OVERNIGHT TECH: FCC eyes fee hike for school Internet program

THE LEDE: The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday is slated to consider a plan to increase fees on phone users to boost funding for a program that provides Internet connections for schools and libraries.

The commission will take up changes to the E-rate program to increase the funding cap by $1.5 billion, as well as two other proposals, at the final open meeting of the year.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had previously planned to have new net neutrality rules ready before the end of the year, but the unveiling of any new proposed rules was pushed back until early next year, following President Obama's recommendations for the strongest rules possible.

Nonetheless, activists in favor of stronger rules are planning to protest outside the FCC building to remind Wheeler the issue has not fallen off the radar.

The E-rate proposal to be considered Thursday would increase fees by about $2 a year per phone line for customers in order to increase high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi for schools and libraries.

The E-rate program and the broader Universal Service program are funded through fees on phone customers. Customers currently pay 99 cents a month per phone line to the Universal Service Fund. That total would increase by 16 percent if the proposal were adopted. Officials said the cap would likely not be reached immediately.

The commission will also consider rules regarding the Connect America Fund, which aims to bring broadband to rural areas. The commission will also take up a public notice regarding asking for rule recommendations for the broadcast incentive auction in 2016.

Booker’s "Hour of Code": Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a favorite in the technology community, on Wednesday joined a Google Hangout with Code.org, a group promoting the expansion of computer science in schools. Obama sat down with students participating in the program earlier this week to kick off Computer Science Education Week. The group is attempting to get tens of millions of students to sit down for "an hour of code," a brief introduction for students into the world of coding.

FTC commissioner calls for patent reform in Congress: Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill called on lawmakers to quickly take up patent reform legislation in the next Congress during a speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday. She touted the FTC's recent crackdown on so-called patent trolls and highlighted the commission’s broader study that, she said, would finish by the end of next year. The House passed a reform bill last year, but Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Overnight Defense: Senate votes to rein in Trump war powers on Iran | Pentagon shifting .8B to border wall | US, Taliban negotiate seven-day 'reduction in violence' Pentagon transferring .8 billion to border wall MORE's (D-Vt.) legislation stalled in the Senate.

"Various provisions in the bills will further discourage frivolous lawsuits and improve patent quality — actions I believe are needed now," Brill said. "I'm hopeful that Congress will act in the very near future to pass a bill implementing these important reforms."

Leahy pushes for FOIA reform in House: Leahy wants the House to follow his chamber’s lead and pass a bill to update the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). "This legislation is all about government transparency," he said on Wednesday. "If House Republicans want this administration to be more accountable, then they must put it on the suspension calendar without delay. Let’s get it done."

With just days left on the congressional calendar, House leaders have yet to weigh in on the FOIA Improvement Act, which Leahy wrote with Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan warnings Senate braces for fight over impeachment whistleblower testimony Booker, Cornyn introduce bill to fund school nutrition programs MORE (R-Texas).

House panel puts out new white paper: The House Energy and Commerce Committee releases its latest white paper on Wednesday as part of its work to overhaul the nation’s communication laws. The new paper explores the laws for television and other modes of distributing video.

Uber sued, Lyft pays fines: District attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco filed lawsuits against Uber, alleging it continues to mislead riders about background checks of its drivers. The lawsuit also alleges Uber operates at airports without authorization and "fraudulently" charges customers a $4 airport fee. The lawsuit calls for the courts to stop the action and force Uber to pay fines and restitution to customers. A separate ridesharing service Lyft settled with the two cities by paying a fine of $500,000 and agreeing to a number of changes.

"We are confident that today’s developments will be resolved appropriately so that these innovative companies can continue focusing on what they do best: providing Californians with safe and efficient transportation options that consumers everywhere have overwhelmingly embraced," the Internet Association, which counts Uber as a member, said in a statement.

Google ranked No. 1 on a list of best places to work, according to surveys compiled by Glassdoor, which runs a job search database. Google ranked eighth on the list last year. A series of other tech companies also made the list, including Facebook, Qualcomm, Adobe, Apple, LinkedIn and others. Twitter, which ranked second on the list, did not make the top 50 this year. The ranking is based on anonymous employee surveys from companies with more than 1,000 employees.

Spending bill is mixed bag for privacy supporters: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board got a significant boost in the congressional funding bill released late on Tuesday, but some privacy supporters bemoaned the fact that it was largely silent on new anti-spying measures.

The language introduced to the Defense spending bill by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), which would have prevented the National Security Agency from conducting "backdoor" searches of Americans, was largely absent. Instead, it was replaced with language that more or less restates the current law.

But it ties Obama’s hands on Web handover: The spending bill does prevent the Commerce Department from following through with its promise to give up an oversight role of a key function of the internet until next Sept. 30, when the bill’s funding runs out. The Obama administration had proposed to complete that handoff by the same date.

 

ON TAP:

From 8:30 to 4 p.m., the Center for Data Innovation and the Health IT Now Coalition are holding a summit on "data-driven medicine." Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 race goes national in sprint to Super Tuesday Toward 'Super Tuesday' — momentum, money and delegates Trump seeks split-screen moments in early primary states MORE (D-Colo.) will be one of the speakers.

Starting at 10:30 a.m., The FCC will hold its monthly open meeting where it will consider an order on the E-rate program, as well as two other proposals.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Nearly a dozen Democratic senators are raising alarms about the use of fake cellphone towers that can pick up information about people's location and identity. 

The House on Wednesday cleared the intelligence authorization for fiscal 2015 with little opposition a day after the release of the controversial report asserting that the CIA used torture.

The chairman of the House Aviation subcommittee said Wednesday that he is concerned about the Federal Aviation Administration’s delays in approving the use of non-military drones in the U.S.

Any hopes for Senate confirmation of President Obama's nominee to head the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office before Congress adjourns are fading.

Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocrats will win back the Senate majority in 2020, all thanks to President Trump Poll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy MORE (D-Colo.) on Wednesday called on President Obama to "purge" his administration of the CIA officials who were involved in the "enhanced interrogation" program detailed in a new Senate report.

 

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