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U.S. on road to online voting

June 17, 1999
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EDT (1827 GMT)

by Rob Garretson


WASHINGTON (IDG) -- The information age is still in its infancy and has the potential to have an impact on political systems worldwide, allowing for innovations such as global referenda, IBM Chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner told a U.S. congressional committee Monday.

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Gerstner was one of the information technology leaders invited to speak before the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), which Monday morning kicked off three days of hearings meant to educate congressional leaders on high-technology issues and explore the role of public policy on the development of technology.

"Five years ago, using the Net to buy a car or trade stock or earn college credits was revolutionary," Gerstner said. "So why not envision a day when we vote with much greater convenience -- from our home or workplace -- or a day beyond that when issues are presented to all the people of the world and we vote as a global statement of individual preference without regard for conventions like political parties or national borders?"

The world is just at the beginning of this transition, however, Gerstner said.

"We're probably about five years into a 30-year cycle of transformation," Gerstner said. "But there is simply no doubt that 25 years from now, when people reflect on the seminal changes of the early days of the century we are about to begin, the impact of networked computing will stand in relief."

Though the United States enjoys leadership now, the rest of the world is catching up, Gerstner said. About 62,000 new users are coming online every day in the United States but even at that rate, most of the growth of the online population is occurring outside of the United States, Gerstner said.

Praising the passage last year of the Internet Tax Freedom Act, Gerstner also called on government to take a "wait-and-see" approach to regulating the Internet, and allow entrepreneurial forces to form and shape the information economy.

Gerstner ended his address with an impassioned call for better public education in the United States.

"Unless we arrest the wasting decline of our public schools America is destined to be an also-ran in the emerging digital economy," Gerstner said.

The IBM chief also answered a question on whether any of the high-tech leaders at the hearings -- particularly Microsoft CEO and Chairman Bill Gates -- would call for technology industry exemption to antitrust laws.

Gerstner said he saw no reason to request such exemptions.

Rumors have been circulating since last week that high-tech leaders would use the hearings to lobby for exemptions to antitrust laws.

Currently, the U.S. Department of Justice and 19 states are in the rebuttal phase of a broad antitrust lawsuit filed against Microsoft last year.

Rob Garretson ( is editor in chief of the IDG News Service, an InfoWorld affiliate.

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