Editorial, standard procedure

What would the IT industry be like without the entrenchedinstitution of political lobbying? How much more worthy of ourtrust would it be?

I find I’ve been wondering about that a lot lately, especiallysince I have very little patience for the practice of lobbying inthe first place.

There just seems to be something inherently unhealthy about anysystem that rewards deep pockets with influence and access.

I get especially antsy when I see those deep pockets being usedto influence decisions on adopting technology standards. If there’sany decision that should be made totally independent ofself-serving vendor lobbyists, it’s the adoption by a government oran international organization of a technology standard. Suchdecisions must be made on the basis of nothing other than what isin the best interests of the people being served by that body.

As I continue to monitor the controversy over Massachusetts’plan to adopt the OASIS OpenDocument format standard for officeproductivity applications, I’m becoming increasingly concerned thatMicrosoft will ultimately succeed in beating the state intosubmission. It’s no secret that the Microsoft lobbying machine haspulled out all the stops to compel the state to abandon itsinitiative to adopt OpenDocument, a standard Microsoft clearly seesas a serious competitive threat. And given that Microsoft hasvirtually unlimited funds to throw at the challenge, it’s difficultto imagine that those within the state’s IT apparatus who continueto push the standard will prevail.

The Massachusetts case is something of a red flag. It makes mewonder how widespread and institutionalized the effort is on thepart of technology vendors to influence standards-relateddecisions. In fact, I can’t help but wonder what they’re doingbehind the scenes to sway the standards bodies themselves.

That’s why I was intrigued by the news last week that theInternational Standards Organization had rebuffed China’ssubmission of the WLAN Authentication and Privacy Infrastructure(WAPI) security protocol for consideration as an internationalstandard for wireless LANs. The ISO voted overwhelmingly to rejectWAPI in favor of the IEEE’s 802.11i submission.

There has been no stronger voice in favor of 802.11i, and inopposition to WAPI, than Intel — another vendor with almostunfathomably deep pockets. The last thing Intel wants is any marketsegmentation that would create competition for its Centrino mobiletechnology, which incorporates 802.11i. The prospect of Chinaproducing WAPI chip sets under the aegis of an ISO certification nodoubt sent some pretty uncomfortable chills through the Intelhierarchy.

So, did Intel exert some sort of influence or pressure on theISO? Not surprisingly, the Chinese certainly think so. Cao Jun,general manager of IWNComm, the Chinese company that developed theWAPI technology, earlier this month alleged that Intel had engagedin backroom politicking with the ISO.

Moreover, a Chinese industry group that backs WAPI, theBroadband Wireless IP Standard Working Group, maintains that theIEEE had spread misinformation about WAPI, and it wants aninvestigation into the IEEE’s activities during the voting process.The group accused the IEEE of acting “selfishly and irresponsibly”to protect a monopoly commercial interest — an apparent referenceto Intel.

Obviously, all of this could well be nothing more than sourgrapes on the part of the Chinese, who have invested heavily inWAPI. But their concerns merit serious consideration. Given thefact that fairly zealous lobbying is standard procedure in the U.S.business community, it’s no wonder the Chinese are suspicious.

Don Tennant is editor in chief of Computerworld. Contact him atdon_tennant@computerworld.com.

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