NACo addresses telecom, Internet regulation

ST. LOUIS -- The National Association of Counties on Tuesday adopted NACo's annual policy platform, agreeing to resolutions that strengthen the role of local government in the way new telecommunications and Internet services are regulated.

The policies will be used to focus county lobbying efforts on several fronts, a NACo spokesman said, including whether to tax Internet-based transactions, whether to force local cable TV monopolies to open their networks to competitive Internet service providers, and where funding for telecommunications infrastructure improvements should best be spent.

NACo unanimously approved a resolution to ask Congress to impose a sales tax on all purchases, whether they are made over the Internet, the phone, via mail-order houses or in stores. The association estimates local governments are losing about $5 billion annually in taxes from out-of-state mail-order sales. That figure could grow exponentially as more purchases are done over the Internet.

The resolution, by NACo's taxation and finance steering committee, was carried in the light of a moratorium now in effect on Internet taxation. A presidential commission on electronic commerce made up of public- and private-sector officials is meeting to adopt a policy on Internet taxation.

Wake County, N.C., Commissioner Betty Lou Ward, NACo's out-going president, said she considered it one of the key accomplishments of her tenure that she was able to get a county representative seated on the Advisory Commission on Electronic Commerce. NACo and the U.S. Conference of Mayors filed suit earlier this year to stop further meetings of the commission until it added local government representation.

"The media coverage we received on that issue created a laser-like focus on the incredible potential loss of revenues for counties," Ward said. "We were the leaders on this issue." Ward will be succeeded as NACo president by Howard County, Md., Commissioner C. Vernon Gray.

In its policy recommendations, NACo took a stand on another hot-button issue for local governments, whether to give competitive ISPs access to local cable TV networks. "It is essential that local government franchise authorities have the authority to require that all cable companies provide open access to all Internet service providers," the policy said.

Local cable companies, who fought hard in the 1980s to win exclusive franchises to provide cable TV service, want to preserve their market position in the delivery of high-speed, cable-delivered Internet services. Several cities and counties are taking on the issue, including Broward County, Fla., which decided this month to open the local cable network to competition (See News Feed, July 15, 1999). Los Angeles, Miami and San Francisco also are debating the issue.

NACo delegates also approved a resolution calling for people living in rural areas to be remembered when money is allocated for advanced networking. The resolution, by the association's Telecommunications Committee, stated: "Steps should be taken to eliminate barriers to the deployment of (advanced telecommunications services) for the citizens of rural America." NACo also passed a resolution opposing attempts to pre-empt local zoning regulation of telecommunications facilities, including cellular towers and cable TV networks.

Meanwhile, Win Lyday, NACo's director of information technologies for the past six years, said she was leaving the organization to take on other pursuits.

Lyday was instrumental in creating an IT program at NACo. Over the past six years, she shepherded the development of joint agency projects in remote sensing, geographic information systems, and training at NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Federal Geographic Data Coordinating Committee and the Department of Agriculture, among others.

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