OVERNIGHT TECH: FCC won't back down

THE LEDE: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) isn't bowing to public pressure to abandon its plan to allow cellphone use on planes.

Despite a major public backlash, the commission plans to vote on Thursday on whether to move ahead with the proposal and begin accepting public comment.

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Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) has introduced a bill to block the FCC's move, and Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderGrassley to test GOP on lowering drug prices McConnell blocks House bill to reopen government for second time Senators restart shutdown talks — and quickly hit roadblocks MORE (R-Tenn.) has also said he would consider legislation.

Although lawmakers applauded the Federal Aviation Administration's decision earlier this year to allow electronic device use during take-offs and landings, many airline passengers fear being stuck in a small space near a person carrying on an obnoxious phone conversation. 

But the FCC has emphasized that its role is only to determine whether allowing in-flight phone use would interfere with networks on the ground. Whether or not to ban phone calls would be up to individual airlines.

Lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications and Technology are expected to grill the FCC commissioners about the plan at an oversight hearing Thursday, just a few hours before the scheduled commission vote.

In a copy of his prepared testimony, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says he has placed calls to the CEOs of major airlines to tell them that it will be their decision about whether to allow texts, Web browsing or phone calls on their flights.

"I do not want the person in the seat next to me yapping at 35,000 feet any more than anyone else. But we are not the Federal Courtesy Commission," Wheeler will say. 

"Our mandate from Congress is to oversee how networks function. Technology has produced a new network reality recognized by governments and airlines around the world. Our responsibility is to recognize that new reality’s impact on our old rules."

It will be Wheeler’s first congressional hearing since becoming chairman last month. Other hot-button issues could include the upcoming auction of spectrum licenses — now scheduled for mid-2015 — the agency’s Lifeline phone subsidy, cellphone unlocking and net neutrality regulations.

House panel approves spectrum bill: The House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced legislation on Wednesday to encourage federal agencies to give up their spectrum for auction to the private sector.

The Federal Spectrum Incentive Act, authored by Reps. Brett GuthrieSteven (Brett) Brett GuthrieDemocrats will push to retake vote on funding government after chaos on the floor Hillicon Valley: Republicans demand answers from mobile carriers on data practices | Top carriers to stop selling location data | DOJ probing Huawei | T-Mobile execs stayed at Trump hotel as merger awaited approval House Republicans question mobile carriers on data practices MORE (R-Ky.) and Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), would create a federal fund to allow federal agencies to get a portion of the revenue from the auction of their spectrum licenses. The fund could help agencies offset sequestration cuts.

Energy panel OKs FCC process bill: The Energy and Commerce Committee also approved legislation Wednesday to reform certain FCC procedures. The FCC Process Reform Act has been a longtime priority for Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the House Communications and Technology subcommittee.

He agreed to drop the most contentious provisions from the bill earlier this week in order to win Democratic support. 

The legislation would require the FCC to set timelines for completing its proceedings. The timelines wouldn't be binding, but the commission would have to report to Congress about whether it is meeting the deadlines. The agency would also have to report on its compliance with Freedom of Information Act requests. 

The bill incorporates separate legislation from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) to allow more than two commissioners to meet privately. Current rules only allow three or more commissioners to meet in public meetings.

New PTO deputy director: The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced Wednesday that Michelle Lee will take over as deputy director in mid-January. Lee is currently the director of the office’s Silicon Valley satellite and has served on the office’s Patent Public Advisory Committee.

In a statement announcing Lee’s appointment, Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny Sue PritzkerMichelle Obama officiated Chicago wedding: report Election Countdown: Trump plans ambitious travel schedule for midterms | Republicans blast strategy for keeping House | Poll shows Menendez race tightening | Cook Report shifts Duncan Hunter's seat after indictment Former Obama officials launch advocacy group aimed at Trump's foreign policy MORE said Lee “has a great mix of skills and experiences to assume this leadership position during a time when the administration is deeply focused on strengthening the nation’s intellectual property system.”

“Her years of working in the IP community, both in the private and public sectors, will support the key focus on innovation and the digital economy in the Commerce Department’s new ‘Open for Business’ policy agenda,” Pritzker said.

 

ON TAP

The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Communications will meet at 10 a.m. Thursday to hear from the five FCC commissioners.

The FCC will hold an open meeting at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, which will consideration of allowing cellphone use on planes.

The Department of Commerce will host a daylong conference Thursday on copyright policy in the digital economy.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Former Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wa.) will open the Washington office for Lee & Hayes, a law firm specializing in intellectual property issues.

The Federal Communications Commission is trying to bring $44 million in fines against three companies that appear to have abused the agency’s Lifeline program.

Even if Congress passes the USA Freedom Act, the National Security Agency might continue to collect records on virtually all U.S. phone calls, according to a top Justice Department official.

A broad majority in a new poll believes cellphone calls should continue to be restricted on airplanes.

Privacy groups are asking regulators to discipline phone companies that sell subscriber information to third parties, including the CIA.

Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerCalifornia AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list Climate debate comes full circle Fox's Ingraham transitioning longtime radio show to podcast MORE (D-Calif.) laid into Sen. David VitterDavid Bruce VitterTop 5 races to watch in 2019 Louisiana congressman to challenge Dem Gov Kennedy says he won't run for Louisiana governor next year MORE (R-La.) for taking up time in a Senate committee hearing to question a witness about his support for a federal discounted phone service program.

House Republicans are accusing the FCC of trying to revive the Fairness Doctrine, which required radio and TV stations to air opposing views on controversial issues.

The Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy and free speech advocacy group, has named Nuala O'Connor as its new president and CEO.

That National Security Agency uses online advertising tools to identify people online, according to a report from The Washington Post.

The sponsor of a bill in the House to ban airlines from allowing passengers to talk on their cellphones during flights said he was offering the legislation because in-flight phone calls would cause "a lot of chaos" on airplanes.

 

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