OVERNIGHT TECH: Battle lines harden on net neutrality

THE LEDE: Capitol Hill is far from united on net neutrality.

Back-to-back hearings on Wednesday showed that Democrats are largely opposed to rushing through legislation to get out in front of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) February vote. Republicans, though, are getting behind the draft bill introduced by committee leaders late last week, and it’s unclear how far they will go to meet Democrats’ demands.

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During the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Technology hearing, Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) defended his effort to narrow the agency’s legal powers to promote broadband adoption — a provision that some Democrats have fiercely resisted. Last year’s court ruling tossing out previous net neutrality rules would allow the FCC "to take nearly any action to promote broadband," he said, which amounted to "a broad expansion of what was intended" under the law.

As Wednesday showed, Democrats are not eager to rush ahead legislative action. Democrats in both the House and Senate resisted the draft bill, which they said was riddled with loopholes and would cripple the FCC’s ability to protect consumers from abusive business practices. Many Democrats said they were open to some sort of compromise with Republicans -- and Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) announced plans to introduce a new bill "in the near future" -- but none said that the FCC should wait for Congress to act first. 

"In my own mind, the best approach may be to wait until we see what the FCC does," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. "The likelihood of our acting before the FCC, I think, is small anyway."

Cruz’s pull: Republicans’ opposition to new rules under Title II of the Communications Act is taking hold. A poll released Wednesday found that about half of Republicans said they were less likely to support President Obama's call for strict regulations after Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) described the plan as "ObamaCare for the Internet."

The poll sponsored by the Internet Freedom Business Alliance found 39 percent of people said they were less likely to support Obama's recommendation after Cruz's statement — including 49 percent of Republicans. Another 28 percent said they were more likely, while 33 percent said Cruz's words had no impact.

Scalise gives support to net neutrality draft: The No. 3 House Republican is throwing his support behind the GOP effort to write new net neutrality laws. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) commended leaders for releasing their draft bill this week, and warned the FCC not to act alone.

"We do not need the federal government to 'fix' the Internet!" he said in a statement, after a House subcommittee hearing on the new draft bill.

GOP leader expects patent reform 'early this year': Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said he hopes to move legislation to rein in so-called patent trolls "early this year." Cornyn, the Senate majority whip and a member of the Judiciary Committee, worked with Democrats on legislation last Congress, before it ultimately stalled in the upper chamber.

"Abuse of patent litigations hampers innovation and harms the economy," he said while presiding over a nomination hearing in the Judiciary Committee. "And I've worked for the better part of two years with many members of this panel on this critical issue, and I look forward to moving legislation early this year, under the leadership of our new chairman."

Businesses urge caution ahead of patent reform: More than 230 businesses and organizations urged leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee to exercise caution before overhauling the nation’s patent laws. The group of biotech, research and other companies organized by the Innovation Alliance told lawmakers that the landscape has "fundamentally changed" since lawmakers started on patent reform efforts two years ago, and warned them to protect "the United States' competitive edge as the dominant global leader in innovation."

Coons echoes concerns: Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, reiterated the warning on patent reform during the nomination hearing for President Obama's pick to lead the U.S. Patent Office, Michelle Lee, and Daniel Henry Marti, Obama's pick to be the White House's Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator (IPEC).

"To those who say we have too many abused and we need to make fundamental changes to our patent system, I agree we need to find a way of working together to clamp down on abuses. But I would urge a little caution as we consider any changes. There are always a momentary benefit to opening up and making free to the world things previously protected, but there can be long-term costs as well," he said.

Leahy, Grassley exchange barbs on patent hearing: Neither leader of the Judiciary Committee attended the confirmation hearing for the nominees, but that did not stop Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) from sending out dueling statements on the need for the meeting in the first place.

Leahy expressed frustration that the committee's first hearing of the year was on two non-controversial patent nominees who had already testified once before in December. He would have preferred a hearing on President Obama's attorney general pick, Loretta Lynch, which is scheduled for next Wednesday. Grassley pushed back by saying the first confirmation hearing in the lame-duck session last year was out of order and he wanted to give new members of the committee time to ask questions.

Freshman Republican Sens. David Perdue (Ga.) and Thom Tillis (N.C.), two new members of the panel, questioned the witnesses for a little more than five minutes on Wednesday before the committee paused for roll call votes.

Dish on the hook for sales calls: Dish Network is responsible for making tens of millions of telemarketing calls in violation of federal rules, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on Wednesday. A federal court in Illinois ruled that the satellite television company or a company it hired made more than 4 million calls to people on the national Do Not Call list, plus 49.7 million sales calls that were abandoned before the recipient heard the company’s pitch and 2.7 million calls that were made by the company’s authorized dealers or retailers.

The determination came in the midst of a long-running 2009 case the Justice Department filed on behalf of the FTC against the satellite company. Other issues remain unresolved and will be taken up at trial, which is scheduled to begin this July.

Nadler top Dem on IP subcommittee: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) will once again be the ranking member on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet. Along with subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Nadler could be a key voice during the Judiciary Committee’s likely patent law update and its ongoing review of copyright issues.

EBay sellers like Obama’s trade talk: More than 115 eBay sellers released a letter on Wednesday thanking President Obama for his State of the Union address call for new trade deals. Ongoing trade negotiations with Europe and the Asia-Pacific "offer the best chance to reduce or eliminate international barriers to our businesses," they wrote. "We stand behind you in your efforts to drive current trade negotiations forward and to champion policies that ensure small businesses can grow and thrive in the global marketplace."

 

ON TAP:

Michelle Lee is speaking at the Brookings Institution at 10 a.m.

At 3:30, Access is hosting a symposium on data retention mandates.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is slated to introduce legislation meant to push back on state laws restricting the build out of city-run Internet networks.

Democrats are organizing a response to GOP leaders’ draft legislation on net neutrality that they hope will be more bipartisan than Republicans' effort.

The FCC would be smart to pause its work on open Internet rules now that Congress has actively joined the fight, GOP commissioner Michael O'Rielly said in a speech Wednesday.

More than eight in 10 people agree with the broad concept of net neutrality, according to an automated poll released Wednesday.

When it comes to cybersecurity, the White House tries to be as clean as it can be.

 

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