OVERNIGHT TECH: Dems increase pressure on FCC with new neutrality bill

THE LEDE: House and Senate Democrats introduced a net neutrality bill Monday that could pressure the Federal Communications Commission into action.

The bill — the Open Internet Preservation Act — is a response to a federal court decision earlier this year that struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules, which prevented Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites.

While opponents of the rules say the court’s decision will lead to more innovation among Internet providers, net neutrality advocates worry the decision will result in Internet providers charging bandwidth-heavy content providers like Netflix more, a cost that could ultimately get passed down to consumers.

ADVERTISEMENT
Though unlikely to make it through a Republican-controlled House, sponsors hope the bill will pressure the agency to find a new way to enforce its net neutrality rules, according to an aide familiar with the bill.

In statements announcing the bill, sponsors highlighted the need for FCC action.

“The FCC can and must quickly exercise the authorities the D.C. Circuit recognized to reinstate the Open Internet rules,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Commerce Committee. “Our bill makes clear that consumers and innovators will be protected in the interim.”

The Democrats' bill would “reinstate the FCC’s open Internet rules until the Commission adopts replacement rules,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, said.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said the legislation “ensures consumers are protected until the FCC uses its clear authority, as recognized by the court, to put in place replacement rules.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has responded to the court’s ruling by saying the agency would take a “dynamic” approach to net neutrality while leaving all options on the table.

By introducing the bill, the Democrats want to communicate to the FCC that “inaction is not an answer” on net neutrality, according to the aide.

“This bill is a reflection” of the idea that there do  “need to be rules in place,” the aide said.

While the bill is aimed at “getting the no-blocking and non-discrimination rules back on the books,” it “preserves all options for the FCC,” including reclassifying Internet providers so they can be more easily regulated, according to the aide.

Christopher Lewis, vice president of government affairs at Public Knowledge, applauded the bill for protecting consumers and businesses “during this period of uncertainty between the Court's decision and the FCC's action in response to the court's remand.”

“It is critical that the FCC acts quickly in response to the DC Circuit Court to protect an open Internet as we have always known it,” he said in a statement.

Websites release government data request info: A number of Web companies revealed details about the information they handed over to the government, a week after reaching a deal to release it for the first time. Facebook, Yahoo, Google, LinkedInand Microsoft all revealed the extent to which the government had asked them for users’ data in posts on Monday.

“The new information we are releasing today marks a significant step forward,” wrote Colin Stretch, Facebook’s general counsel, in a post on the website.

“As we have said before, we believe that while governments have an important responsibility to keep people safe, it is possible to do so while also being transparent. We will continue to advocate for reform of government surveillance practices around the world, and for greater transparency about the degree to which governments seek access to data in connection with their efforts to keep people safe.”

Facebook received requests from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court about between 5,000 and 5,999 users in the first half of 2013, it revealed. That’s an increase from the 4,000 to 4,999 it was asked about in the previous six months.

Some companies had larger burdens. In the first six months of last year, Yahoo was asked about 30,000 to 30,999 users’ accounts, it revealed.

Last week, Internet companies reached a deal with Obama administration to release information about the FBI and FISA Court requests that had previously been kept secret. Companies cannot disclose the precise number of requests they have received, but can reveal broad ranges.

Companies had claimed that the previous “gag order” preventing them from disclosing details about the government’s requests had made consumers distrust them, in light of leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

FTC fears ruling against data privacy action: A court ruling preventing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) from taking action against companies that it has determined don’t adequately protect their consumers’ data would be “problematic,” Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen said at a panel sponsored by the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus.

Though she did not comment specifically on ongoing challenges from Wyndham Hotels or the medical testing company LabMD, Ohlhausen feared that a decision to limit the agency “would take away an important tool that the FTC has used over many years.”

The FTC has launched dozens of cases against companies for maintaining data privacy standards that it deems are “unfair” or “deceptive.” If that authority were stripped, Ohlhausen suggested that state regulators might be able to step in to fill some of the void.

Recent data breaches at major retailers like Target and Neiman Marcus have increased calls from some quarters for a more active FTC. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has called on the commission to investigate Target’s data security, and legislation introduced by four other Senate Democrats last week would give the agency the power to set information security standards.

Rockefeller probes data brokers: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is worried that companies that market in peoples’ information are picking on people who have financial or health troubles. The “data brokers” may be “categorizing vulnerable consumers based on their economic and health challenges, and selling that information without consumer knowledge or consent," he said in a statement.

On Monday, Rockefeller sent a letter to six top data brokers asking about how people are identified in order to market to them. Privacy advocates have said that the practice can take advantage of people and expose sensitive information about their health or financial status.

“The existence of lists such as these underscores the importance of learning how data about consumers travels through the industry,” he wrote to the companies. “Today, I write again to request information necessary for the Committee’s assessment of the potential consumer harms and benefits associated with data broker practices.”

The letter comes on the heels of a hearing on the industry in the Commerce Committee late last year.

 

ON TAP

The House Judiciary Committee will begin its work to rewrite the country’s surveillance laws in a hearing with top privacy, Justice Department and legal minds.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, CIA chief John Brennan and other top intelligence agency leaders will testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday morning.

Executives from Target and Neiman Marcus will join government officials, consumer advocates and cybersecurity leaders to talk about data breaches in the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10:15 a.m.

Around the middle of the day, President Obama will head out to a middle school in Adelphi, Md., to talk up a federal program to bring broadband Internet access to virtually all the country’s students.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) are squaring off to replace retiring Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.) as the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. 

The Federal Communications Commission will double the funding it has for broadband access in schools and libraries over the next two years. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Ajit Pai, commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, said a federal program aimed at connecting schools to the Internet is falling short for students in rural areas. 

Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation that would bring back the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules. 

The Department of Transportation has approved vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems that advocates say will reduce the number of auto accidents in the U.S. 

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @ktummarello, @jmhattem