OVERNIGHT TECH: DOT could save Wheeler on in-flight calls

THE LEDE: Tom Wheeler probably didn't plan on becoming embroiled in controversy in his first few weeks as FCC chairman.

His proposal to allow cellphone use on planes has sparked a major public backlash, legislation and political dissent on the commission. Although Wheeler might wish he had never floated the proposal, he isn't planning on reversing course now. 

ADVERTISEMENT
In a 3-2 party-line vote on Thursday, the FCC approved a notice of proposed rule-making to begin accepting comments on the proposal. The issue threatens to become a serious political headache for Wheeler, distracting him from his more pressing priorities.  

But Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx has thrown Wheeler a lifeline on the issue. In a statement Thursday, Foxx said in the wake of the FCC's action, he will consider stepping in to ban in-flight phone calls.

Wheeler argues that the FCC should lift its ban because there are no longer any interference problems with in-flight phone use. But he would have no problem with the Transportation Department banning calls to protect airline consumers. 

"I don’t want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else," Wheeler said, adding he is "pleased" with Foxx's announcement. 

Aereo court brief: At least Aereo and the TV broadcasters agree on one thing: they both want the Supreme Court to hear their case.

Aereo backed the broadcasters' petition to the court in a brief on Thursday, but the online video company argued that the court should ultimately reject the broadcasters' lawsuit.

In a statement, Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia said he would rather the Supreme Court decide the case now then to continue fighting the broadcasters across multiple appeals circuits. 

"We want this resolved on the merits rather than through a wasteful war of attrition," Kanojia said.

Aereo defeated the broadcasters at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and the broadcasters are now appealing to the Supreme Court. They claim Aereo, which allows customers to stream broadcast TV over the Internet, is stealing their content.

Video bills introduced: Democrats and Republicans introduced two bills aimed at reforming video regulations Thursday. 

Democratic Reps. Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) introduced the Video CHOICE Act to try to ensure that cable TV customers don't lose access to local broadcast stations. The measure would would give the Federal Communications Commission the authority to allow cable providers to carry broadcast stations on an interim basis during retransmission disputes. It would also allow customers to drop broadcast stations from their cable packages.

GOP Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) and Cory Gardner (Colo.) reintroduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act, which would repeal rules requiring cable companies to carry broadcast stations and lift media ownership rules. 

Data broker hearing: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) announced that he will be holding a hearing on data brokers, the companies that collect and compile information about consumers, often through online tracking. The hearing on Wednesday will "examine the data broker industry and how industry practices may impact consumers," according to a committee announcement. 

Last year, Rockefeller began an investigation into the business practices of data brokers. In September, he expanded the investigation to popular websites to get information that data brokers wouldn't provide to the committee.

Other FCC items: In addition to the in-flight cellphone use item, the FCC also approved rules on Thursday aimed at making 911 more reliable. The agency also reviewed a presentation on its plan to examine the evolution of communications networks to Internet-based technologies. 

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Major cellphone carriers agreed to a new policy Thursday to allow customers to "unlock" their phones and switch providers.

The Transportation Department may preserve the ban on in-flight calls.

Senators introduced a bill to ban in-flight calls.

A petition calling for stronger privacy protections for emails and other online communications has passed the threshold required for a White House response.

 

Please send tips and comments to Brendan Sasso, bsasso@thehill.com, and Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com.

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

More in Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Dems applaud funding boost for school Internet

Read more »