This Week in Tech: Congress flips to video bills

Both chambers of Congress this week will take up reauthorization of an important video bill. 

In the House, the Commerce subcommittee on Communications will consider a bill to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) during a markup that began Monday evening and will continue Tuesday morning. 

While that bill, which expires at the end of the year, governs the way satellite companies interact with broadcasters, some are hoping to use the reauthorization process to pass broader video market reforms. 

Specifically, some are hoping to address issues with the “retransmission consent” system, which allows broadcasters to charge cable and satellite companies for broadcast programming that is free when accessed through an antenna. Broadcasters say the current system allows content creators to get paid for programming, but cable and satellite companies say the system gives broadcasters too much leverage when negotiating for payment.

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Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on Communications, pledged to hold a clean reauthorization process but introduced a bill earlier this month that would make some tweaks to the video marketplace, including ending a requirement for specific security equipment in cable boxes.

Democrats have pushed back on some provisions in Walden’s bill and expressed disappointment that other reforms were not included.

On the Senate side, the Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on reauthorizing STELA, featuring testimony from satellite, broadcast and entertainment industry representatives.

 The hearing will also feature testimony from Public Knowledge senior staff attorney John Bergmayer, who will push for indefinite reauthorization, as opposed to the five-year reauthorization under Walden’s bill, according to the group’s government affairs associate, Martyn Griffen.

 “We think it should be reauthorized and extended indefinitely,” Griffen said. “This is must-have legislation.”

 Griffen said his group is watching to see how the Judiciary Committee handles some of the provisions in Walden’s bill that Public Knowledge views as problematic, including the end to the security equipment requirement for cable boxes. “We would love to see those concerns addressed in the STELA hearing,” he said.

Public Knowledge is also watching to see how the Judiciary Committee factors in a bill from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) to alter the video marketplace. 

Rockefeller’s bill would allow cable subscribers to pay for the channels they want to watch rather than having to choose a combined package. The bill would also prevent Internet providers from slowing access to their competitors in the online video space.

The Department of Justice and the intelligence community are set next week to unveil recommendations for changing the National Security Agency’s controversial phone surveillance program. 

Earlier this year, President Obama directed the Justice Department and intelligence community to review the program and propose reforms to increase privacy and civil liberties concerns. Calls for reform to the program increased as two independent oversight groups issued reports questioning the legality and efficacy of the program.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing on “strengthening public-private partnerships to reduce cyber risks to our nation’s critical infrastructure.”

The panel’s first hearing will include testimony from officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology and the Government Accountability Office. The second panel includes executives from Pepco, the Delaware Department of Transportation and Information and the Financial Services Sector Coordinating Council.

Later on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on data breaches. It will be the latest in a spate of congressional activity on data security issues after a series of high-profile data breaches, including one at Target.

On Tuesday, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will hold a stakeholder meeting on facial recognition technology. The agency is bringing together tech companies and privacy advocates to craft a privacy-enhancing code of conduct for facial recognition technologies, replicating a process it held over the last two years to address mobile privacy.

 According to the agency, a staff attorney from the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection will make a presentation, including on the agency’s 2012 best practices for facial recognition technologies. Tuesday’s meeting will also include presentations from Russell King, CEO of facial recognition tech company Paycasso, and Olga Raskin, manager of identity research at IBG, an identification technology company that works with the U.S. government.

On Thursday morning, the Information Technology Industry Council will bring together lawmakers and representatives from the tech community to discuss policy issues facing the industry. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Acting Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Wendy Cutler will discuss ways to remove the barriers to trade that tech companies face when doing business abroad. 

Later Thursday morning, Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) will discuss the policy issues affecting the tech industry’s ability to get trained workers, including technology education and immigration reform.

Also Thursday, Microsoft is hosting a panel to examine how copyright law fits with consumer expectations in the digital age. Participants include U.S. Patent and Trademark Office chief policy officer Shira Perlmutter and Victoria Espinel, former intellectual property enforcement coordinator at the White House and current CEO of BSA-The Software Alliance.