OVERNIGHT TECH: Net neutrality vote, at long last

THE LEDE: Net neutrality activists are gearing up for a major win on Thursday morning.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to classify broadband Internet as a Title II service  -- which was pushed back to 10:30 a.m. due to concerns about snow-- caps months of work by supporters of the tough rules, and sets in process a whole new battle in the courts and on Capitol Hill, as industry groups file lawsuits and Republicans push legislation to replace the rules. In addition to applying the "common carrier" rules to Web access, the FCC will also for the first time extend the rules to wireless service and assert new authority over "interconnection" deals that companies make to hand off traffic on the back end of the Internet.

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The vote will be a remarkable turnaround from Chairman Tom Wheeler's earlier opposition to the Title II rules and last year's draft rules that were harshly criticized for allowing online "fast lanes."

"Even opponents of net neutrality and free speech are finally admitting defeat as the FCC prepares to vote on rules that -- just one year ago -- were thought to be completely impossible," Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer said ahead of the vote. "D.C. insiders, lobbyists, and pundits would do well to take the word 'impossible' out of their vocabulary."

Which is not to say that Republicans are going out quietly. GOP Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, who are certain to vote against the bill, are planning a rare joint press conference after the vote.

In Congress, Republicans on the House Commerce's Technology subcommittee spent the better part of Wednesday morning laying out their opposition to the impending action and urging Democrats to sign on to their draft legislation. "I'm not above asking again -- let's talk about how we can work together to solve the problem and end this uncertainty," subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said. "The door is open."

Whether Democrats will walk through it is another matter. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the subpanel's ranking member, accused the bill of prohibiting the FCC from being able to take enforcement actions, against Walden's opposition. "There is a distance to go," she said. "This really needs to be addressed."

VOTE TO PREEMPT STATE LAWS: The FCC will also consider a controversial order to preempt law in two states that restrict the expansion of city-run Internet networks. Two petitions are pending before the commission to roll back state restrictions in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C. The city of Chattanooga, for example, is restricted from expanding its high-speed Internet outside the borders of its electrical power service. President Obama, ahead of his State of the Union address last month, called for the FCC to flex its authority on the issue and Wheeler has supported the move. Critics say the FCC does not have constitutional authority to override state laws in the name of encouraging broadband deployment.

MORE DETAILS ON COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT: The House Technology subcommittee's hearing next week on the FCC's fiscal 2016 budget will feature just one witness, a spokesman said: Agency managing director Jon Wilkins.

Additionally, the committee has invited all five FCC commissioners to testify on reauthorization and "general oversight" at some point later in March, the spokesman said. Further details have yet to be unveiled.

ANOTHER OVERSIGHT LETTER TO FCC:  House Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzDem demands documents from TSA after scathing security report Chaffetz replacement sworn in as House member Democrats expand House map after election victories MORE (R-Utah) sent yet another letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calling on him to ensure all FCC staff are instructed to retain all documents and communications related to the net neutrality regulations. He has previously expressed concerns that the FCC's instructions to staff was not broad enough.

RESISTANCE FOR H-1B VISA EXPANSION: Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration Thanks to the farm lobby, the US is stuck with a broken ethanol policy MORE (R-Iowa) made it clear he will not let his committee move a bill to expand the number of high-skilled H-1B visas issued each year, appearing to reference the Immigration Innovation Act sponsored by Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' in 2018 Utah governor calls Bannon a 'bigot' after attacks on Romney MORE (R-Utah). Citing alleged abuse of the visa program by some companies, he said a number of loopholes need to be plugged to protect U.S. workers. The visa program is important for tech advocates, because many of those visa holders work in the computer industry.

"This bill only makes the problem worse," Grassley said in a floor speech Wednesday. "It doesn't plug the loopholes. It doesn't make sure that American workers are put before foreign workers. It doesn't ensure that employers don't use the program to pay cheaper wages, which in turn, disadvantages U.S. workers."

HATCH FIRES BACK: Sen. Orrin Hatch's office called Grassley's statement absurd: "It's absurd to think that in this global marketplace we can maintain an insular, protectionist workforce," Hatch's communications director J.P. Freire said. "Senator Hatch and his co-sponsors will be laying out the facts in coming weeks, and setting the record straight on the absolute economic need for I-Squared. We look forward to the debate."

EBAY RALLYING FOR TRADE: In a little over a week, eBay users have sent more than 50,000 emails to members of Congress pushing for Internet-friendly trade law. "Unfortunately, many international laws were developed in a 'pre-Internet' era and current trade policies often complicate international opportunities for U.S. small businesses," the company said in its letter. New "fast-track" authority should make sure to look out for "small business exporters," it added.

MICROSOFT GIVES TO STATE DEPARTMENT MUSEUM: Microsoft donated the equivalent of $1 million to the U.S. Diplomacy Center, a forthcoming museum in Washington, D.C., dedicated to showcasing U.S. diplomacy. The in-kind donation will help create an interactive exhibit at the museum and is "the first step in a partnership with the Diplomacy Center Foundation," said Mark Penn, the executive vice president of Microsoft.

ON TAP:

At 8:30 A.M., Senate Commerce Chairman will discuss net neutrality and other topics at a National Journal event at the Newseum.

Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright is giving the keynote speech at an all-day symposium being held by BakerHostetler. FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen is also scheduled to speak.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider Michelle Lee's nomination for head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at 9:30.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on "patent demand letter practices and solutions" at 10:15 a.m.

At 10:30 a.m., the FCC will hold an open meeting where it will vote on its net neutrality plan as well as an order to preempt a pair of state laws.

Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerTrump transportation chief to join Biden for jobs event DeVos should ‘persist’ despite liberal opposition Indiana teachers hold sit-in to demand Young recuse himself from DeVos vote MORE will testify on her department's budget request in the Senate Appropriations Committee at 10:30.

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the U.S. Copyright Office at 1:30.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

A review by The Hill of about 750 filings with the FCC over the past year shows CTIA - The Wireless Association disclosed the most meetings or other ex parte communications with the agency on the issue, with 33. AT&T was a close second with 32.

Snow will delay a high-profile vote on net neutrality -- but only by an hour, the Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday.

Tensions are high in Congress one day before the FCC votes on new net neutrality rules.

First lady Michelle Obama's Instagram feed is leaking details about her -- or her staffers' -- location.

The Secret Service announced it will conduct a series of drone exercises in the Washington, D.C., area in the next few weeks.

 

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