Conflicting regulations from the European Union and the US government are increasing the cost of IT products, a group of technology executives has told a US Congress subcommittee.
Executives urged Congress to champion the US government's traditional hands-off approach to technology regulation during trade negotiations and other discussions, including a presidential summit between US President George Bush and EU leaders on 20 June.
While the US and EU continue to struggle with disagreements on tech issues such as who should control the Internet and disability standards for software, countries such as China and India threaten the traditional tech industry dominance of the US, Europe and Japan, said Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America.
"The EU and US must stop arguing about how to build a better sand castle and focus on the economic tsunami headed our way from China, India, Brazil and Eastern Europe," Miller said during a hearing of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on European Affairs. "While these issues are important, we dwell on them at a price."
While most witnesses at the hearing urged senators to push the EU to mirror the US approach toward less technology regulation, Miller also advocated a US government programme to encourage more US students to pursue college degrees in maths, science and technology. Noting that China already produces more than double the number of engineers per head than the US does, Miller called for a government programme that would pay for the college educations of maths, science and technology students.
After the Soviet Union launched the space satellite Sputnik in 1957, Congress responded with the National Defense Education Act, which increased funding for university research and helped pay for maths and science education, Miller noted. "We should do it again," he added. "We need to get that radical."
Other witnesses generally focused on how the US can urge the EU to reduce tech-related regulations. Executives with Philips Electronics and Hewlett-Packard decried a common practice in European nations of levying copyright taxes on devices that can be used to make copies of music, movies or written products, saying the levies drive up vendor and customer costs. The copyright levies are meant to allow creators of copyrighted works to get paid.
Philips must comply with up to 20 national copyright levies, said Thomas Patton, vice president of government relations at Philips Electronics North America. The levies "create nothing less than a toxic environment for investment, and stands in marked contrast to the United States, which has chosen quite wisely to promote innovation and economic growth in Internet-based services by shielding them from this very type of redundant and excessive taxes," Patton added.
Executives from IBM and SAP called on Congress to work with EU regulators on a global standard governing accessibility for disabled people using technology products. A 1998 law passed by Congress requires US government agencies to purchase the most accessible products available, but some European governments are moving toward tougher regulations that vendors would have to follow, said Joseph Duffy, vice president of SAP Public Services.
"If we get into a situation where there are multiple standards for a given technology, then IT developers must either choose one set of standards and forego certain markets, or go to the trouble of implementing multiple standards and hope they do not conflict with each other," Duffy said in written testimony.