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CE Facing More Trade, Regulatory Issues In 2011


As consumer electronics devices
have become ingrained in everyday life, the stakes have
been raised for legislators and regulators in Washington
D.C. and statehouses across the nation.

So, as always, the new year
promises new challenges for the
industry and for the Consumer
Electronics Association’s (CEA)
government affairs staff in Washington.

Technology is inherently disruptive
to the established order,
and now it seems the accelerated
pace of change that defines the
consumer electronics industry is
taking hold in national politics too.

Just two years after the historic
election of 2008 when Barack
Obama swept into Washington with a Democratic majorities
in both the House and Senate, there’s a new Congress
with Republicans holding sway in the House, Democrats
(but with fewer seats) in the Senate and the White House
adding a new dynamic to the scene.

At the forefront of issues
confronting the industry are
some continuing battles that
may be seen in a new light
with a divided legislature
and chastened executive.

Spectrum allocation and
the need for more space in
the airways for the multitude
of new wireless devices that
are already on the market —
and the legions more that
will undoubtedly be introduced
in the coming decade
– are in the vanguard.

That will be followed by:

• environmental issues including end-of-product-life
dispositions and energy efficiency;

• free trade for this global marketplace that requires the
fair and unfettered flow of goods to and from the U.S.; and

• putting the reins on the increasing penchant of the
Federal government for mandating features to be built
into consumer electronic devices.

On the spectrum front the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) last month issued an order designed to
set a framework for broadband Internet service that forbids
both wired and wireless providers from blocking lawful content.
The proposal does, however, allow providers to charge
consumers different rates for different levels of service.

“Spectrum issues will be huge for CEA in the coming
year,” noted Michael Petricone, CEA’s government
affairs senior VP. “Spectrum is the oxygen of innovation
and we need to double the amount of spectrum available
in the next decade.”

At this week’s International CES the roster of Internet-
connected televisions and other devices designed
to connect to the web will underscore the rising desire
of consumers to freely navigate the Internet. And there
seems to be some momentum building for more spectrum
to be opened up.

Petricone suggests there should be strong bipartisan
support for the Hill to give the FCC the authority for a
spectrum auction. The Simpson Bowles commission
recommendations for National Debt Reduction even suggested
spectrum auction as one of the means to bring
new funds into the treasury. “There’s an added benefit,”
Petricone pointed out. “Added spectrum spurs innovation
and helps our ability to compete internationally.”

On the environmental front, CEA continues to promote
national voluntary efforts by committed manufacturers in
the face of a patchwork quilt of local rules. There have
been a number of state environmental regulations enacted
in recent years but that trend may also slow as a
result of the gains made by Republicans in statehouses
in the 2010 elections.

If you’re reading this in Las Vegas at CES, you should
know that the world’s coolest tradeshow is also the
greenest. Trade Show Executive Magazine named the
2009 International CES North America’s Greenest Show
and CEA has continued “greening” the show in subsequent
years. The magazine also honored CEA with the
highly coveted Leader in Green Initiatives Gold Grand
Award for outstanding green presence in producing the
world’s largest consumer technology trade show.

This year you’ll find the Sustainable Planet TechZone,
Sponsored by Earth911, the official recycling partner of
CEA and CES, showcases the latest in eco-friendly products
and energy efficiency technologies. It highlights the
latest products that make it possible for every person on
this planet to stay connected and informed, and live sustainable
lifestyles through advances in green building,
alternative energy technologies,
green business services
and solutions, smart
grid technologies, solar
and renewable products,
sustainable packaging and
wireless convergence.

The new Republican majority
in the House most
likely means two initiatives
that were ballyhooed in the
prior Congress – so called
“cap and trade” and “card
check” legislation, both of
which were opposed by
many members of CEA –
will not be put forward in this congress.

Last month, the lame-duck session didn’t vote on the
“Dream Act” which proposed a path for legal residency
or citizenship for immigrants who came to the U.S. as
youngsters with their parents. Portions of the Act that
provided a path to legal residency for immigrants who
completed advanced degrees in STEM disciplines – science,
technology, engineering and mathematics, would
be especially beneficial to the technology industry. “We
need to make the U.S. a magnet for the best and brightest,”
Petricone said, “and keep them here after they earn
advanced degrees.”

Last year was also a busy year for what Petricone
described as “mandate whack-a-mole,” with a series of
proposals that would have required certain features in
products, including FM tuners in every handheld device
or requiring every product to be accessible to everyone
regardless of capabilities. “Some of these proposals are
ludicrous,” Petricone said, “but there’s no issue too wild
to come up in Washington.” There will likely be less appetite
for this type of federal government interference in
business with the new Republican-controlled House.

New issues will surely arise in the coming months, but
there is a young, tech-savvy new generation of legislators
in D.C., many of whom know and use BlackBerrys,
iPhones, iPads, 3D TVs and other electronic devices,
which will bring a new perspective to the conversation.

Jim Barry, who has covered the industry for consumer
and trade publications for years, is the media spokesman
of the Consumer Electronics Association.