OVERNIGHT TECH: Is US any closer to first responder network?

THE LEDE: The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday will take a deep dive inside FirstNet, an organization set up to build a nationwide broadband network to help first responders communicate.

Three years after FirstNet was established by law, the panel is asking: "Are we any closer" to completion? Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneTurkey sanctions face possible wall in GOP Senate GOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate War of words at the White House MORE (R-S.D.) is expected to grill officials on whether the network will be affordable for local police and fire departments. He will also ask questions about whether it will outmatch existing technology.  


"If the network is competitive from a cost perspective, many wonder whether it will be appreciably better than what first responders currently use," he is expected to say in opening remarks. 

Officials with the Government Accountability Office and the Commerce Department's inspector general will testify. Commerce's deputy secretary Bruce Andrews and the Chairwoman of FirstNet Susan Swenson will also speak. Witnesses will likely face questions about a inspector general report last year that raised concerns about the board's financial disclosure policies, as well as a separate GAO report. 

The Federal Communications Commission recently came out of a spectrum auction which raised more than enough money to fund the initial $7 billion for FirstNet, authorized by a 2012 law. The program is not scheduled to go into operation until 2022 and is expected to become self-sustainable over time. Thune is expected to warn that the government is "not in a budget environment that can easily tolerate spending more than the $7 billion in taxpayer dollars."

LEE TALKS PATENT QUALITY AFTER CONFIRMATION: The head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Michelle Lee gave her first speech since being confirmed by the Senate on Monday, focusing on the familiar topic of patent quality. Over the past few months, she has touted new steps to improve the standards of patents that are approved by the office. She also briefly reiterated her position on patent reform legislation in Congress. 

"When I testified earlier this year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I was asked if, given the changing patent landscape over the last year, I still felt patent reform legislation was necessary," she said. "The answer is yes. But any legislative changes to our patent system need to take into account changes that have already occurred in the courts and administratively including at the USPTO."

STARTING PISTOL GOES OFF IN ONLINE TAX FIGHT: A bipartisan group of senators brought back an online sales tax bill on Tuesday, setting the stage for a new lobbying push on the issue from all corners. The Marketplace Fairness Act passed the Senate in 2013 but never got a vote on the floor of the House last year, due in large part to opposition from Republican leaders.  

Retailers that have lobbied hard for the bill said it would level the playing field for online and brick-and-mortar stores, but critics are hoping the issue has no more support this time around than it did last year. "It's a changed Congress and a new year, but this Marketplace Fairness Act is the same old, tired idea that stalled in the last Congress," said Steve Delbianco, the executive director of NetChoice, a trade group of online businesses.

Lawmakers backing the bill "still want to do the bidding of Walmart and Amazon," added Phil Bond, head of the WE R HERE coalition. " It remains nothing more than an attempt to let tax collectors loose on the Internet, tilting the playing field in favor of retail behemoths and discriminating against some of the smallest, and most dynamic, retailers out there."

BILL CLINTON HAS THIN EMAIL HISTORY: President Bill Clinton has only sent two emails during his lifetime, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing the former president's spokesman Matt McKenna. One email was sent to astronaut John Glenn while the other was to U.S. troops during his time in office. The factoid was revealed as his wife, Hillary Clinton, has been under intense criticism for her exclusive use of a private email account during her time at the State Department. She held a press conference Tuesday, saying she used a single account rather than separate personal and work accounts for "convenience."

JESSE JACKSON AT APPLE: Rev. Jesse Jackson stopped by Apple's Cupertino, Calif., headquarters on Tuesday and spoke of the "unbroken line from Selma to Silicon Valley." Apple can help "usher in a new era of diversity and inclusion," he said, and pointed to the tech giant's positive record on releasing data about its diversity. Jackson and his Rainbow Push Coalition have been in active in getting tech companies to disclose details about their racial and gender makeup, which often show that the companies are largely white and male.  

$7.4 MILLION IS A LOT OF BLURRED LINES: A federal jury in California on Tuesday came down on the side of Marvin Gaye on Tuesday in a closely watched case over whether or not Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams had stolen from the R&B legend in the course of writing "Blurred Lines." The jury ruled that the new hit had too much in common with Gaye's 1977 hit "Got to Give It Up" and ordered them to pay $4 million in damages plus another $3.4 million in profits. 

DELBENE LEADS IOT SESSION: Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) is holding a roundtable discussion on the "Internet of Things" in Kirkland, Wash., on Wednesday. DelBene is one of the co-chairs of the congressional IoT caucus and the roundtable will focus on what businesses and the government can do to protect consumer privacy, her office said. 

ACLU SUES OVER STINGRAYS: The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and the Anaheim Police Department on Tuesday for not handing over documents about their use of StingRay devices to pick up information from people's cellphones. The group filed requests under the California Public Records Act last year but didn't hand them over, the ACLU said. 


At 10 a.m., the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on FirstNet.

At 11:30 p.m., representatives from Google, Twitter, the ACLU and others will speak at a briefing sponsored by the Digital 4th Coalition on updates to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. 


The foundation behind Wikipedia is suing the U.S. government over spying that it says violates core provisions of the Constitution.

A pair of House Democrats is cheering on the Wikimedia Foundation and other groups that launched a new legal challenge against the National Security Agency.

A Justice Department program used to gather data from U.S. cellphones apparently has a secret partner: the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 

Comcast on Tuesday touted its program to offer subsidized Internet connections to low-income families as a reason for federal regulators to approve its proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

Netflix is calling up Frank Underwood from "House of Cards" to go to bat for net neutrality.


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