This Week in Tech: FCC takes up jampacked agenda
Two highly anticipated items are slated to come up at the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) monthly meeting Thursday: the incentive spectrum auction slated for 2015 and the transition away from traditional phone technology.
The commission will lay out what it wants to see in trials for the “Internet Protocol (IP) Transition,” which would allow phone companies to move their services from traditional phone technologies to Internet-based technologies.
Advocates for the IP transition — led by AT&T, which asked the FCC to approve the trials — say it would allow phone companies to rely more on in-demand Internet technologies. On the other side of the issue, public interest groups say a hastily done IP transition could result in consumers losing vital services, such as access to emergency help.
According to one industry lobbyist, Thursday’s meeting will likely address those consumer issues rather than the policy issues that the trials present. As the process moves forward, the agency will want to consider how the technology switch will affect consumers, the lobbyist said.
There is already some partisan disagreement over the trials, according to Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge. The FCC’s two Republican commissioners are looking to make the trials mandatory for phone companies in an attempt to speed up the IP transition, while the three Democrats want the trials to be voluntary for phone companies, he said.
The FCC will also hear a presentation from its task force on the incentive spectrum auction, which will involve purchasing airwaves from broadcasters and reselling them to spectrum-hungry wireless phone companies.
Though FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced late last year that the auction would take place in 2015 rather than 2014, observers are waiting to see what kind of parameters the agency will have for the auction.
One of the biggest issues will be whether companies can buy airwave licenses without limits. If the wireless industry leaders — AT&T and Verizon — can buy without limits, the smaller firms say they will be chased away from participating in the auction.
But AT&T and Verizon say limiting their participation would drive down the revenue of an auction that Congress expects to raise billions of dollars, money that has already been worked into the federal budget.
Regardless of which issues are discussed during Thursday’s task force presentation, the industry is likely to respond, Feld said.
Additionally, the FCC will consider an agency policy statement on “next generation 911,” or technical standards that would allow people to contact emergency services through nontraditional technologies, including text messages.
The meeting is also set to include a staff presentation about potential reforms to how the agency runs.
As members of Congress criticize the FCC’s procedures — and consider their own proposals, including the FCC Process Reform Act that passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee by a bipartisan vote last year — the agency has created a staff working group to consider reform.
Back on Capitol Hill, President Obama on Tuesday will deliver the State of the Union address. The tech sector will be watching to see whether he addresses issues like surveillance, increasing Internet access, commercial privacy, patent reform and high-skilled immigration.
Also on Tuesday, the House Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property will hold a hearing on “the scope of fair use.” The panel’s examination of the fair use doctrine, which allows for the unlicensed use of copyrighted work in certain circumstances, is a part of the Judiciary Committee’s overarching look at copyright law under Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
The State of the Net conference is happening all day on Tuesday at the Newseum in Washington. The annual event, hosted by the nonprofit Internet Education Foundation, will feature a host of lawmakers, regulators and top tech company executives.
Wheeler will sit for a discussion to kick off the annual Internet policy conference, and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Goodlatte will talk about tech policy and small-government issues.
Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and top Justice Department official Mythili Raman are delivering the keynotes at the event in the morning.
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