OVERNIGHT TECH: FCC chief Wheeler better rest up

THE LEDE: Tom Wheeler may be riding high now, but he's about to face a whole lot of criticism.

A fourth hearing this month featuring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman was added on Wednesday, when the House Judiciary Committee scheduled a March 25 session. Add that to Re/code's report that the text of new Internet rules are due out on Thursday, and it looks like the wave of criticism is about to crash.

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FCC spokespeople couldn't confirm Re/code's report, but advocacy groups and K Street will surely have their eyes peeled for the rules' arrival. Though the commission voted to issue the tough net neutrality rules late last month, the act of incorporating responses to the two dissenting commissioners stretched the release out for a few weeks. A slight delay is normal for the FCC's operations, though the hold-up over the current rules -- surely the highest profile ones the agency has seen in years -- caused a bit of partisan bickering over who, precisely, was responsible for the delay.

The release of the rules will also set the clock ticking until the first lawsuit is filed over the rules. Two big cable groups have dropped hints they're going to go to the courts, but exactly what form the lawsuit takes -- and who joins -- is still up in the air.

A Thursday release would also mean that the regs will be out by the time Wheeler sits down for his testimony next week, in the House Oversight Committee. GOP lawmakers would surely have taken Wheeler to task if the regulations weren't released by then. That Tuesday session will be followed up by hearings in the Senate and House Commerce committees on Wednesday and Thursday, and then the House Judiciary panel the following week.

In the Judiciary Committee, Wheeler will be joined by Ajit Pai -- a Republican FCC commissioner -- and Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright, another Republican. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) has said that antitrust powers wielded by the FTC are the best remedy for any threats posed by lack of net neutrality rules.

SENATE SETS PATENT HEARING: The Senate Judiciary Committee has set a hearing next week to probe the impact of patent "trolls" whom critics accuse of harassing companies with lawsuits. The session is the panel's first real exploration of the issue this year, after then-Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) failed in his bid to reform the nation's patent system last Congress. In a statement on Wednesday, Leahy said he wanted to finish the job. "When these so-called patent trolls send threatening letters to small businesses in Vermont or target customers simply for using a product they purchased off-the-shelf, they hamper innovation and harm our economy," he said.

The new hearing will take place at 10 a.m. next Wednesday, March 18. Witnesses have yet to be announced.

CONSERVATIVE GROUPS COMPARE PATENT BILL TO MEAT CLEAVER: A group of 24 conservative groups sent a letter to House and Senate leaders expressing opposition to a bill that would make changes to patent lawsuit procedures in an attempt to cut down on abusive litigation. The groups compared Goodlatte's Innovation Act to a "cleaver," saying it was overly broad and would discourage and harm legitimate patent litigation. They accused advocates of pushing the reform in order to "pay as little as possible" to license patents. The letter was signed by the American Conservative Union, the Club for Growth and others.

FTC TAKES 'SWING FOR CONSUMERS': Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is applauding the FTC's lawsuit against DirecTV on Wednesday. McCaskill focused on cable and satellite billing practice last year, while chairwoman of the Senate Commerce consumer protection subcommittee, and found that many people feel abused by their TV provider. "I'm glad to see the Federal Trade Commission finally taking a swing for consumers," she said on Wednesday, "and I want to see more of it as I continue to look at what can be done from Congress to crack down on such abuses."

FCC ORDERS PHONE COMPANY TO PAY $7.6 MILLION: Georgia-based phone company Optic Internet Protocol will pay $7.62 million over charges that it toyed with consumers' bills without their knowledge. According to the FCC, the company changed people's long distance carrier without their permission, added unapproved charges to their bill and faked audio recordings to back up the actions.

CONCERNS ABOUT CENSUS ONLINE: The Government Accountability Office raised concerns with the Census Bureau's plan to let some people respond online during the 2020 census, according to a report in Federal Computer Week. The report highlighted concerns about the cost estimate, the bureau's ability to store the data, and authentication procedures. According to the report, the bureau will release an initial design plan later this year.

CYBER MARKUP IS COMING: The Senate Intelligence Committee is going to mark up its cybersecuirty legislation on Thursday. The information sharing bill has received some criticism for being too lax on privacy issues.

 

ON TAP:

From 9 to 10:30 a.m., White House cybersecurity coordinator Michael Daniel will join an Information Technology and Innovation Foundation panel discussion on the battle over encryption.

At 9:30, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will testify in a Senate Commerce subcommittee on his agency's budget request.  

Oral arguments in the National Association of Broadcasters' challenge against the FCC's incentive spectrum auction rules are set to get underway in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals around 10 a.m.

The Advisory Committee to the Congressional Internet Caucus is holding a talk on encryption at noon on Capitol Hill.

At 12:30, FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright will talk about patent protection at the Heritage Foundation.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Most members of Congress have had email access going back to the mid-1990s, but some lawmakers have failed to make much of it.

Lawmakers are nowhere close to a deal to renew provisions of the Patriot Act, with a deadline little more than two months away.  

Federal officials are charging DirecTV with bilking its subscribers by locking them into long-term contracts without clear details about future rates.

State Department employees did not receive proper training and guidance on rules requiring the preservation of emails for the official record, according to the department's inspector general.

The Associated Press is filing a lawsuit to force the State Department to release emails and other documents from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

 

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

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