OVERNIGHT TECH: Cable doesn’t like FCC broadband move

THE LEDE: Cable companies aren't glad to see the Federal Communications Commission raise its official threshold for what qualifies as broadband Internet.

After the commission's move on Thursday morning, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said it was "troubled" that the FCC "has arbitrarily chosen" a new definition "that ignores how millions of consumers currently access the Internet."

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The FCC's move will increase the standard for broadband Internet from 4 megabits per second (Mbps) for download speeds and 1 Mbps uploads to 25 and 4, respectively. Both Republicans voted against the move, which they criticized as out of touch and counterproductive. Free market think tanks such as TechFreedom also criticized the move, which it framed as a "political game" pursued merely to grab more control of the Web.

In defending the move, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler mocked cable companies' differing claims to the commission and to subscribers. In documents urging against the move, companies like Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon told the FCC that the current standard was fast enough for most consumers' needs. On their websites, however, the companies told customers to sign up for faster and faster speeds — at increasingly higher prices. "Somebody is telling us one thing and telling consumers another," he said.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) hailed the Thursday vote as a boon for rural consumers -- many of whom cannot purchase Internet speeds as fast as the FCC's new definition -- and some advocacy groups said it would lead to faster Internet for all.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic FCC commissioner, voted for the measure, but said it could have been even better. Instead of increasing minimum download speeds to 25 Mbps, she said, why not go to 100? "I, for one, am tired of dreaming small. It's time to dream big," she said. "I think anything short of that shortchanges our children, our future, and our digital economy."

O'Rielly sworn in at FCC: FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly, a Republican, was formally sworn in for his full term on Thursday morning. Though O'Rielly had served at the FCC since 2013, he had previously been finishing off the term of former Commissioner Robert McDowell. His nomination for a full, five-year term on the commission was approved by the Senate on its way out the door in December.

"Mike, glad you're back," Chairman Wheeler told O'Rielly before swearing him in on Thursday. "That's probably the kindest thing you're going to say to me today," joked O'Rielly in response. 

Sparks fly at FCC over AT&T fine:  The FCC slapped a $640,000 fine on AT&T for violating rules for microwave licenses during its Thursday meeting. The commission slipped the vote in just one day before the statute of limitations ran out at the end of the month, and Chairman Tom Wheeler criticized some of his fellow commissioners for failing to act until Thursday. 

"Process works when process is used," Wheeler said. "When something is put out in the middle of December with full notice that the statute of limitations expires on the last day of January, that engaging in the middle of January for the first time is not exercising due process." At that, Ajit Pai — a Republican commissioner who voted for the action but criticized it for a "troubling lack of transparency" — silently shook his head, pursed his lips and settled back in his chair.

Commissioner Mike O'Rielly also expressed concerns with the way the FCC carried out its action. "I know no one was implying that I was sitting on my hands," he said. "Because that was not the case."

EFF calls Facebook 'bastion of Internet censorship': The Electronic Frontier Foundation is calling Facebook a "bastion of Internet censorship" after the company blocked some content in Turkey that was deemed offensive to the Prophet Muhammad, following the Paris attacks on a satirical newspaper. The civil liberties group has long been critical of Facebook for complying with takedown requests in countries that have laws against criticizing religion or the country's founder. 

"If American social media companies continue to do the Turkish government's bidding every time they threaten to block their service, they become complicit in Turkey's long history of silencing dissent under the guise of "insult" or 'national security.' We will be keeping a close eye on the situation as it develops," EEF wrote in a blog post

Trouble for anti-sex trafficking bill?: Tech lobbying and civil liberties groups are rallying against a House-passed bill that aims to stop sex trafficking. The American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Democracy and Technology, Computer and Communications Industry Association and others issued a joint statement on Thursday warning that the Stop Advertising Victims of Exploitation (SAVE) Act would "place unconstitutional burdens on the free speech and privacy rights of millions of Americans."

The SAVE Act would make it a crime to advertise sex trafficking, and is aimed at websites like Backpage.com.  It passed the House this week and seems tracked for consideration in the Senate. While critics support its mission, they have feared that it would gut Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a critical law that frees companies like Facebook and Yelp from liability about the content that users post through their services. Chipping away at the law could force Web companies to block users' free speech out of fear of legal action, they worry.

"[H]olding hosts of third-party content criminally responsible for content they did not create would be as counterproductive as it would be unjust," the groups said. "It would significantly curtail individuals' opportunities to create, share information, and express themselves online and would chill economic activity."

Google gets some K Street help: Google has hired Off Hill Strategies to help it with privacy, cybersecurity, copyright and other issues, according to a new disclosure document. The company will also help on net neutrality, patent reform and an update to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, it said. 

Lewis invokes civil rights in Internet pitch: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) used his civil rights background in a plea for strong net neutrality rules governing the Internet. Lewis reiterated his support for a plan to reclassify broadband Internet under regulations governing traditional telephones, saying he was grateful for President Obama's recommendations on the issue last year. While many civil rights and minority groups have supported the principles of net neutrality, they have differed on what regulatory regime to impose.

"If we had the technology, if we had the internet during the movement, we could have done more, much more, to bring people together from all around the country, to organize and work together to build the beloved community. That is why it is so important for us to protect the Internet," Lewis said in a Facebook post. 

Patent reform bill next week?: Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) plans to introduce patent reform legislation "very soon," according to his office. The comment came after Michael Rosen, a moderator at an American Enterprise Institute panel Thursday, revealed the chairman intends to drop the legislation next week. "He and staff have been meeting with all interested parties and stakeholders and we expect that the Chairman will introduce legislation very soon," a Goodlatte aide said. 

ON TAP: 

At noon, Georgetown University will hold a discussion on "hate crimes in cyberspace"

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

Senate Democrats on the Commerce Committee are investigating Verizon's use of an advertising tool that critics worry can track subscribers and be exploited by third parties. 

The head of the House Science Committee is demanding the Obama administration explain why companies were allowed to gather information about people visiting HealthCare.gov.

The head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is dismissing an effort by congressional Republicans to write new net neutrality laws.

A weeks-long sell-off of the government's airwaves has brought in a record $44.9 billion, regulators announced on Thursday.

Recent court decisions have resulted in only "marginal changes" to patent litigation, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Thursday, arguing legislation to rein in "patent trolls" is still necessary. 

 

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