Elections could hold major changes for tech subcommittee


He is the 10th most powerful member of the House, but Republicans have attacked him for his support of cap-and-trade legislation, despite his district’s roots in coal-mining. And some critics say he has been in Washington so long that he’s lost touch with his constituency.

"When a person has served in office for a long time, that person is judged on his record," Boucher recently told The Hill. "My focus has always been on new job creation and increasing economic activity and economic development in my district."

He and others on the subcommittee have spent the bulk of their time this year holding oversight hearings on the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan, which is supposed to be a roadmap for how the county boosts broadband access and speeds. Net neutrality, or regulations on how Internet companies can manage their traffic, is also a hot topic and has been a central debate in each hearing.

While net neutrality is a highly partisan fight, getting Internet service to constituents is not. Members representing rural areas have championed the expansion of broadband to unserved areas. It will likely remain a priority for those seats, regardless of which party holds them.

Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), who with Boucher co-authored a bill to reform an $8 billion universal service fund to expand broadband pipes, comes from a more Democratic-leaning district and could be vulnerable in his race against state Sen. Tom White.  But whoever ends up with the seat will likely bring rural values to the subcommittee.

“Those issues have been much more regional than partisan for a very long time, and that’s going to continue,” said Sharon Ringley, co-founder of tech lobbying firm TwinLogic Strategies.

Reps. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and George Radanovich (R-Calif.) are all retiring. Gordon’s departure will have more impact on the House Science and Technology Committee, which he chairs.

Reps. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are running for Senate seats. Georgia’s Nathan Deal (R) is running for governor.

Democrats Baron Hill (Ind.), Chris Murphy (Conn.) and Zach Space (Ohio) all face tough challenges.

California Republican Mary Bono Mack could also be vulnerable as she represents a Democratic-leaning district. With ties to the content industry, she’s played key roles in promoting the peer-to-peer bill, requiring software providers to inform consumers that files could be shared, as well as the spyware bill, which is designed to toughen penalties for vendors of malicious software.

Despite the potential shake-up, the most senior members of the committee who are typically the most vocal on hot-button issues aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Senior Democrats Ed Markey (Mass.) and John Dingell (Mich.) can be relied on to question the FCC’s every move in implementing the broadband plan. Both are staunch supporters of net neutrality.

And other Democrats, including Bobby Rush (Ill.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Mike Doyle (Penn.) and Doris Matsui (Calif.), are proponents of both net neutrality and privacy regulations as well as universal service reform.

They’re all safe at this point, as is ranking member Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), a co-author of the online privacy bill.

Committee leadership will also be affected by elections. For example, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is thought to be next in line to be ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, with current top Republican Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) bumping up against term limits.

Upton is known for his deep knowledge of the telecommunications industry, lobbyists said.

And Eshoo, who is close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, could end up with a key subcommittee chairmanship outside of the tech panel.

Some see the possibility of new blood on the subcommittee as a positive. As one tech lobbyist pointed out, some of the top members of the subcommittee are less in touch with how the general public uses technology these days.

“I welcome new members to inject a new and younger generation who are more accustomed to innovation,” the lobbyist said.