OVERNIGHT TECH: Senate to consider overhauling video rules

The Lede: The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Tuesday to consider whether to rewrite the Cable Act, a 20 year-old bill governing the distribution of video services.

Don't expect Congress to tackle such a daunting challenge this term, but the hearing could preview one of the major tech battles for the next Congress.

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Lawmakers are expected to consider whether the Cable Act needs to be updated in light of changes in the TV marketplace, including the rise of Internet video. Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he wants to find a way to protect viewers from disruptive programming disputes.

"In particular, I want to take a close look at how we make sure that consumers do not continue to get caught in the crossfire in programming disputes, facing dark screens and losing access to news, sports and other entertainment programming,” Rockefeller said in a statement.

Slated to testify is a lineup of top cable and broadcasting executives, as well as consumer advocates. The witnesses include Melinda Witmer, chief video and content officer at Time Warner Cable, National Association of Broadcasters Chief Executive Gordon Smith, American Cable Association Chairwoman Colleen Abdoulah and Martin Franks, executive vice president for planning, policy and government affairs at CBS Corp.

Mark Cooper, research director at the Consumer Federation of America, and Preston Padden, an adjunct professor at the University of Colorado School of Law, will also testify. Padden also had an extensive career in the media industry and formerly served as the president of ABC’s television network and a top executive in the Walt Disney Company’s government relations shop.

In letters to the committee this week, broadcasters argued that Congress should leave the current rules in place. They argued that retransmission fees are necessary to support important local programming.  

But in a statement, the American Television Alliance, which represents cable and satellite groups, accused broadcasters of "clinging to 20-year-old rules that protect them at the expense of consumers." The group encouraged the Senate panel "to peel back the onion on the broadcasters’ true motivation for the status quo."

Lieberman and cyber bill sponsors host presser: Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and the four co-sponsors of his cybersecurity bill will explain the differences between the original and revised version of the legislation introduced last week at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. But the co-sponsors also will likely shed more light on why they made the changes they did. A release from the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee about the press conference noted the changes in the revised version "were made to win Republican votes so Congress can address the increasing cyber attacks, or immediate threat of attack, from foreign nations, hacktivists, criminals, and terrorists against the nation’s most critical cyber systems."

The latest version removed provisions that would have mandated operators of critical infrastructure meet a set of security standards established, in part, by the Homeland Security Department. The revised bill focuses on incentivizing critical infrastructure operators to certify that they meet cybersecurity standards in exchange for incentives, such as liability protection and government assistance when responding to cyber threats or attacks. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to move the bill after finishing votes on tax cut extensions, which could come as soon as mid-week.

McCain not happy with changes: Speaking on the Senate floor on Monday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Lieberman's bill is "greatly in need of improvement" in terms of its approach to protecting critical infrastructure and facilitating information sharing about cyber threats between industry and the federal government. He criticized Reid for taking up a cybersecurity bill that was "flawed" and has "zero chance" of passing the House or being signed into law instead of the national defense authorization bill. 

He added that the defense authorization bill includes important cybersecurity provisions within it, such as a measure that would consolidate defense networks, and would pass the Senate in a "near unanimous vote."

"So for the life of me, I do not understand why the majority leader of the United States Senate should have so little regard for the needs of men and women serving in the military today," the Arizona Republican said.

When asked if the cybersecurity bill had picked up any additional GOP co-sponsors after the revised version was introduced, Rockefeller told The Hill he knew "where to get some."

"You just got to trust me," he said

House to mull online tax: The House Judiciary Committee will hold a Tuesday morning hearing to examine legislation to allow states to tax online purchases. The Marketplace Equity Act, sponsored by Reps. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) and Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), is the House counterpart to the Senate's Marketplace Fairness Act.

Womack and Speier are expected to testify before the panel, along with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), Joseph Henchman of the Tax Foundation, Steve DelBianco of NetChoice and Wayne Harper, a Republican Utah state representative and incoming president of the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board.

Under current law, states can only collect sales taxes from retailers that have a physical presence in their state. People who order items online from another state are supposed to declare the purchase on their tax forms, but few do. The bills would empower states to collect taxes immediately on online purchases, no matter where the retailer is based.

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