OVERNIGHT TECH: House panel to consider Internet governance bill

The House Commerce subcommittee on Technology will mark up a Republican bill that would prevent the Obama administration from going through with plans to step out of its oversight role of the Internet’s Web address system.

The bill — Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Commerce Committee Vice Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) — would keep the Obama administration from transitioning out of its oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) until the Government Accountability Office completes a review of that study.

ADVERTISEMENT
The Republican push for legislation is a response to a Commerce Department announcement earlier this year that it would be giving up its oversight role of the IANA to the global community. Currently, the IANA is run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) through a contract with the U.S. government that must be renewed every two years.

Under the Commerce Department’s plan, ICANN will convene global Internet stakeholders to develop a plan to transition IANA oversight away from the U.S. government by the time the current contract expires at the end of 2015.

While some hailed the move as a step toward a more globalized Internet, critics, including Republicans in Congress, say the decision to step back could open the door for more oppressive governments to try to censor the Internet.

“It is imperative that this administration report to Congress before they take any steps that would compromise or turn over any control of the Internet,” Blackburn said during the markup’s opening statements on Wednesday. “We cannot let the Internet turn into another Russian landgrab.”

Subcommittee Republicans repeatedly said the bill’s goal is to “verify” the safety of the open Internet rather than overturn the Commerce Department’s decision to step back.

“Where’s the harm in verifying through an independent third party that this transition is in the best interest of the American people,” Shimkus asked. “We only get one chance to get this right.”

The subcommittee ranking member accused Republicans of making a “U-turn” on their stance on Internet governance, pointing to a 2012 vote that affirmed U.S. support for a stakeholder-, rather than government-, run Internet. “I think that there needs to be ... some explanation of how you arrived at the point you are at,” Blackburn said.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) told The Hill that she and other Democrats would be introducing amendments to the bill during Thursday’s portion of the markup. “There will be amendments because there need to be amendments,” she said. “I think it does deserve amendments that would help us get back on the right track.”

Also on Thursday morning, the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Internet will hold a hearing to examine whether the Commerce Department should “relinquish direct oversight over ICANN.” ICANN President Fadi Chehadé and Commerce Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling will testify, alongside academics and a representative from the entertainment industry.

House Judiciary to examine Comcast merger: The House Judiciary Committee announced it will hold a hearing next month on the proposed deal between Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Witnesses have yet to be announced, but committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), who leads the Antitrust subcommittee, said in a statement that they expected “a balanced hearing on the proposed transaction and ensuring that both consumers and competition in the marketplace are protected.”

The announcement came as Comcast and Time Warner executives made the case for merging the two cable giants in the Senate on Wednesday. On Tuesday, Comcast filed formal paperwork with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which set the gears of the regulatory review in motion.

Goodlatte and Bachus said that the month before their planned hearing would give lawmakers enough time to thoroughly review the proposal before they questioned executives.

“We believe that holding the hearing on May 8th will allow the Committee and consumers an opportunity to review Comcast’s arguments in support of the transaction included in the FCC filing,” they said.

Senate confirms FTC nominee: The Senate voted 95-1 on Wednesday to confirm Terrell McSweeny as the newest member of the Federal Trade Commission. Currently, the commission is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans. The addition of McSweeny — former policy staffer for Vice President Biden and Department of Justice attorney — will bring the agency back to its intended five member line-up and put Democrats back in the majority. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was the only lawmaker to vote against her confirmation.

In a statement, FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said the commission was “delighted” that McSweeny would join the panel. “Terrell is a dedicated public servant, and we look forward to working with her on the many important issues facing the Commission," she said.

Commissioner Julie Brill, the FTC’s other Democrat, offered her new colleague a “warm welcome” on Twitter.

Leahy warns about Comcast-Netflix peering deal: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Wednesday raised the alarm about “interconnection” deals like the one recently struck between Netflix and Comcast. The arrangement, announced earlier this year, lets Netflix connect directly to Comcast’s network, instead of going through a third party. That improves speed for Netflix users but should also scare people that rely on other high-bandwidth services like telemedicine, Leahy told a top Comcast executive.

“If companies must enter special agreements to ensure adequate quality for their streaming video service, I worry about the potential impact on other bandwidth-intensive services,” he said. While slow streaming times might be a nuisance for fans of “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” “it is really serious and could become life or death for patients who can’t reach healthcare for the same reason.”

Netflix criticized the deal as an “arbitrary tax”and other tech companies have urged for regulators to get involved, but Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has ruled out including it as part of any new net neutrality regulations.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told Leahy and other members of the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the deal “was Netflix’s idea.”

The company, which reportedly eats up nearly a third of U.S. bandwidth at peak times, asked itself “why don’t we cut out the middleman, have a direct relationship and potentially save ourselves some money,” Cohen said. “That’s where that agreement came from. It was Netflix’s desire to pay us directly and cut out the middleman.”

FTC settles flashlight app charges:  The FTC is finalizing a settlement with a flashlight application company that allegedly shared information about users’ locations with advertisers. The agreement, first announced in December, requires the company behind the Brightest Flashlight app to delete any information it has about people and notify users how and why their location data is being used.

According to the FTC, the Android app had been downloaded tens of millions of times. It allowed people to use their phone’s camera flash as a flashlight.

 

ON TAP

The House Judiciary subcommittee on the Internet is holding a hearing on control of the Internet domain name system at 9:00 a.m. Larry Strickling, head of the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and ICANN President Fadi Chehadé are set to testify.

At the same time, the House Commerce subcommittee will finish its markup of the DOTCOM Act.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Senators on Wednesday expressed skepticism that a proposed mega-merger between the country’s two largest cable companies would be a good deal for subscribers.

As Congress heads into recess, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is for the fourth time postponing the committee's consideration of his patent reform bill.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) isn’t optimistic about the House Judiciary Committee’s ongoing review of copyright law.

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said he is worried the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could lead to a clampdown on conservative media.

Former President Clinton on Wednesday said Edward Snowden has been an “imperfect messenger” in his effort to expose the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.

 

Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

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

More in Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Dems applaud funding boost for school Internet

Read more »