Tech Tidbits: News that was overshadowed by a certain merger

Commotion over the proposed Comcast-NBC merger dominated news yesterday, but there were other developments in the tech policy world. Here's a rundown of what didn't get much coverage.

--The Senate confirmed Victoria Espinel as the first U.S. Intellectal Property Enforcement Coordinator. In her new position, Espinel will be charged with improving the enforcement of copyright and patent laws. She'll also play an instrumental role in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement now under negotiations.

--Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) sent letters to the three major credit card companies to find out what they know about the schemes many online retailers use to surreptitiously charge consumers' credit cards for unwanted club memberships.

The letters to Visa, American Express and MasterCard are part of an ongoing investigation by Rockefeller's staff to get to the bottom of "aggressive sales tactics" that mislead consumers into signing up for programs when completing online purchases. Rockefeller previously sent letters to e-commerce sites such as and to find out why they were sharing consumers' data with third-parties without proper notification.

--The House passed the Satellite Home Viewer Update and Reauthorization Act, which allows satellite providers DISH and DirecTV to continue carrying the signals of distant network affiliate stations for another five years. The licenses to do so expire at the end of the year.

The bill must now be reconciled with two separate Senate versions. Or the Senate could approve the House version. But it has to take action this month. (More details--it's a tad complicated--to come soon.)

--Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, held a hearing yesterday to discuss regulating the online gambing industry. Frank wants to repeal a law that requires financial institutions to block unlawful online gambling transactions. Instead, he wants to create a licensing and regulatory framework for the industry.

Hillicon Valley didn't have time to attend the hearing. But has a summary.

--The FCC is seeking comment on how it can encourage new innvation in the market for video devices that could help increase access to broadband. Specifically, the agency is interested in spurring a stronger market for set-top boxes (like TiVo and cable boxes) that can serve as a gateway to the Internet.

It is the 27th public notice the agency has released pertaining to the national broadband plan. (That's a lot of filings for lawyers in town to write.) Comments are due Dec. 21.

--OK, we lied. There is one more thing worth mentioning about the Comcast-NBC merger. When asked about his position at yeseterday's White House job summit, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said "No comment. We're here to talk about jobs."