Week ahead in tech: Dems to grill FCC chief over Trump tweets | Lawmakers weigh new online ad rules

Week ahead in tech: Dems to grill FCC chief over Trump tweets | Lawmakers weigh new online ad rules
© Greg Nash

Democrats will get the chance to grill the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) over President Trump's tweets attacking media outlets during a hearing Wednesday.

The House Commerce subcommittee on technology will hold its first FCC oversight hearing since the agency added two commissioners over the summer. And a new controversy involving the president will take center stage.

Earlier this month, Trump floated revoking the broadcast licenses of news organizations that have been critical in their coverage. The president singled out NBC News, which had published a report claiming Trump had called for a massive buildup of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which he disputed.


Democrats seized on the controversy and have called on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to condemn the proposal.

Pai addressed the controversy at an event last Tuesday when he noted that his agency does not have the authority to revoke broadcast licenses for the content of their reporting.

"I believe in the First Amendment. The FCC under my leadership will stand for the First Amendment," he said.

But Democratic lawmakers say his response fell short.

"This statement is better than nothing, but it is merely a reiteration of the FCC's authorities under the law," Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzLobbying world Overnight Defense: House passes defense bill that Trump threatened to veto | Esper voices concerns about officers wearing military garb Senate rejects broad restrictions on transfers of military-grade equipment to police MORE (D-Hawaii) said in a statement.

"What we needed is a full-throated defense of the independence of the FCC against political interference. When the president announced his intent to retaliate against a broadcaster based on content, the FCC should have rejected it."

"Chairman Pai was right to assure the public that the FCC cannot revoke any broadcast licenses based on the content of a specific newscast, but I am disappointed that the Chairman continues to remain silent on the President's ongoing efforts to intimidate and threaten news outlets," added Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Commerce Committee.

Pai can expect more tough questions from Democrats at Wednesday's hearing.

It's not the first time the FCC chair has been in the hot seat over Trump's remarks.

Dems pressed Pai to rebuke the president earlier this year after Trump said the media is the "enemy" of the American people.

In a Senate FCC oversight hearing in February, Pai said he did not agree with those remarks, but added Democrats were misrepresenting the president's tweet.

"[T]he President has made clear that he was referring to 'fake news.' As I stated at the hearing, these comments are part of a larger political debate into which I will not be wading," he said in a follow-up letter at the time.

It'll be a busy week for the FCC commissioners. On Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., the FCC will hold its October open meeting.

Among the items topping the agenda, the commissioners will consider a proposal that would help law enforcement get quicker access to blocked caller ID information. Supporters say it would help better track down threatening phone calls. It comes after a slew of threats to Jewish community centers around the country. The proposal would also change FCC rules to allow nonpublic emergency services to also get access to blocked caller ID information.

Commissioners will also take up a notice of proposed rulemaking that would update number portability rules to allow consumers to more easily keep phone numbers across service providers.

Also on the docket are items promoting broadband investment and updating rules on hearing aids.

Lawmakers will also turn their focus to new rules for online political ads.

The House Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology is holding a hearing Tuesday on federal political advertising laws at 2 p.m. The panel will discuss "the importance of free speech and First Amendment implications of attempting to regulate political speech."

The hearing comes on the heels of new legislation from Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharSenate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic Senate Democrats push to include free phone calls for incarcerated people in next relief package Lobbying world MORE (D-Minn.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerThe Hill's Campaign Report: US officials say Russia, China are looking to sow discord in election US intelligence says Russia seeking to 'denigrate' Biden GOP chairmen hit back at accusation they are spreading disinformation with Biden probe MORE (D-Va.) that would introduce expanded disclosure requirements for political ads on social media.

Their bill is a response to Russian actors using American social media and ad platforms to influence the 2016 elections.

On Capitol Hill, both the House and Senate will be in session and lawmakers will delve into a number of tech issues.

On Monday, a House Homeland Security subcommittee will look at what the government can learn from schools and businesses to boost the country's cyber workforce.

On Wednesday, the House Financial Services Committee will pick up their hearing on the massive Equifax data breach at 2 p.m.

That same day across the Capitol, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on the commercial satellite industry. Lawmakers are slated to hear testimony from representatives of SpaceX, ViaSat, Intelsat and OneWeb.

On Thursday, the Senate Energy Committee will hold a hearing at 10:00 a.m. to examine the cybersecurity of U.S. power grids. 

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