OVERNIGHT TECH: McCain urges FCC to shake up video market

McCain has introduced legislation, the Television Consumer Freedom Act, that would pressure satellite and cable TV providers to allow customers to pick and choose the channels they subscribe to. He argues that customers should not have to pay for the dozens or even hundreds of channels that they do not watch.

"The response to my legislation has been astounding. Consumers want options that the current television market is not providing," McCain wrote in his letter to the FCC.

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The bill would void a copyright benefit for cable providers that insist on bundling their channels. The legislation would also condition certain regulatory benefits for media companies on them allowing cable providers to sell their programming on an a la carte basis.

In his letter, he wrote that if the cable providers are right and bundles offer a better value, then consumers will choose the bundles over individual channels.

"The truth is the current socialized television model, where popular channels are subsidizing less popular channels, is incredibly anti-consumer," he wrote.

House debates video rules: The House and Energy and Commerce Committee's Technology subcommittee held a wide-ranging hearing on Wednesday on the state of video regulations. The purpose of the hearing was to consider whether to re-authorize a satellite TV law.

"I’m open to debate on a whole host of issues and all options remain on the table," subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the full committee, said he favors a clean re-authorization of the satellite law.

Broadcasting and cable witnesses sparred over re-transmission consent rates, while Geoffrey Manne, a senior fellow for the libertarian group TechFreedom, urged Congress to scrap the satellite law all together. He argued that laws have failed to keep up with new technologies like online video and that the existing regulatory structure is a "house of cards."

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who owns three homes, said he is considering dropping his cable subscription due to rising costs.

FISA court sides with EFF:
A Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court sided with the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Wednesday in its bid to gain access to secret court opinions.

The court said that its rules do not prohibit the disclosure of court opinions, but the ultimate decision on whether the opinions are subject to the Freedom of Information Act is up to the U.S. District Court.

NSA chief: We need industry's help on cybersecurity: While the majority of the Senate Appropriation Committee's hearing on Wednesday focused on the surveillance programs that have recently come to light, NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander also weighed in on how the country can beef up the cybersecurity of its critical infrastructure against hacker attacks. In particular, Alexander called for the government and industry to find a better way to work with one another on securing that infrastructure since it the bulk of it is privately owned — but "in a transparent way."

"The government team that is here today cannot do it without support from industry. We have to have some way of working with industry because they own and operate the bulk of our nation's infrastructure," said Alexander, who also serves as the head of U.S. Cyber Command. "We have to do it in an transparent way, in a legal way."

He also called for Congress to pass information-sharing legislation. When asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) about the scope of liability protection that lawmakers should grant industry in such legislation, Alexander said a careful balance needs to be struck.

"From my perspective, we can't just grant everybody ... liability protection. And on the other hand, we can't say, 'Do something for the government, and if something goes bad, you're on your own,' " the four-star general said. 


ON TAP

House Judiciary Committee lawmakers are expected to grill FBI Director Robert Mueller about his agency's data-collection practices at an oversight hearing on Thursday.

NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander will return to the Hill on Thursday to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door hearing regarding the recent leaks about surveillance programs.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Songwriters, composers hit back against Pandora: The performing rights organization that represents songwriters and composers blasted Internet radio service Pandora on Wednesday, saying the company is "trying every trick in the book" to underpay its members.

"Songwriters and composers are struggling in the digital economy to be paid fairly for their creative work," said Paul Williams, president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, in a statement. "Pandora is trying every trick in the book to brazenly and unconscionably underpay and take advantage of the creative labor that produces the core offering of their business — music written by individual songwriters and composers."

FTC sides with Uber in DC taxi fight: Federal regulators are warning the District of Columbia's taxicab commission that proposed rules on services like Uber that use smartphone applications to pay and hail taxis could be overly restrictive.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) submitted written comments to the D.C. Taxicab Commission on Wednesday, warning that some of its rules could stifle competition and hurt consumers.

Merkley waves Verizon phone, demands NSA chief share grounds for seizing data: In a dramatic exchange Wednesday on Capitol Hill, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) demanded National Security Agency chief Keith Alexander explain why the agency was legally authorized to obtain his personal cellphone data.

Waving his Verizon phone from his seat, Merkley asked Alexander to explain "what authorized investigation gave you the grounds" to seize information on his calls and those of millions of other Americans.

NSA leaker: US hacking computer systems in China and Hong Kong: The United States government has been hacking into computers in China and Hong Kong for years, former government contractor Edward Snowden told the South China Morning Post.

In an interview with the Post in Hong Kong, Snowden said the National Security Agency has carried out hacking attacks against nonmilitary targets since 2009, with the newspaper citing "unverified documents." He said the targets of these attacks included Chinese university and public officials, businesses and students.

Democrats' bill targets unwanted phone charges: Senate Democrats introduced legislation on Wednesday to crack down on unauthorized and unwanted charges on landline phone bills.

The bill from Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) would bar telephone providers from placing third-party charges on customers' phone bills without clear disclosure and customers' permission.

Carney: White House 'aware' of letters from tech companies on NSA program: White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed Wednesday that White House officials had seen the statements issued by Google, Facebook and other major tech companies that urged the administration to let them disclose details about national security requests for users' data.

"We have seen the letters from Google and other companies and understand that they have questions about how we can best talk about these programs moving forward," Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One, according to a pool report.

Tech start-ups partner with Norquist, Bloomberg for immigration reform campaign: Engine Advocacy, a coalition that represents tech start-ups, like Uber and Yelp in Washington, launched a Web campaign on Wednesday called "Keep Us Here" that's aimed at rallying the public to press lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The coalition launched an online platform, keepushere.org, where people can send letters or tweets to their lawmakers about supporting immigration reform directly from the campaign's website. The platform is aimed at rallying support within the tech and start-up community for a "day of action" on June 18, when people are encouraged to use its online tools to urge their lawmakers to pass comprehensive immigration legislation.

CDT President Leslie Harris to step down: Leslie Harris, the president of the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), announced on Wednesday that she will step down sometime before March 2014.

The CDT's board has appointed a search committee to pick her successor. The CDT is an advocacy group that focuses on Internet freedom, online privacy and free expression.


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This post was updated at 8:55 a.m. to correct Gen. Keith Alexander's rank.