Overnight Technology

OVERNIGHT TECH: Congress takes on the FCC

THE LEDE: Congress must wrestle back its constitutional responsibility to create policy from the Federal Communications Commission, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said during a speech Wednesday.

“Congress has deferred to the FCC for way too long,” he said in prepared remarks at the “Reboot Congress” conference put on by the conservative Lincoln Labs.

{mosads}Thune said he would renew his push for net neutrality legislation after the FCC votes on Feb. 26, since Democrats have resisted talks until then under apparent pressure from the White House. Starting in March, committee staff will begin holding off-the-record meetings with stakeholders about the bill, Thune added. Many Democrats have balked at the GOP proposal and have warned the draft legislation rolls back too much FCC authority.

Thune reiterated his conservative argument for pushing through legislation that would implement some of the net neutrality rules that advocates have supported. The legislation floated earlier this year is a policy reversal for Republicans aimed at thwarting the agency’s own attempt to reclassify broadband to enforce the rules.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is using “contortions and clever legal tricks” in his plan, which will be voted on later this month, Thune said. He called on Congress to act and avoid “years of legal and regulatory uncertainty” created from Wheeler’s proposal.

“Congress must reassert our constitutional prerogative to make policy, because the only way to protect the open Internet while preserving the bipartisan light touch regime is to find a bipartisan legislative solution,” he said.

Thune blasts ‘shadow FCC’ at WH: Thune, like other Republicans, picked up on a Wall Street Journal report that described the effort by two White House officials to build the administration’s case for reclassifying broadband to enforce strong rules. The report has spurred investigations in both chambers. “Despite being an independent agency supposedly free from political influence by the administration, this shadow FCC [at the White House] appears to have succeeded in bullying the real FCC,” Thune said.  

Municipal broadband networks hate Title II: Dozens of municipal broadband Internet providers are vocally protesting the FCC’s looming move to regulate Internet service providers under Title II of the Communications Act. In a letter to FCC Chairman Wheeler on Tuesday, 43 government-run services from California to Pennsylvania worried that the new rules “will undermine the business model that supports our network, raises our costs and hinders our ability to further deploy broadband.”

Regulation of their rates — a possibility that GOP members of the commissioner have warned about — could hinder the networks’ ability to raise money, they feared, which might prompt higher fees for their users. Additional regulations would impose “significant” obligations on the companies, they added, which would only put them deeper in the hole. “We ask that you take note of the significant economic impact Title II regulation will have on small and medium-sized [Internet service providers] and fashion relief accordingly,”  

Municipal broadband networks’ revolt against Title II rules has put Democrats on the FCC in an uncomfortable position. While the regulators and other liberals have hailed the city- and town-run networks as a crucial antidote to lack of competition, they have also lobbied against the strong net neutrality rules — another priority for Democrats. 

House panel preps streamlining of FCC reports: The House Energy and Commerce Committee began to mark up legislation to streamline a number of FCC reports on Wednesday, before a final vote Thursday morning. The FCC Consolidated Reporting Act is “good government legislation” that “reduces the reporting workload and increases efficiency at the FCC by consolidating eight separate congressionally mandated reports on the communications industry into a single comprehensive report,” said Vice Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said that the bill would “provide transparency for consumers and maintain the FCC’s authority,” seeming to foretell smooth sailing for the bill going forward.

Eshoo wants Do Not Call crackdown:  The top Democrat on the House Communications subcommittee, Rep. Anna Eshoo (Calif.), is urging the head of the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on companies that violate the “Do Not Call” rules. The FTC received 3.2 million complaints last year, Eshoo notes. “It’s clear that the Do Not Call registry is not working as it was intended.” Eshoo invited Chairwoman Edith Ramirez to come to her Silicon Valley district for a summit to talk about new technologies and ways to fight unwanted marketing calls.

Re-introducing YODA Act, lawmakers are: Reps. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.) reintroduced their legislation that would clarify that people own the software they purchase with an electronic device. The You Own Devices Act (YODA) would make sure that the copyright on software does not restrict consumers from selling their devices. Reports indicate the current problem largely exists among businesses, but the two lawmakers framed it as a way to protect consumers as well.

“For too long our antiquated copyright laws have been stifling innovation and blocking consumers from being able to access more efficient, effective, and affordable products and technology,” Polis said. “YODA will bring our copyright laws into the 21st century and recognize that people can own and transfer devices without being strangled by paperwork and empty legal threats.”

Lawmakers call Internet tax ban ‘no-brainer’: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said it is a “no-brainer” to indefinitely extend a ban on state and local taxes on Internet access. The two penned a USA Today op-ed pushing their Internet Tax Freedom Forever Act, which has been reauthorized five times since enacted nearly two decades ago. Their bipartisan bill introduced yesterday would remove that expiration date. “Perpetually having to wonder if your business will be hit with Internet taxes next year may not be as bad as actually being taxed, but it still discourages growth,” they wrote.

Industry presses House to act: Trade groups representing the wireless and telecommunications industries sent a letter to every House member on Wednesday calling for them to pass companion legislation in the lower chamber, just as they did last Congress. The letter calling to make the ban “permanent” came from CTIA–The Wireless Association, the US Telecom Association and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

Deadline for phone unlocking: Wireless companies have met the FCC’s Wednesday deadline to allow customers to unlock their phones and switch from one network to another. The deadline comes a year after the announcement of a voluntary commitment to unlock people’s phones upon request, after they have paid off their contract. “Full implementation of the unlocking principles is a positive development for both consumers and wireless providers, as it increases competition to innovate,” FCC officials wrote in a blog post.  

I2 gets board of advisors: The Internet Infrastructure Coalition announced a new board of advisors stocked with experts from across the Web, including the Consumer Electronics Association’s Michael Petricone, Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s Wendy Seltzer and Erik Martin, the former longtime general manager of Reddit.  



Lincoln Labs’ conference will enter its second day at 8:30 a.m., with remarks on tap from Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) as well as Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Potential presidential candidate Carly Fiorina is also slated to speak, as are a number of tech industry executives.  

The Energy and Commerce Committee votes on the FCC reporting bill at 10 a.m.

Also at 10, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider Michelle Lee’s nomination to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and Daniel Marti’s bid to be the Obama administration’s intellectual property enforcement coordinator.

At 11:15 a.m., a House Education and Workforce subcommittee will hold a hearing on the use of new technology and privacy.

Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) will join civil rights advocates to cheer on the FCC’s tough new net neutrality rules in an event at noon.

At 1 p.m., the House Judiciary subcommittee on intellectual property will hold a hearing exploring the patent landscape after recent Supreme Court decisions.

The House Science Committee will look at security on HealthCare.gov at 2 p.m.

At 3 p.m., Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) will give opening remarks at an Open Technology Institute briefing on extending net neutrality rules to mobile devices.   



Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Wednesday vowed to resist efforts to water down a bill meant to crack down on patent abuse.   

President Obama won’t end the government’s controversial collection of data about millions of Americans on his own, because he’d rather the matter be dealt with by Congress.

President Obama’s nominee to lead the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is not ready to endorse legislation to rein in abusive patent litigation.  

Comcast’s $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable increasingly appears in peril, as public sentiment and other considerations before federal regulators threaten to torpedo the blockbuster deal.

A pair of Senate Democrats wants to require car companies take steps to protect their vehicles from hackers.  


Please send tips and comments to Julian Hattem, jhattem@thehill.com  and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com

Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley@jmhattem


Tags Federal Communications Commission John Thune Net neutrality Network neutrality

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video