This Week in Tech: FCC picks fight with broadcasters

The Federal Communications Commission will consider a number of hot-button issues at its monthly open meeting Monday, including one proposal from Chairman Tom Wheeler that would change the way broadcasters do business.

The hotly contested proposal to limit joint sales agreements, which broadcasters sometimes use to pool their resources in advertising, has drawn fire from Republicans on the commission and from members of Congress.

Wheeler has said the measure, which would count significant resource sharing against rules limiting media ownership, is necessary to close a loophole in the commission’s ownership rules and stop the decline in the number of minority-owned stations across the country. Opponents counter that it would do just the opposite.

In a letter to Wheeler last week, six Senate Republicans warned the proposal “may have the practical effect of undermining the values of competition, localism, and diversity you contend to promote.”

Another missive from Missouri members cited local station arrangements that have let stations save enough money to upgrade lifesaving Doppler radar systems.

The commission on Monday will also look at chances to free up more unlicensed parts of the spectrum, where Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices operate, and set the rules for an upcoming auction to transfer AWS-3 spectrum licenses over to commercial uses. Also on the agenda is a measure to eliminate some rules to make it easier to beam syndicated content into areas during retransmission disputes.

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Also on Monday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank International, a case over what kind of software should be eligible for patent protections. In dozens of amicus briefs, companies and trade and advocacy groups have urged the court to rule on the broader question of software patentability.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will refocus its attention on patent reform. While the committee was slated to consider a patent reform bill from Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) last week, a more formal consideration was pushed back to give lawmakers extra time for negotiations. While Leahy’s original bill, the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act, tackled “patent trolls” with some less contentious measures like increasing transparency around patent ownership, other members of the committee are working with Leahy to add their provisions, some of which have drawn opposition.

The House Commerce and Judiciary committees will both take up the issue of Internet governance at hearings next week, just after the Obama administration’s announcement earlier this month that it is taking steps to relinquish oversight of the Internet’s Web address system. While some hailed the move as a step toward a more global Internet, critics say it could open the door for other countries to impose their restrictive views of online speech on the currently open Internet.

The House Commerce subommittee on Technology on Wednesday is slated to hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. According to a committee aide, that hearing will include testimony from Fadi Chehadé, CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which currently manages the Web address back end under a contract with the Department of Commerce, and from Larry Strickling, the Commerce Department’s assistant secretary for communications and information. 

The House Judiciary subcommittee on the Internet will get its turn at the issue during a hearing at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

Lawmakers on the Senate Commerce Committee will take their first stab at reauthorizing a satellite TV law on Tuesday. The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act is set to expire at the end of the year, and reauthorization is considered “must-pass” legislation. A House Commerce subcommittee cleared a bill last week, and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has oversight of the issue, also recently began its investigation of the law.

Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez will join officials from the Secret Service and Government Accountability Office on Wednesday to testify about data breaches before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Tim Pawlenty, head of the Financial Services Roundtable and former Republican candidate for president, is also slated to testify.

The House Small Business Committee will hold a hearing on the potentials and perils of bitcoin for small businesses on Wednesday.

As a part of the House Judiciary’s ongoing review of copyright law, the subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold a hearing Wednesday to examine the “preservation and reuse of copyrighted works.”

The American Cable Association will host a summit Wednesday featuring FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, House Commerce Committee members Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), and Chet Kanojia, CEO of video-streaming service Aereo, which will argue in front of the Supreme Court next month in its case against broadcast companies.