Tale of Two First-time Senate Testimonies (and One More)

Testifying before a congressional committee for the first time.

Today (April 10, 2018), Mark Zuckerberg testified before a Senate committee for the first time. “His performance will be critical to the company’s future,” writes Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times

Twenty years ago last month — on March 3, 1988 — Bill Gates made a similar first-time appearance before a Senate committee, described by the Times’ Steve Lohr as “a spirited defense of his company’s business practices…and portrayed Microsoft as the standard bearer of the nation’s high-technology economy.”

Unlike Zuckerberg, Gates, who was 42 at the time, left any corporate remorse in Seattle.

If you can recall that era, it was during the time when Microsoft was defending itself against an antitrust suit by the Justice Department and a rising chorus of criticism that it was abusing its considerable power in the marketplace.

Quote from Gates to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Will the United States continue its breathtaking technological advances? I believe the answer is yes — if innovation is not restricted by the government.”

Compare that quote to Zuckerberg: “We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a big mistake. It was my mistake, and I’m sorry.” Zuckerberg said. But pressed on whether Facebook should be regulated more, Zuckerberg said only the “right regulations.”

A lot has changed since March 3, 1998.

For one thing, Gates became a full-time philanthropist and seems to have become a more likable guy. And the specific sins of Microsoft that brought about that hearing — and a later settlement — seem less important considering that Microsoft wasn’t a very good creator of browser software.

But history doesn’t seem to recall all the startups Microsoft killed on its journey to becoming, well, Microsoft. Those companies could have taken us in all different kinds of journeys. Or who knows?

Zuckerberg says that regulations will be okay as long as they are the right regulations.

That’s sort of what Gates said, but without that part about regulations being okay.

And how about this for an absolutely irrelevant sidebar

It’s easy for me to recall the day Gates first testified before a congressional committee. That’s because it was my first time to testify before a congressional committee, also. And it was the same day in the same building. And yes, I wanted to leave the hearing I was in to go see the hearing that was getting the same kind of coverage Zuckerberg is getting today. There was no line waiting to get in our hearing room.

I testified before the Senate Banking Committee. (See photo below.)

I was speaking as a small business owner who couldn’t understand why a small business couldn’t earn interest on money in a checking account. At the time, banks could pay interest on individual checking accounts, but not on a business checking account.

I don’t think Bill Gates had ever heard of my issue. Frankly, not too many small business owners had either.

I’m holding that stack of papers — nice touch, huh? — to show that it was easy to “sweep” money back and forth from checking and business accounts, but the accompanying mailing and paperwork was ridiculous.

I don’t recall exactly how that issue was ever resolved but I think it had something to do with Microsoft software.

March 3, 1998, Senate Banking Committee