OVERNIGHT TECH: Former FCC leaders split on reforming law

THE LEDE: Former leaders of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can’t reach agreement on how to reform the law underpinning the agency’s authority, or even if a rewrite is necessary.

Four former FCC chairman are set to testify in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday morning. The hearing is the first in the panel’s effort to overhaul the Communications Act, which outlines the FCC’s powers and regulates the Internet, TV and telephone industries.

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The law was last updated in 1996, which makes it “outdated at best," subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) will say, according to a prepared statement. “It’s time for our laws to reflect our modern technological landscape — one grounded in the networks and services of our past and driven by our IP and mobile future.”

Former Chairman Richard Wiley will tell lawmakers to consider a “flexible and technologically neutral framework” to suit future technologies in his written testimony, and Michael Powell will bemoan the “excruciatingly complex and lengthy” current law.

But not everyone agrees that a massive overhaul is needed.

“My answer is: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — and the FCC is not only not broken, but also it is a model example of agency government,” Reed Hundt, who led the commission during the Clinton administration, will tell the panel. He will assert that the FCC is “a flexible, responsible and effective method for doing the people’s business.”

Michael Copps, who served as chairman during the early days of the Obama administration, is planning to say that many of the shortcomings blamed on the current law “are more the result of powerful industry efforts to undermine it and of Commission decisions that too often aid and abet that effort.”

FCC should take ‘no’ for an answer: Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai urged his agency “to take no for an answer” on the net neutrality debate. On Tuesday, a federal court struck down the agency’s “net neutrality” rules, which kept Internet providers from treating Internet traffic differently.

In statements, Pai and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly urged the agency to focus on increasing Internet access by removing regulatory obstacles. Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel issued statements about working to find next steps that protect the open Internet and consumers. Rosenworcel said that she is “pleased that the D.C. Circuit recognized the Commission’s authority to encourage the deployment of broadband infrastructure.”

FCC loss ‘not irreparable’: Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications, said the federal court’s decision to strike down the FCC’s net neutrality rules was “a blow, but it is not irreparable.” She applauded the court for ruling that the agency has the authority over Internet providers to grow broadband services and ensure an open Internet.

“I will utilize every arrow in my quiver, including legislation, to make sure the FCC can carry out this critical mission effectively,” she said.

Snowden joins press freedom group: Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who released information last year about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs, will join the Freedom of the Press Foundation’s board of directors, the group announced Tuesday.

Snowden “is the quintessential American whistleblower, and a personal hero of mine,” said the group’s co-founder, Daniel Ellsberg, in a statement. “Leaks are the lifeblood of the republic and, for the first time, the American public has been given the chance to debate democratically the NSA’s mass surveillance programs.”

Former surveillance court judge opposes reform: Appointing a privacy advocate to the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is “unnecessary” and could be counterproductive, according to a former judge on the court. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) released a letter from John Bates, now the director of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, on Tuesday opposing a proposed reform to the court.

“Given the nature of [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] proceedings, the participation of an advocate would neither create a truly adversarial process nor constructively assist the Courts in assessing the facts, as the advocate would be unable to communicate with the target or conduct an independent investigation," he wrote.

 

ON TAP

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology hearing with the former FCC chiefs is at 10:00 a.m.

At 1:00, the Small Business Committee will hear from academics and business executives about the rise of peer-to-peer businesses.

The Senate Commerce Committee is planning to explore the privacy considerations of drone flights at 2:30 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT 

A federal appeals court on Tuesday struck down the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. 

Republicans lawmakers applauded the federal court’s decision, claiming victory for the unregulated Internet, but President Obama "remains committed" to net neutrality, the White House said.

Members of the White House board suggesting reforms to the National Security Agency and other government surveillance efforts defended some of the spy agency’s most controversial activities. 

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) introduced legislation Tuesday that would restructure the National Security Agency’s phone metadata surveillance program.

Congressional Democrats are increasing their call for Target to disclose how it allowed as many as 110 million customers to have their names, addresses or credit card information stolen.

  

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