We will have a lot more to say about what yesterday's election results mean for Public Knowledge's copyright and technology policy issues over the next few weeks. Hopefully by then we will know which party controls the Senate, and who are the chairs and ranking members of the Judiciary and Commerce Committees in both Houses. Perhaps the most intriguing question is whether Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) might abandon his presumptive Chairmanship of the House Subcommittee on Courts, Internet and Intellectual Property to run the House International Relations Committee. That would place tech and consumer friendly Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA) next in line for the Subcommittee Chairmanship.
But enough about dreams – let's talk reality. The “lame duck” session of the current Congress starts on Monday, and the gains made by Democrats yesterday in the next Congress could well effect what happens on broadband and digital copyright issues in that session. So here is what to look out for next week (and perhaps also the week after Thanksgiving):
â€¢ A national video franchise bill without net neutrality. As I wrote yesterday, Democrats have been overwhelmingly in favor of enforceable net-neutrality. Thus, the lame duck session presents perhaps the telephone companies' last best chance to get a national franchise bill and avoid a net neutrality mandate. The Dems control of the House (and the passage of a significant number of statewide franchise bills) makes it very unlikely that the phone companies will come back for franchise reform next year; if the Dems also take the Senate, you can pretty much bank on it.
â€¢ Video and audio broadcast flags. If indeed the Democrats' victory makes telecom reform less likely, the flags will not have a larger legislative home next year that protects them from opposition by members who are against tech mandates. A stand-alone flag bill would be difficult, if not impossible, to pass. So there will likely be a push to pass the flags in the lame duck by both Hollywood and the recording industry, perhaps as part of the video franchise reform package discussed above. But perhaps the most important factor is whether departing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) will try to win one for his former staffer, RIAA Chief Mitch Bainwol.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Congress will just pass a handful of critical spending bills (including the one that allows the government to stay open) and get out of Dodge as soon as they can. Stay tuned here for updates before and during the lame duck session.