By Julian Hattem and Kate Tummarello - 04/01/14 06:45 PM EDT
THE LEDE: Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller wants to overhaul the rules for video on television and over the Web.
In a subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, the retiring West Virginia Democrat said that a bill to reauthorize the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) “also gives the committee a chance to reassess whether the overall video marketplace operates to the benefit of consumers and competition.”
STELA allows satellite TV companies to show broadcast stations like ABC and NBC to some remote subscribers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to pick the signals up with an antenna. Broadcasters have been pushing for a “clean” reauthorization that avoids wading into reform of other video laws.
Rockefeller rejected that option on Tuesday.
“I think it’s fair to say that there’s a good chance this will not be a clean process this year,” he said.
The position puts him at odds with some Democrats on the House Commerce Committee who have opposed a Republican-led effort to make broader reforms limiting some of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) powers.
Last week, the House subcommittee unanimously approved a compromise version of a bill to reauthorize STELA that left out some of the more contentious proposed reforms. Instead, the bill now before the full House Commerce Committee allows the FCC to bring back a mandate on security equipment for TV set-top boxes and leaves open a question about limitations on broadcaster coordination.
Rockefeller’s stance could also put him at odds with fellow lawmakers on the panel.
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking member of the Commerce subcommittee on Communications, praised the House panel’s ability to reach “a working consensus on a set of narrow, targeted, commonsense reforms,” and hoped “that we will be able to work in a similar fashion.”
Lawmakers have pitched an update to some of the video laws as a precursor to a larger overhaul in a planned update of the Communications Act, which outlines the powers of the FCC but hasn’t been revisited since 1996.
Work to update that law has already begun in the House, but the Senate Commerce panel is not expected to take it up this year.
Rockefeller said that Congress should act now on reforms instead of waiting for the “mythical rewrite” of the law, “which always seems to be right around the next corner.”
Senate patent markup could be delayed: The Senate Judiciary markup of Chairman Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) patent bill expected to take place Thursday could get pushed back to next week as committee members work to find agreement on some of the more contentious proposed provisions. Leahy said in a statement that “bipartisan Senate negotiations are continuing” on his bill to curb patent trolls — the companies that profit from bringing and threatening to bring frivolous patent infringement lawsuits.
While some measures in Leahy’s bills have been generally accepted, other proposals from Leahy and other members of the committee have proven more contentious, including Leahy’s provision that would allow tech companies to step in when their customers are sued for patent infringement and a provision from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) that would require the losing party of a frivolous patent infringement lawsuit to pay the winning party’s fees.
While the committee is “close to an agreement that incorporates ideas from other members ... this is a complex bill and the manager’s amendment will be significant so we may need additional time for drafting and for members to review it,” Leahy said. “If we cannot report the bill [for the scheduled executive business meeting Thursday], we will reconvene the mark up on Tuesday morning.”
FCC’s O’Rielly slams Internet management shift: Michael O’Rielly, one of two Republicans on the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday that he is concerned about the Department of Commerce’s plans to relinquish its oversight role of the technical back end of the Internet’s Web address system.
“The ability to control domain names may provide the ability to control Internet content and access, so the stakes are extremely high,” O’Rielly said during a speech at a Federal Communications Bar Association event.
Echoing concerns from other Republicans, O'Rielly said the move could open the door to control from more oppressive governments, like Turkey, which recently blocked Twitter to crack down on dissident speech. If the Commerce Department’s “proposal is to go forward, it must be with verifiable, crystal clear, airtight guarantees that there cannot be a role for foreign governments or quasi-governmental entities in Internet governance now or in the future,” he said.
O’Rielly tied the Internet governance discussion back to his agency’s attempts to revive its net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites until they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year. “We cannot argue for an unregulated Internet internationally while we try to regulate the Internet at home,” he said.
Former PTO head warns against 'micromanaging': David Kappos, the former head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, warned Congress against acting too boldly with a bill to take out patent “trolls.”
“While some further structure for the federal courts relative to litigation procedure is perfectly fine, micromanaging is not appropriate,” he said at a Tuesday morning event sponsored by Bloomberg.
On, fee-shifting, for instance, where a court makes the loser pay for the winner’s court fees, Congress should be “would be better advised to move to a very calibrated approach,” he said, rather than something more radical. That situation is one “where if we change the margin just a little bit ... you’ll significantly change behavior,” he added.
House bill to call for Web freedom in Turkey: House lawmakers are pushing a resolution to formally call on the Turkish government to end its blackout of Twitter and YouTube in the country.
“Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are foundational pillars to any functioning democracy,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “Social media, such as Twitter and YouTube, has enhanced these pillars serving as transformational instruments for social policy change to billions of people who use them on a daily basis.”
“Today the Internet connects people all around the world, and to maintain the vibrancy of the Internet as we know it, it’s imperative that people from all nations have unfettered access,” added Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.).
Reps. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Bill Keating (D-Mass.) also signed onto the effort.
Patent coalition grows: An umbrella group looking for a law to end patent trolls has been extending its membership. The Main Street Patent Coalition has added Small Business majority, the Latino Coalition, the National Association of Home Builders and the Printing Industries of America in recent weeks.
“We are honored to have more main street businesses stand with us and encourage Congress to pass comprehensive patent reform,” Michael Meehan, a coalition spokesman, said in a statement. “Main street businesses across America are providing services and products, creating jobs and building our economy.”
The American Cable Association is hosting its Washington Summit. Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia are scheduled to speak in the morning, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is slated for the afternoon.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. with testimony from Department Homeland Security and Government Accountability Office officials, as well as testimony from Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez.
The House Commerce subcommittee on Technology will hold a hearing at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the Obama administration’s announcement that it will relinquish its oversight role of the technical back end of the Internet’s Web address system. Commerce Department official Lawrence Strickling will testify along with Fadi Chehade, the head of the nonprofit tasked with bringing stakeholders together to develop a transition plan.
The House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. to discuss the “preservation and reuse of copyright works.” Representatives from the Authors Guild and the Library of Congress, among others, are slated to testify.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is launching a new technology-focused arm with an office in Silicon Valley.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) wants to create additional scrutiny for software patents but is open to a Senate patent reform bill without that provision.
The National Security Agency (NSA) is under fire for new revelations that it used a “loophole” in federal law to search Americans’ calls and emails.
The House Commerce Committee is turning its attention to the airwaves that operate everything from smartphones to Wi-Fi routers.
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