This Week in Tech: House probes FCC crackdown on broadcasters

A House panel this week will take up the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) contested proposal to limit the media ownership deals of broadcasters.

Members of an Energy and Commerce subpanel on Wednesday will discuss “the media ownership landscape as it continues to evolve in the digital age,” including a recent vote by the FCC to crack down on collusion between broadcasters, which industry representatives say will hurt small stations.

The hearing will include testimony from Bill Lake, chief of the FCC’s Media Bureau, and Jane Mago, general counsel for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB).

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Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) has chastised FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler for moving forward with his plans before the commission has finalized a years-late review of existing rules. The commission needs to finish that analysis, he said, before imposing any new limits on broadcasters.

The hearing comes after the FCC voted earlier this year to consider any stations that share more than 15 percent of their advertising sales resources as being owned by the same company. The vote effectively banned such resource-sharing arrangements, as one company cannot own more than one of the top four broadcast stations in any market under FCC rules.

While some hailed the move as closing a loophole in the agency’s ownership rules, the broadcast industry protested, calling the decision “arbitrary and capricious.”

While one broadcast company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, announced that it would be shuttering three stations after failing to find a buyer who could comply with the new ban on resource-sharing arrangements, the NAB sued the FCC in federal court last week over the March vote.

In announcing the suit, the broadcast industry group echoed Republican criticism of the FCC for failing to complete its congressionally mandated quadrennial review of media ownership rules. “NAB believes that a fact-based examination of today’s marketplace would show that FCC ownership restrictions against free and local broadcasters are outdated in a world of national pay TV giants,” the group’s executive vice president of communications, Dennis Wharton, said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property will hold the first of two hearing on music licensing. The hearings come as the House Judiciary Committee conducts its comprehensive review of copyright law.

Tuesday’s hearing will include testimony from The Recording Academy, the National Music Publishers Association, BMI, the Digital Media Association and the Nashville Songwriters Association International. The second hearing on music licensing is slated for June 25.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Tuesday afternoon will hear testimony about federal information technology projects. Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Pentagon, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personnel Management and the Government Accountability Office are slated to testify.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will testify in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Off Capitol Hill, the FCC will hold its monthly open meeting on Friday morning. The commission will hear two presentations: one on AT&T’s proposal to begin trials to replace traditional phone technology with Internet-based phone lines and one on the agency’s work in the area of low-power radio stations.

On Monday morning, the Center for Strategic and International Studies is rolling out a joint report with McAfee calculating the global cost of cyber crime. Experts from the think tank and top McAfee officials will be on hand to talk about their findings.

U.S. chief technology officer Todd Park will deliver a keynote address at a Wednesday event on “the Internet of Things” hosted by the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. The daylong event will also include appearances from Department of Transportation CIO Richard McKinney, General Services Administration head Dan Tangherlini and Department of Health and Human Service CTO Bryan Sivak.

On Wednesday, the Aspen Institute is hosting an event on net neutrality. Jim Cicconi of AT&T and Chris Libertelli of Netflix will join academics, including Columbia Law School’s Tim Wu, who is credited with coining the phrase “net neutrality,” to discuss the policy questions arising as the FCC attempts to rewrite its net neutrality rules.

On Thursday, the American Enterprise Institute is holding a conference on “the road ahead for cybersecurity.” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), Wheeler, FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen and former NSA Directors Keith Alexander and Michael Hayden are slated to participate.

Later in the day, Hayden will also appear at an event on surveillance and privacy sponsored by Microsoft, the American Civil Liberties Union and The Washington Times. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) will also be on hand.

The two events come just over a year after the first news story was published based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and as the Senate turns into ground zero for the fight over surveillance reform.

Public Knowledge and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) are presenting a panel Thursday on cellphone unlocking and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, featuring copyright law experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the University of Colorado Law School.