This Week in Tech: Senate flips channel to TV bill

The Senate Judiciary Committee will mark up a bipartisan bill this week that would reauthorize a law governing the satellite television market.

The law is set to expire at the end of the year, and not reauthorizing it could leave approximately 1.5 million people without certain programming.

The Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) was seen by many as the first battle in a larger war over the way that cable and satellite TV subscribers watch their favorite shows, but Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and ranking member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) want to press pause on that effort.

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Their bill would reauthorize the current law for five years and allow more than a million rural viewers to get access to broadcast programming they could not otherwise get.

The bill otherwise would not reform the way signals are beamed into TV sets.

Lawmakers looking for sweeping reforms are not likely to take that lying down.

Many have pushed for Congress to change the way that cable and satellite companies pay to show broadcast channels like NBC, ABC, FOX and CBS. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has pledged to introduce legislation.

Both Commerce and Judiciary have jurisdiction over STELA, so different bills from the two committees could set up a showdown in the upper chamber.

A “clean” bill would also pose a conflict with the House, where the Energy and Commerce Committee last month passed legislation that made minor changes to the law.

On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee will set its sights on the concept of net neutrality, the notion that Internet service providers should not block or speed up Web traffic to any website.

The FCC’s attempt to write new net neutrality regulations has attracted an outpouring of criticism from people who worry providers will slow service for companies that don’t pay for “fast lanes” for their traffic. Republicans have protested the notion that the government should be regulating the Internet at all.

Friday’s session centers on whether antitrust law is a more effective way of protecting consumers and innovation than regulations, and will feature testimony from law professor Tim Wu, who first coined the term net neutrality.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will take a look at the use of contractors in the intelligence community.

The hearing comes just over a year after former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden revealed himself to be the leaker of millions of secret government documents and exposed the extent that spy agencies rely on contractors for a range of functions.

Later on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will investigate the marketing of electronic cigarettes to young people.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is releasing a report Tuesday showing that one-third of people in the U.S. do not have the technical know-how to take advantage of connected devices on the so-called “Internet of things.”

The NSA’s 90-day legal authority to collect and store Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act expires on Friday. The Obama administration will likely ask for another three-month authorization from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.