Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Lawmakers want to Google that for you

Is Washington effectively enabling innovation? How can policy makers keep pace with rapid developments in technology? Tune in tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. as we discuss these questions and more at the intersection of tech policy and innovation. Watch live: http://thehill.com/video/technology/213022-tech-in-policy


THE LEDE: Senate lawmakers on Wednesday will take aim at a small branch of the Commerce Department that critics contend wastes taxpayer dollars by keeping reports that can easily be found with a quick Google search.

{mosads}A Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee will hear from the head of the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), Bruce Borzino, who will be called to defend his office’s purpose from skeptical lawmakers.

Since 1950, the NTIS has stockpiled government reports on everything from land use to science policy, in what was originally meant as a one-stop-shop for government paper. The advent of the Internet, however, has changed all that. Now, 74 percent of the reports kept in NTIS’s database are easily found through a search on Google or another service, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a recent report. What’s more, NTIS charges for both electronic and paper versions of its analyses, but 95 percent of the reports the GAO found through other sites were free.

That’s led to calls for reform.

Earlier this year, Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced the Let Me Google That For You Act, which would eliminate the agency and save as much as $50 million. That bill will be under discussion in Wednesday’s hearing in the Financial and Contracting Oversight subcommittee, which McCaskill chairs. “The hearing will examine NTIS’ statutory mission to maintain a clearinghouse of government-funded scientific, technological, engineering, and business-relations information, focusing on the need to maintain the clearinghouse and its current and future financial viability,” she wrote in a letter ahead of the hearing.

McCaskill told Borzino to expect a grilling about the agency’s funding and the range of publications it offers.

Praise for House passage of STELA: Cable and satellite television companies and groups are praising a House vote Tuesday to reauthorize the law governing the satellite television marketplace and make some tweaks along the way. The bill reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) passed by voice vote with bipartisan support, despite pressure from Democrats to go further in reforming the video marketplace.

One part of the reauthorization bill will keep broadcasters from jointly negotiating with cable and satellite companies over compensation for broadcast programming. In their statement praising the House vote, Dish and DirecTV called joint negotiations “the most egregious forms of … abuse” that occurs during negotiations. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which represents cable companies and video programmers, said that part of the bill “appropriately protects consumers from anticompetitive harm.”

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) “remains neutral” on the bill, according to the group’s spokesman Dennis Wharton. “NAB hopes to see minor tweaks to the House bill that would allow us to fully endorse the final STELA legislation,” he said in a statement to The Hill.

The bill also does away with a federal requirement for specific security equipment in cable boxes. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) praised that measure, which he sponsored as an individual bill. “Repealing this outdated technological mandate will foster greater investment and innovation in the set-top box market, and more importantly, will help decrease the cost of video delivery to consumers,” he said in a statement.

Latta also repeats reclassification fears: In an op-ed in Roll Call, Latta also pushed back on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) questions about whether to reclassify Internet providers to treat them like the more heavily regulated phone companies. As the agency looks to rewrite its net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has raised the issue of reclassification, a move that would be supported by many Democrats but is considered an uphill political battle. Earlier this year, Latta introduced a bill that would prohibit the FCC from reclassifying Internet providers.

Reclassification would keep Internet providers from building out their Internet services in rural areas, Latta wrote. The “proposed regulations would divert precious resources from broadband deployment and network upgrades to regulatory compliance, likely delaying the availability of broadband and all the innovative applications and services it brings with it to rural America,” he wrote. “This is something that Americans simply cannot afford.”

States push back on Wheeler’s municipal broadband plans: The National Conference of State Legislatures wrote to Wheeler Tuesday, expressing concerns about his plans to encourage local government-funded community broadband projects despite state laws that ban such projects. Earlier this year, Wheeler irked Republicans on Capitol Hill when he announced his plans to work with local governments to encourage community broadband projects — preempting state law, if necessary — to encourage competition among Internet providers.

In its Tuesday letter, the group warned Wheeler to respect state laws and threatened to “challenge the constitutionality of any action on the part of the FCC seeking to dimish the duly adopted laws of the impacted states.”

Scammer settled cramming charges: The texting spammer Verma Holdings is settling with the Federal Trade Commission over charges that it sent millions of unwanted messages to people promising free $1,000 gift cards, in exchange for personal information. Under the terms of the agreement, the company has been ordered to pay more than $2.8 million, though that charge is being suspended because the company can’t afford the charges.  

Librarians get lobbying help: The American Library Association brought on the Eisgrau Business Alliances to lobby on copyright law and government surveillance reform, according to a new disclosure form.



The Hill’s tech policy team is hosting a panel discussion with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, Federal Trade Commission Commissioner Julie Brill and ACT executive director Morgan Reed starting at 9 a.m. Leaders form the Information Technology Industry Council Intelligent Car Coalition, Department of Education and Mobile Future are also slated to speak. Sign up here.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board discusses its future plans at 1 p.m.

The Senate Homeland Security subcommittee talks about the NTIS  at 2:30.

The Center for Democracy and Technology holds an event with FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez at 3:30.



The House voted Tuesday to extend and tweak the law governing the satellite television marketplace.

Ten years after releasing a landmark report on the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the members of a former government commission are raising new alarms about the threat of cyberterrorism.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is close to an agreement with the Obama administration on how to rein in government surveillance.

Google, Microsoft and Amazon all beefed up their lobbying spending over the last three months, new disclosure forms show.

Jon Leibowitz, former chairman of the FTC, has been appointed to the board of directors for a website that deals in consumer data.


Please send tips and comments to Kate Tummarello, katet@thehill.com, and Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com

Follow Hillicon Valley on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @ktummarello, @jmhattem


Tags Claire McCaskill Claire McCaskill National Technical Information Service Patrick Leahy Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act STELA Tom Coburn
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