Week ahead: Robocall crackdown tops FCC meeting agenda

Week ahead: Robocall crackdown tops FCC meeting agenda
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission is holding their March open meeting on Thursday, with robocalls topping the agenda.

The commissioners will take up a proposal to crack down on automated sales calls. Critics say the robocalls are a nuisance to consumers and often come from fake numbers that make them harder to track and block.

The proposal on the agency's agenda would allow phone companies to block calls from "spoofed" numbers.

"The American people have long made it clear -- and industry, consumer groups, and government are unified behind them -- that they want unwanted robocalls to stop," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wrote in a blog post on Medium earlier this month. "[W]e'll hopefully take an important step toward combating this scourge."

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The FCC will also consider measures to facilitate broadband deployment, including LTE -- a 4G communications standard.

Also on the agenda, a measure that would help prisons get permission to use technologies to detect illegal cellphones.

Another item on the FCC docket would propose changes to "video relay" services, which are used by deaf people to communicate.

Since taking over the agency, Pai has had a busy start, rolling back a number of initiatives under former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Pai is also a critic of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, which require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally.

Any action on net neutrality, though, is notably absent from the agency's March agenda.

Reporters pressed the chairman at the agency's first two open meeting this year on net neutrality, but Pai has declined to share specifics about his plans.

The fight over the FCC's broadband privacy rules is also heating up.

The rules, approved under Wheeler, place new restrictions on how internet service providers must handle "sensitive" customer data, including app usage information and browsing history.

But Republicans have been fierce critics of the rules, saying that they create different standards for broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast than for internet companies like Facebook and Google. They also say the FCC's clash with the Federal Trade Commission's own privacy framework.

Pai last month moved to block some of the FCC rules from taking effect.

But congressional Republicans are also taking action.

A measure from Sen. Jeff FlakeJeff FlakeDems plot recess offensive on ObamaCare Lawmakers reintroduce measure to lift Cuba travel restrictions Majority of Senate supports Cuban tourism bill MORE (R-Ariz.) would roll back the rules using the Congressional Review Act. Flake's measure also has the support of Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn ThuneCongress must address student loan debt crisis, a national economic drag Republicans go to battle over pre-existing conditions GOP frustrated by slow pace of Trump staffing MORE (R-S.D.).

The two are hopeful it will move to a vote in the Senate in the coming week.

In the House, Rep. Marsha BlackburnMarsha BlackburnNew GOP bill may revive internet privacy fight Overnight Cybersecurity: Bad Russian intel may have swayed Comey's handling of Clinton probe | Apple sees spike in data requests | More subpoenas for Flynn | DOJ's plan for data warrants Overnight Tech: Internet lobby criticizes GOP privacy bill | Apple sees security requests for user data skyrocket | Airbnb beefs up lobbying MORE (R-Tenn.), the chairwoman of the Energy & Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology, has also introduced a measure to roll back the broadband privacy rules using the CRA.

Her entire subcommittee has signed on to the measure as cosponsors and it has the backing of House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

But Blackburn may be in for a wait. She told The Hill on Friday that it would likely be several weeks before it gets a vote.

Democrats have vowed to take their fight to protect the rules directly to the public, arguing that consumers will want to keep the data protections in an era of mass hacks.

Lawmakers will have a busy week ahead, with House Republicans facing a Thursday vote on their package to repeal and replace ObamaCare. And in the Senate, all eyes will be on Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, as he begins his confirmation hearings on Monday.

But there are also a number of tech-focused hearings on the Hill.

On Tuesday, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on "Broadband: Deploying America's 21st Century Infrastructure."

That same day, the House Armed Forces Subcommittee on Military Personnel will look into the "Social Media Policies of the Military Services."

Also on Tuesday, the full House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on "Law Enforcement's Use of Facial Recognition Technology."

Cybersecurity also gets some attention, with a hearing that day before the Homeland Security Committee titled "A Borderless Battle:" Defending Against Cyber Threats." Testifying at the hearing will be former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander.