By Brendan Sasso and Jennifer Martinez - 03/12/13 10:12 PM EDT
THE LEDE: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) on Tuesday called for Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to expand and update the E-Rate program, which funds Internet access for schools and libraries.
During his committee's oversight hearing of the FCC, Rockefeller said the program has been a "tremendous success" and a "crowning achievement" of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski agreed with Rockefeller about the need to revamp E-Rate and promised to work with the committee on the issue.
Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner, said he could support revisions to E-Rate but only after the FCC overhauls the contribution system for its Universal Service Fund, which provides the money for the program. The Universal Service Fund is currently funded through a fee on interstate phone calls that the phone companies pass on to consumers in their monthly phone bills.
T-Mobile, MetroPCS get FCC nod: The FCC's Wireless Bureau approved T-Mobile's purchase of MetroPCS on Tuesday, paving the way for the merger between the fourth- and fifth-largest wireless carriers.
"To counter the power of AT&T and Verizon, the market needs more strong, national competitors, and this action will allow T-Mobile to improve its network and strengthen its position," he said in an emailed statement. He echoed Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and the Communications Workers of America in hoping that the merger will not lead to layoffs.
During Tuesday's Senate oversight hearing of the FCC, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) grilled FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about why he allowed the bureau to approve the deal instead of holding a full commission vote.
"This is a deal involving 40 million subscribers, billions of dollars — are you aware of any transaction of similar size that has been approved at the bureau level?" Blumenthal asked.
Genachowski said there have been other large deals approved at the bureau level, but Blumenthal said he believes it is the largest ever.
Genachowski argued that it was appropriate to not hold a commission vote because there were no petitions to deny and the deal did not raise significant policy questions. Blumenthal said he would follow up with more questions later.
Blumenthal: Google Street View settlement 'vindicates' investigation: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) welcomed the news of Google agreeing to pay $7 million to settle charges with 38 states for collecting data from unprotected Wi-Fi networks without permission.
The investigation was first started by Blumenthal's office when he served as attorney general of Connecticut. In a statement, Blumenthal said he hopes Google will stand behind consumer privacy legislation following its settlement.
“This settlement vindicates the investigation begun by my office more than three years ago when we first learned of these serious, shocking, systematic violations of consumer privacy. More important than the money is Google's commitment to set a model of privacy protection — a promise made previously at least in part," Blumenthal said. "The credibility and enforceability of this commitment will depend on adequate disclosure and transparency. I hope that Google will support legislation that I have advocated to prevent such reprehensible practices, and protect consumer Internet privacy."
Level 3 settles with FCC over rural calls: Level 3 Communications agreed to pay $975,000 on Tuesday to resolve an FCC probe into rural call-completion problems.
The company will pay an additional $1 million if it misses quarterly benchmarks. The case is part of a broader FCC investigation into problems with rural calls.
"When calls to Americans in rural communities aren’t reliably completed, the consequences are both life-threatening and damaging economically," Genachowski said in a statement.
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who led a group of 35 other senators in urging the FCC to investigate the problem, called the settlement with Level 3 an "important step forward."
"I’m glad the FCC has sent a clear message that providers causing these problems will be held accountable," Johnson said.
It's an action-packed day for cybersecurity observers on Wednesday. Three separate House committees have hearings scheduled on the national security issue.
Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute will outline the roles and responsibilities the department has when it comes to leading the federal government's cybersecurity efforts. The committee will also hear from Centerpoint Energy Chief Information Officer Gary Hayes; American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel Michelle Richardson; and Anish Bhimani, chairman of the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
The House Judiciary Committee's subpanel on Crime and Terrorism will examine current data breach and criminal laws used to prosecute cyber intrusions and protection sensitive data. The hearing will also explore how new legislation could thwart future data breaches in the public and private actors.
"As more data is stored and transmitted electronically, Congress must examine the current tools we have to make sure that they keep pace with modern technology and protect sensitive data from future cyber intrusion," said House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in a statement.
Later in the day, Gen. Keith Alexander, head of U.S. Cyber Command, will go before the House Armed Services Committee's subpanel on Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities to testify at its hearing, "Information Technology and Cyber Operations: Modernization and Policy Issues to Support the Future Force." Teri Takai, chief information officer at the Defense Department, and Elizabeth McGrath, deputy chief management officer at the Defense Department, will also join Alexander on the witness panel.
President Obama will also return to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to meet with the House Republican conference.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Website claims to have hacked first lady's financial records: The FBI and Secret Service are investigating a website that says it has hacked the first lady’s personal and financial information.
The website claims to have posted information on Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden and other government officials as well as several celebrities, including Kim Kardashian.
U.S. Cyber Command chief warns of rising cyberattacks on banks: U.S. Cyber Command has observed cyberattacks on Wall Street growing "significantly," and industry predicts these attacks will continue to rise this year, the nation's top cybersecurity chief said at a Senate hearing on Tuesday.
Intelligence chiefs warn that cyberattacks are nation's top security threat: The nation’s top intelligence officials told senators on Tuesday that cyberattacks are the leading security threat facing the United States.
Testifying at the Senate Intelligence Committee’s annual hearing on worldwide threats, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers that terrorist groups are increasingly pursuing the ability to wage cyberattacks, which, if successful, could bring businesses and the government to a collapsing halt.
T-Mobile gets federal approval to buy MetroPCS: Federal regulators gave Deutsche Telekom, the parent company of T-Mobile, permission to buy MetroPCS on Tuesday.
The Federal Communications approved the deal without a commission vote, allowing its Wireless Telecommunications Bureau to grant formal approval. The Justice Department's Antitrust Division also announced that it had closed its investigation after concluding that the deal was unlikely to harm consumers or lessen competition.
FTC releases updated guidance for mobile, online advertisers: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released updated guidelines on Tuesday for mobile and online advertisers to follow when they place disclosure information on ads.
The commission said its latest guidance recognizes that social networks and small screens on mobile phones and gadgets present advertisers with less space to place ad disclosures. Still, the FTC notes that its consumer protection laws apply to all marketers across various platforms, from print to radio and mobile phones.