Technology

Senate panel approves slew of tech bills

The Senate Commerce Committee approved seven technology-related bills on Tuesday, including legislation to boost broadband networks and streamline reports from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

It was the first Commerce Committee markup of the 115th Congress, and lawmakers quickly got to work on bills with bipartisan support.

Among those, Chairman John Thune's (R-S.D.) Mobile Now Act, which aims to make more 5G wireless spectrum available for commercial use and help build up those networks.

Thune's bill was originally introduced in the last legislative session, where it passed a Senate voice vote in March but failed to get traction in the House. The South Dakota senator reintroduced it at the start of this year.

The panel also approved the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act of 2017 - from Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). It would force the agency to condense eight separate reports on competition in the communications marketplace into one report released every two years.

Supporters say the measure would help streamline the agency's work and improve transparency.

The bills approved Tuesday largely have bipartisan support and have sparked little controversy. But many are making their second trip through Congress after failing to move in the House last session.

The Senate Commerce Committee also voted to approve Trump's pick to head the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, on Tuesday. Ross has shared little about his positions on tech issues. But during his confirmation hearing earlier in January, told lawmakers he believed broadband infrastructure is "essential," and called for "more [wireless] spectrum in the private sector."

Here's a breakdown of the other tech bills approved by the Committee Tuesday:

Spoofing Prevention Act - Sen. Bill Nelson's (D-Fla.) bill is a part of a larger effort to stop misleading and inaccurate caller ID information.

Sandy Act - The bill was previously known as the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act. The bill is intended to improve access to 911 services during emergencies by boosting Wi-Fi access. It gained support after Hurricane Sandy.

Rural Call Reliability Act - Sen. Amy Klobuchar's (D-Minn.) legislation aims to address the low quality of rural phone networks, which often don't connect or see more dropped phone calls than urban networks.

DIGIT Act - The Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things Act sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) is one of Congress's introductory efforts to address the increase of digitally connected products, often called the internet of things. The bill proposes creating a working group to analyze best practices moving forward.

Kari's Law - A bill from Klobuchar, which mirrors House legislation from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) -  was spurred by the murder of Kari Hunt in Marshall, Texas. Hunt's daughter in the next room attempted to call 911 but did not know that hotel phones require users to dial 9 before making outside calls. The bills aim to get rid of number prefixes before dialing 911 

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