Gates in D.C.: Notes From the Field

  • Share
  • Read Later
WASHINGTON: One thing that today's hearing demonstrated is that even techo-halfwit senators can sound intelligent about the Internet given sufficient preparation. Even Strom Thurmond, the leathery dinosaur of the Senate, showed up and carefully mouthed some questions.

But it was the committee's chairman, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and ranking minority member, former prosecutor Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who kicked off the questioning. Hatch pressed Gates for details on browser licensing relationships with Internet providers; Leahy was determined to learn more about fees Microsoft might charge for online transactions. Gates ducked, weaved, but generally came out sounding fairly reasonable.

The most aggressive challenge came from Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), who said, "Mr. Gates no one, no matter how powerful, is above the law. You have nearly 90 percent of the market for operating systems -- clearly a monopoly, and probably a legal one, yet you refuse to admit it."

The hearing kicked off at 10 a.m. in an especially large room used for major hearings such as Iran-Contra. By 1 p.m. the audience started to thin out. McNealy and all but four senators left.

Nobody seemed eager to regulate the software industry. Though Leahy said that "intrusive government regulation is not the answer," that leaves unsaid whether the answer might be not-so-intrusive government regulation -- how about, say, an FCC for the software industry?