Feds Launch Major B2B E-Commerce Study

Apparently not content with the vast number of existing studies that predict a rosy future for online business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce, the U.S. Department of Commerce has announced plans to launch its own effort to measure the growing market sector.

This year’s study will be the start of an annual series “aimed at maximizing technology’s positive economic benefit to all Americans,” the Commerce Department said.

“B2B e-commerce is far larger than retail sales and, when we release the results of the survey, it will be the benchmark number for this growing market,” Commerce Secretary William Daley said. The study, to be conducted over the next few months, will involve surveying “tens of thousands” of manufacturers about their buying and selling on the Internet, the department said.

Encouraging the Growth of E-Commerce

Throughout his three-year tenure at the head of the Commerce Department, Daley has focused his agency on finding ways to encourage the growth of the Internet economy, while protecting the rights of consumers that may be caught off guard by ambiguous policies and language found on some retail Web sites.

Before the B2B initiative was announced, the Department spent the majority of its energy on the retail and government sectors. Daley said he will continue to promote the agency’s efforts in those areas this year as well.

Topping the list of projects to be continued is the Department’s campaign for online privacy protection. “Last year, Daley’s challenge to online industry to develop privacy policies was met with great success,” the Department said. “The number of Web sites with posted privacy policies has greatly increased.”

One thousand Web sites now have seals from enforcement groups such as TRUSTe and BBBOnline, and 1,000 more have applications pending, Daley said. In addition, one-third of the largest Web advertisers refuse to place ads on sites with no privacy policies, and several major shopping portals have programs requiring all their stores to adhere to fair information practices.

This year, Commerce staffers report that they will work with trade associations to further educate Internet businesses and raise more support for better privacy protection. In addition, they say that online profiling will get more attention, as the Department will encourage a self-regulation model similar to its approach to privacy protection.

In late spring, the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will conduct another workshop to address online consumer protection issues such as dispute resolution, jurisdictional concerns and seal programs.

The greatest challenge CEOs will face in this new decade will not just be “keeping their companies competitive and on the cutting edge,” Daley said. “Just as important — it is keeping a connection with the public. We are seeing a growing anti-big business feeling in this country. As companies move to compete around the world, there’s a growing lack of identification with a home country, with employees, with customers. I think the public needs to know corporations are interested in more than the bottom line.”

Closing the Gap

In the downloadable media realm, Daley said he will put on a “full-court press” to persuade other nations to ratify and implement the World Intellectual Property Organization treaties that protect the copyrights of artists whose music, movies or creative works are sold over the Internet.

The department will also take an active role in the Clinton administration’s efforts to close the gap between people who have Internet access and those who do not. In addition to Daley’s already announced 12-city national tour to raise awareness for the cause, the secretary said that Clinton’s 2001 budget, to be released early next month, will include a “substantial increase” in federal funds earmarked for the “digital divide” effort.

As part of that request, Commerce will ask Congress to double to $28 million (US$) its spending at historically black colleges, institutions with a large Hispanic population, and tribal colleges.

“To find skilled workers, you can no longer just go to MIT, or CalTech, or Stanford. Companies need to go to places like Howard, or Hampton, in southern Virginia,” said Daley. “The fact is 40 percent of minorities graduate at minority serving institutions. And we need to make sure these colleges have the capacity to teach students science skills.”

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