, John
The Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act (UCITA) is designed to standardize state laws on software contracts by enforcing shrink-wrap licenses, but critics say the bill significantly curtails consumer rights. UCITA defines a software sale as a license, allowing vendors to add all sorts of limitations on what consumers can do with the product, says Vergil Bushnell, an e-commerce policy analyst for the Consumer Project on Technology, a group that opposes the bill. Furthermore, consumers can only discover the limitations in the contract after purchasing the software. Although UCITA does allow buyers to return software, consumers are not able to compare the contracts of rival products before buying and in many cases only one vendor offers the necessary software, Bushnell says. Vendors could essentially force any licensing restrictions on consumers, who must submit to the contract terms to use software, critics say. However, vendors are unlikely to include licensing terms that would alienate their customers, argues John McCabe of the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws, the group that wrote UCITA. Still, UCITA would allow vendors to prohibit reverse engineering of software and to prevent consumers from criticizing products. The bill also includes "self-help" provisions that would permit vendors to remotely shut off a user's software if the vendor believes the user has violated contract terms. One expert says self-destructing software could destroy other data as well as word-processing files and spreadsheets.
For information about ACM's UCITA activities, visit http://www.acm.org/usacm.
- "IC Advancements: Smaller, Faster, Cheaper, Better"
Network Computing (10/16/00) Vol. 11, No. 20, P. 91; Lee, Mike; Wittmann, Art
Advances in integrated circuit (IC) technology have led to smaller, less expensive products with faster speeds and improved performance. IBM leads several efforts to boost smaller chip performance by using new materials with improved conductivity. Such breakthroughs include the use of copper instead of aluminum as a conductor and the implementation of silicon-on-insulator transistors. Application-specific integrated circuits have improved network processing speeds and driven prices down by implementing complex protocols directly in hardware instead of through software algorithms. The industry has made these advances by adhering to Moore's Law, the axiom that transistor density in ICs doubles every 18 months while transistor size shrinks accordingly. Advances in software tools runs parallel to those in IC technology, and experts expect the industry to enjoy at least two more decades of progress before catching up with Moore's Law.
- "e-El Paso?"
eCommerce Business (10/09/00) Vol. 1, No. 13, P. 44; Fleischer, Jo
El Paso, Texas, is the nation's 17th-biggest city, but it is one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the U.S., dependent on garment and boot manufacturing. However, city boosters think that El Paso has a bright technology future. The city's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently hosted an e-business conference for 2,000 attendees, and El Paso has the world's largest Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership, which is also the biggest online Harley merchant. The city's geography will play an essential part in any technology transformation. It is close to the Mexico border, and Accugraph founder Hector Holguin points out the opportunity of the broadband links between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. There are many maquiladora plants near Juarez--mostly manufacturing facilities staffed by Mexican workers and operated and managed by big multinational firms from Europe or the United States. According to El Paso's economic-development office, maquiladoras in Juarez buy $9 billion in goods from the United States annually, and officials believe that an industry-wide trend toward e-commerce procurement will increase El Paso's share of maquiladora spending. Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce President Wes Jurey points out that manufacturers are increasingly looking for local procurement for just-in-time inventory, and he says that the Chamber intends to launch a business-to-business portal soon so that manufacturers in Mexico will have direct access to suppliers in El Paso. Holguin is developing a business-to-business incubator for opportunities in Latin America and Mexico. The Texas Centers for Economic Development recently brought together 10 small software companies to create the El Paso Del Norte Software Association to promote and develop the software industry in El Paso. Jurey says that El Paso's economic development staff is talking to two dot-com companies that are considering headquarters there.
- "Searching for an E-Government Formula"
Electronic Commerce World (10/00) Vol. 10, No. 10, P. 54; Dudman, Jane
European government agencies and other public entities are focusing on the Web to deliver better, cheaper, streamlined, and more democratized services to their constituents. Europe has devoted $61 billion toward that effort this year, according to Kable, a public sector research firm in London. One of the most advanced e-governments is that of Finland, which is the only nation in the world to offer online ID cards for transaction security. Other European countries are grappling with the time and effort needed to invest in online service projects. Police departments in the United Kingdom, for example, are reaping the advantages of standardized online systems, but also must cope with the time and expense involved. There are also plans to link the Europe's byzantine justice system, ranging from the courts to the prisons. The United Kingdom has set its sights on wiring all of its schools through the National Grid for Learning initiative. The U.K. government plans to make all citizens' government-related transactions Web-based by 2008, in spite of doubts from public sector officials, who point to access, privacy, and security issues as imposing barriers. Limited public sector budgets and departmental barriers are other challenges, but the European Commission plans to press forward by pouring $120 million into setting up the largest multimedia network in the world, which will focus on European academia.