OVERNIGHT TECH: Uber used social media to beat local regs

THE LEDE: Uber CEO Travis Kalanick said Tuesday that tapping into his company's user base on social media was key to helping the on-demand car service company defeat a proposed D.C. measure that would have threatened its business.

The proposed measure would have made Uber's minimum fare five times the base price of taxis. After Kalanick urged Uber users in an email to contact the D.C. City Council, the bill was rescinded.

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At the State of the Net Conference in Washington, Kalanick credited that victory to the flood of emails and tweets that its users sent to the city council officials in support of Uber. He said 50,000 emails and 37,000 tweets were sent to the D.C. City Council.

"What we do in those situations is we go big on social media," he said. "We say, 'Be active, speak up, send an email to an elected official or a regulator.' "

The D.C. City Council later passed a bill in December that said Uber would not be subject to regulations on how much it charges, DCist reported. The company has also faced legal battles in Boston and New York City.

Uber launched an on-demand taxi service in D.C. last week, which offers cheaper rates than its black car sedans and SUVs. Kalanick said that in its first week, "we had several [taxi] drivers make $1,500 in that week, in addition to the fares they were already doing."

He also said that accurate mapping data is becoming "mission critical" to Web-based companies like Uber. The company relies on mapping data to let drivers know where to pick up riders.

Lawmakers look to trim wasteful technology spending: Democrats and Republicans agreed on the need to reduce wasteful federal spending on information technology during a House Oversight Committee hearing on Tuesday.

Chairman Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) said IT programs often run over-budget or fail entirely. He claimed that as much as $20 billion is wasted on IT systems every year. 

Issa did not argue that Congress should slash IT budgets; instead, he said the government needs to adopt policies to ensure money is spent more wisely.

"Let us understand that in this case, it's not the waste of the $20 billion. It's what that $20 billion could do properly applied to our transparency into our government — the leveraging of $20 billion to save $200 billion," Issa said.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the panel's ranking Democrat, agreed that it is "time to modernize the way government does business."

Steven VanRoekel, the federal chief information officer, defended the Obama administration's record on IT spending.

"My objective is to balance cost savings with innovation by continuing to cut costs while we invest in technology that securely serves the American people," he said.

Day 2 of State of the Net: The Congressional Internet Advisory Committee will hold the second day of its State of the Net Conference on Wednesday.

Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, former Federal Communications Commission aide Blair Levin and FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell are scheduled to speak.

House Judiciary to probe hacking law: House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said his committee will look at a computer hacking law that has come under fire since the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

"We certainly are going to look at that very carefully and see what we can do in that area, but at this point in time we're looking at what occurred in specific instances and what needs to done to make sure that the law isn't abused," Goodlatte told reporters at the State of the Net Conference. "There's a lot of legal input, judicial input into this and we're going to look at that and pair it up against what the language of the law is today and how we're going to pursue it — but we're just starting on that."

Moran to push high-skilled immigration bill: Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) on Tuesday said he hopes legislation aimed at retaining engineers and foreign graduates with advanced technical degrees won't be held "hostage" in the political battle over comprehensive immigration reform.

Moran said he plans to introduce an updated version of his Startup Act 2.0 this month, which includes a provision that would create a new visa allowing foreign students who graduate with a master's degree or Ph.D. in engineering, science or math fields from a U.S. university to get a green card. The bill also includes measures that would ease tax and regulatory rules, as well as support university initiatives to bring research to the marketplace more quickly.

Democrats vows net-neutrality bill if FCC rules are overturned: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) on Tuesday pledged to introduce a net-neutrality bill if the Federal Communications Commission's regulations on the issue are overturned in federal court.

In a speech at the State of the Net Conference, Eshoo, the ranking Democrat on the House Technology subcommittee, said that consumer protection should be a basic tenet of telecommunications policy.

"First and foremost this means preserving the basic ‘rules of the road’ that the FCC adopted to ensure a free and open Internet," she said. "Should the court overturn the FCC’s rules, I will be prepared to introduce legislation clarifying the Commission’s authority to ensure a free and open Internet, while preventing the use of Internet 'fast lanes' or other discriminatory tools."

Terry open to online privacy regulation: Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), the new chairman of the House subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade, said on Tuesday he plans to examine whether the government should do more to protect the privacy of Internet users.

"We will continue the subcommittee's work on privacy and data security," Terry told reporters during a briefing on Capitol Hill.

He is considering whether to form a bipartisan group of lawmakers that would study the issue more closely and make recommendations to the subcommittee.


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