OVERNIGHT TECH: Lawmakers strike deal on FCC process

THE LEDE: Republicans and Democrats in the House announced a deal Monday on legislation to change certain Federal Communications Commission procedures.

Last Congress, the FCC Process Reform Act was a mostly partisan bill that Democrats worried would undermine the agency's ability to protect consumers. It passed the House but went nowhere in the Senate. 

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Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology and the bill's author, agreed to drop the most controversial provisions, winning the support of Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the panel's top Democrat.

The full Energy and Commerce Committee is scheduled to vote on the legislation on Wednesday. 

Unlike the previous version, the new bill would not restrict the FCC's ability to impose conditions on mergers and would not force the agency to perform cost-benefit analyses for proposed rules.

The legislation would require the FCC to set timelines for completing its proceedings. The timelines wouldn't be binding, but the commission would have to report to Congress about whether it is meeting the deadlines. The agency would also have to report on its compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests. 

The bill would incorporate a bill from Eshoo to allow more than two commissioners to meet privately. Current rules only allow three or more commissioners to meet in public meetings. The agency would also create a database for consumer complaints.

"For the last three years this subcommittee has diligently worked to improve the transparency and predictability of FCC processes,” Walden said in a statement. “I am pleased that we were able to achieve a bipartisan consensus on a path forward to give consumers and businesses with matters before the commission a more transparent and certain process."

FCC acts against AT&T proposal: The FCC on Monday suspended AT&T's proposal to stop offering certain long-term special access plans.

The plans provide data and voice services to businesses, banks, hospitals, universities and other organizations. Sprint, which is lobbying against the move, argues that by ending the discounted plans, AT&T's proposal amounts to an anti-competitive price hike.

The agency could still ultimately approve AT&T's proposal after completing its investigation.

“We continue to meet with our customers in a good faith effort to address their needs," an AT&T spokesman said. "As the transition to more robust and efficient Internet-based network and services moves forward, we will remain flexible in attempting to meet their needs.”

More momentum for NSA reform: Privacy advocates applauded eight major tech companies for launching a campaign pushing surveillance reforms Monday. The campaign — backed by Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, LinkedIn and AOL — will add to the momentum already behind attempts to rein in National Security Agency surveillance, advocates said.

Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, called the campaign a “bold call” and a “game changer.”

“The company reform principles go far beyond earlier calls for greater transparency and embrace reforms that would provide important protections for all Internet users, regardless of their citizenship or location,” she said in a statement.

The tech companies have set the stage “for a powerful alliance between the Internet industry and global civil society advocates” that “allows us to rally around a common surveillance reform agenda,” she said.

"The tech giants' message couldn't be any clearer or more welcome—the government's massive spying authorities must to be reined in immediately," Michelle Richardson, ACLU legislative counsel, said in a statement. "Widespread support for reform will only continue to grow until Congress and the administration deal with out-of-control spying head on by prohibiting indiscriminate surveillance." 

Kevin Bankston, policy director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, said in a statement that his group is “very pleased” with the tech companies’ campaign.

“The Internet industry has now clearly set its sights beyond just transparency. ... We are very eager to work with these companies and the broader Internet industry to ensure that today’s statement of principles translates into concrete action to achieve meaningful change to the law — not just here in the US but around the world,” he said. 

Bankston compared the tech giants to telecommunications companies, which have “refused to publicly discuss the NSA controversy at all, much less support the rights of their users and call for reform.” The tech campaign “for reform stands in stark contrast to the silence of telecommunications companies like AT&T and Verizon,” he said.

Online poker grassroots effort: In the lead-up to Tuesday’s House Energy and Commerce hearing on online gaming, the Poker Players Alliance asked supports to encourage members of the Commerce subcommittee on Trade to attend the hearing and support pro-poker legislation. The group’s CEO, John Pappas, will testify at the hearing.

FTC gets new website: In anticipation of its upcoming 100th birthday, the Federal Trade Commission unveiled a new website Monday. The site “is more powerful, easy to use and attractive,” Nat Wood, FTC.gov overhaul team leader, said in a statement.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

House legislators are concerned about cybersecurity at the Food and Drug Administration after a little-noticed October hack revealed users’ names and passwords.

Five House lawmakers introduced legislation that would encourage federal agencies to give up their spectrum rights for auction to the private sector.

More must be done to protect the U.S. financial system against the growing threat of cyberattacks, government and industry officials warned an interagency panel of regulators.

Republicans in the House and Senate are preparing legislation that would ban airlines from allowing cellphone calls during flights.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies issued about 1.1 million requests for cellphone information in 2012, according to data provided to a Democratic senator.

 

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Correction: A previous version of this post misidentified the date of the Energy and Commerce Committee mark-up. It's scheduled for Wednesday.