OVERNIGHT TECH: Wheeler hikes up the hill

THE LEDE: Tom Wheeler sets off on a marathon string of five hearings in nine days beginning Tuesday.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head will sit down alone before the House Oversight Committee at 10 a.m., in the only hearing wholly focused on the White House's involvement in the agency's net neutrality rules. It will be Wheeler's first testimony since they were released this month. That session and following ones in both chambers over the next two weeks will offer Wheeler his best chance yet to give a full-throated defense of the tough Web rules and the FCC's process while writing them.

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"The next two weeks will be, I believe, very important for the commission to defend and define what they did and why they did it and why it's so important," said former Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Miss.), who now leads the Comptel trade group and supports the tough rules.

It isn't likely to be friendly. Oversight Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzHouse Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by JUUL Labs - Trump attack on progressive Dems draws sharp rebuke GOP senators decline to criticize Acosta after new Epstein charges MORE (R-Utah) will accuse the agency of "concealing certain communications from the public with no legal basis," according to excerpts of his opening statement shared with The Hill. "In reality, the current process making changes to Internet rules is far less transparent than what occurred with the equally controversial media ownership rule changes in 2007," he will add.

The Oversight panel has received 1,600 pages of unredacted emails about the rulemaking decision in response to Chaffetz's demand last month. It's unclear whether any of them show signs of improper coordination between the FCC and the White House, though they could spark fireworks on Tuesday.

What's next? The string of hearings will also be crucial as congressional Republicans determine how to proceed with efforts to kill the rules, which they warn will cripple the industry.

"After the next two or three weeks, I think we'll have a better chance to see where we go, whether the Congress will move on any effort themselves or not," Pickering said. "It's too early to predict what's going to happen until we've had these hearings over the next few weeks."

Lawmakers have a number of options before them, but none of them are great. An effort at compromise replacement legislation from leaders of the House and Senate Commerce panels has yet to yield any Democratic support. More partisan measures to kill the rules outright or jeopardize the FCC's funding threaten to undermine any openings for compromise and would surely face a veto threat from the White House.

HATCH OUTLINES PATENT GOALS: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) penned an op-ed in Wired on Monday outlining his must-haves in any patent reform legislation. Those include increased pleading standards, demand letter reform, a fee shifting provision, a customer stay provision and another that would ensure the recovery of legal fees. In the face of some criticism to the broad approach, he said: "I have repeatedly been told that a multi-pronged approach that tackles each of these issues is needed to effectively combat patent trolls across all levels of industry."   

PATENT GROUP PUSHES COONS: United for Patent Reform, a coalition in favor of broad patent litigation reform, sent a letter to Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) arguing his new narrow proposal will "only distract Congress from the real problem facing the U.S. patent system: abusive patent litigation by patent trolls." The coalition of retailers and technology companies said his patent bill would actually "undermine" previous reform and "make it easier for trolls to bring frivolous litigation."

NYT BOARD OFFERS WARNING FOR COMMUNICATIONS ACT UPDATE: The editorial board at The New York Times has some words of warning about congressional Republicans' aims to update the Communications Act, which was last addressed in 1996. "Unless lawmakers are willing to make changes that give consumers more and better choices, there is no reason for Congress to rewrite the Communications Act," the newspaper warned over the weekend.

While lawmakers should steer clear of any bill "expected to weaken the F.C.C. and fatten the profits of the dominant cable and phone companies at the expense of their customers," they would be better served by trying to increase competition in the cable market, the board offered. Included in that would be any efforts to support municipally owned broadband networks and unify rules for cable, satellite and Internet TV services.

PAUL OPENS TECH OFFICE: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on Monday opened an office in Austin, Texas, that will focus on technology and "digital engagement." The office is located in the Capitol Factory, which describes itself as an incubator that hosts startups and entrepreneurs. Paul recently hired Rachel Kania as his technology strategist, who vowed that the senator would have the most "technologically-savvy campaign in the field."

THE VALLEY FLIES IN: Much of the tech world may be out in Austin, Texas, for the South By Southwest festival this week, but one slice of Silicon Valley is instead making a trek out to Washington. The Silicon Valley Leadership Group -- which represents a slew of companies from the region -- will be in Washington Tuesday through Thursday. Members are slated to meet with dozens of lawmakers' officers as well as administration officials including Michelle Lee, the new director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

ANTI-TRADE BLIMP HITS WYDEN: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had an uninvited guest at some town hall meetings over the weekend: a 30-foot blimp asking him to oppose "fast-track" authority for a trade deal with the Asia-Pacific. "Ron Wyden: It's up to you. Don't betray us!" said the blimp, which was launched by Fight for the Future. It tugged a banner featuring a number of popular Internet memes and the message "Save the Internet stop fast track for the TPP," using the acronym for the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

CEA HOLDING DAYLONG SXSW FORUM: The Consumer Electronics Association has a daylong series of events happening at South By Southwest on Tuesday, and the trade group will be streaming the happenings for those in Washington and around the country to follow along. Sessions will cover issues of privacy, patent reform, immigration, net neutrality and the "sharing economy." 

ODD TIMING FOR FOIA MOVE: The White House caught flak for the timing of its decision to officially rule that the White House Office of Administration is exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests. The office has been exempt from FOIA requests since former President George W. Bush issued a policy directive on the subject during his term, but the White House made the official change in the Federal Register during "Sunshine Week," according to USA Today.

 

ON TAP:

At 10 a.m., FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will testify in front of the House Oversight Committee about new net neutrality rules.

At 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on high-skilled visas and the need to protect U.S. workers.

At 10 a.m., the Heritage Foundation will host an event about Section 215 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Also at 10 a.m., House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) will talk about cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Alliance for Excellent Education, New America Foundation, Benton Foundation and the SHLB Coalition are holding an event to mark the fifth anniversary of the National Broadband Plan starting at 1 p.m.

Startup Grind will host a conversation with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) at 6 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Sen. Rand Paul is committed to voting against reauthorizing the Patriot Act, even if it jeopardizes the chance to roll back government surveillance.

The FCC should change how it enforces rules requiring broadcasters to post ad buy information online, the National Association of Broadcasters said Monday.

The nation is split on its feelings about government surveillance programs, with 52 percent saying they are "very" or "somewhat" concerned about broad spying powers, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

Dish Network's plan to use a pair of smaller subsidiaries to buy up licenses to the nation's airwaves "had an enormous impact" on small businesses, according to one of the regulators overseeing the deal.

As legal challenges loom for new net neutrality regulations, GOP members of the Federal Communications Commission are offering some of the first lines of attack.

 

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

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