OVERNIGHT TECH: House critics ready to grill FCC chief

THE LEDE: Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler will testify Tuesday in front of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications on the heels of decisions at his agency that have raised concerns for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Given some of the most recent actions out of the commission, I fear that we may be heading into rough waters,” Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in his prepared opening statement.

Last week, the FCC voted to move forward with a plan from Wheeler to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from slowing or blocking access to certain websites before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year. Under Wheeler’s plan, Internet providers would be able to strike “commercially reasonable” deals with websites and online services to provide “fast lane” access to users.

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To appease concerns from net neutrality advocates — including Democrats on the Commission and Capitol Hill — Wheeler altered his position on whether the agency should reclassify Internet providers to more heavily regulate them like traditional telephone companies.

Walden criticized Wheeler’s attempts to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules and more seriously consider reclassifying Internet providers.

“The practical consequences of reclassification are to give the bureaucrats at the FCC the authority to second-guess business decisions and to regulate every possible aspect of the Internet,” he said, adding that reclassification “will harm consumers, halt job creation, curtail innovation and stifle investment.”

In his opening statement, Walden also slammed Wheeler over reports that he held major revisions to key items from Republican FCC Commissioners for too long and for recent FCC actions aimed at cracking down on collusion between broadcasters.

Eshoo weighs in: In the days ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, the committee's leaders have been crowdsourcing questions from the public on Facebook and Twitter. On Monday, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the subcommittee’s ranking member, added her voice with a call to limit Internet providers from making deals to speed up users’ access. “#NetNeutrality advocates and I argue paid prioritization is a departure from the Internet as we know it,” she wrote on Twitter. “Shouldn’t it be banned?”

Wheeler defends his tenure: In written testimony posted to the Commerce committee website, Wheeler told lawmakers that last week’s net neutrality vote was the beginning of a process to restore net neutrality protections and that he looks forward to “a broad and thoughtful debate” to inform the agency’s rulemaking process.

While the agency has the authority to reinstate a tweaked version of the net neutrality rules without reclassification, the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) approved by the agency last week asks if reclassification is the best path forward, Wheeler said. “The entire purpose of an NPRM is to give Americans the ability to express themselves and provide analysis and guidance.”

Wheeler also touted other efforts he has spearheaded at the agency, including conducting one airwave auction and moving ahead with two more. Last week, the agency voted to limit the participation of industry giants AT&T and Verizon in some parts of the 2015 incentive auction. That auction — which will involve the agency buying back airwaves from television broadcasters and reselling them to spectrum-hungry wireless companies looking to boost their cellphone networks — “will allow market forces to determine the highest and best use of spectrum, while providing a potentially game-changing financial opportunity to America’s broadcasters,” Wheeler wrote.

Former tech czar confident in FCC’s net neutrality rewrite: President Obama’s former top technology advisor defended the FCC’s plans to allow the Internet “fast lanes” as it rewrites its net neutrality rules.

In an interview with Time, former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra pushed back on arguments from net neutrality supporters who say the FCC’s plans to allow “fast lanes” go back on a pledge Obama made during his 2008 campaign to support strong net neutrality rules. Chopra said he is “confident” that the FCC can allow “commercially reasonable” agreements that create “fast lanes” for some Internet traffic without degrading other Internet traffic.

“I am extraordinarily bullish on the need for new open Internet rules,” he said. “And I think what we’re talking about here are really mechanisms that preserve an open Internet while acknowledging that there are yet unknowns about the birth of new products and services that could leverage the Internet backbone to improve our lives.”

E&C moves forward with communications law update: The House Energy and Commerce Committee released its third white paper ahead of a planned overhaul of the law undergirding the Internet, phone service and other communications networks. The new committee analysis takes a look at competition and the role of the FCC.

“The communications and technology sectors are among the most dynamic in our economy,” said committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich) and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who leads the communications subcommittee.  “On the Internet, everyone from 100 year-old blue-chip companies to startups that are little more than one person with a great idea compete head-to-head.” The panel is accepting the public’s comments on the white paper until June 13.  

Markey ‘deeply concerned’ about AT&T-DirecTV deal: Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) added his voice to the growing number of lawmakers concerned about the effect of AT&T’s decision to buy DirecTV. 

The $48.5 billion acquisition “represents yet two more communications colossi combining into one even larger company, narrowing competition in the telecommunications marketplace,” he said in a statement on Monday afternoon. On top of the proposed merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, “I fear the only competition consumers will have in their living rooms will be who handles the remote control,” he said.

Broadcasters concerned too: The National Association of Broadcasters also called for an examination of the AT&T, DirecTV deal on Monday. "AT&T's proposed merger with DirecTV demands a hard look in an increasingly consolidated broadband and pay television marketplace," the group's Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said in a statement. "It is hard to see how decreasing competitors in the pay TV marketplace – while increasing regulatory restraints on local TV stations – truly benefits consumers."

TechNet adds Rokita staffer: Tech industry advocacy group TechNet — which represents Microsoft, Cisco and others — announced Monday that it is adding Mike Ward as vice president of federal policy and government relations. Ward most recently served as chief of staff to Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and was previously legislative director for Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.).

 

ON TAP

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications at 10:30 a.m.

The Commerce Department will hold the next in its series of meetings to bring privacy advocates and tech companies together to develop a privacy-enhancing code of conduct for facial recognition technologies.

The House Rules Committee will meet Thursday at 3 p.m. to consider additional amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act, including multiple amendments aimed at preventing the National Security Agency from conducting mass surveillance.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

The Obama administration confronted China over cyber spying by issuing a criminal indictment that is likely to inflame tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The recently announced merger of AT&T and DirecTV was designed with regulators in mind and will benefit consumers, executives from the two companies said Monday.

Sprint will pay $7.5 million for calling and texting consumers who had signed up for the Do-Not-Call list.

The National Security Agency (NSA) has been secretly monitoring, recording and stockpiling virtually every conversation made on a cellphone in the Bahamas, according to new documents from Edward Snowden.

 

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