OVERNIGHT TECH: Round Two for FCC in Congress

THE LEDE: With one contentious congressional hearing in the books, Tom Wheeler gets to do it all over again on Wednesday.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman heads back up Capitol Hill on Wednesday to testify in the Senate Commerce Committee alongside his four fellow commissioners. Tuesday morning's session in the House Oversight panel was marked with occasional fireworks, as GOP lawmakers repeatedly tried to accuse him of being bullied by President Obama. The intensity increased with revelations that Wheeler had nine previously unknown meetings with the White House while writing the rules and the announcement that the agency's inspector general had launched an investigation into the process. Wheeler countered that the meetings never touched on net neutrality, but the twin disclosures are likely to reappear as new headaches for the chairman.

On the surface, Wednesday's session looks to be less contentious. The presence of all five commissioners should deflect some of focus from Wheeler and lawmakers have also committed to inquiring about the myriad other issues affecting the FCC in coming months. "In addition to finding a better path forward to protect the open Internet through bipartisan legislation, I also want to concentrate on identifying other bipartisan updates to our communications law that will make the FCC a more accountable, effective, and efficient agency," Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneDavis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Trump says he'll accept nomination from either White House or Gettysburg Meadows says he wants Trump nomination speech 'miles and miles away' from White House MORE (R-S.D.) said in a statement earlier this week.

A GOP source confirmed that the panel is gearing up for "a broad look at the FCC operating under an authorization from 25 years ago that needs updating." Wednesday's session will be a "policy-focused hearing," the aide added, that pushes on how to make the agency "a more efficient and accountable agency through a reauthorization."

Still, net neutrality is sure to emerge, and watchers will be on the lookout for any signs that Democrats are considering joining forces with Republicans on new net neutrality legislation, now that the FCC's rules are out.

Who else gabbed with the outside? Tom Wheeler wasn't the only FCC commissioner who had talks outside the agency without filing a public notice. During Tuesday's hearing, Oversight committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) accused GOP Commissioner Michael O'Rielly of getting help from three right-leaning advocates ahead of publishing an op-ed in The Hill. "If the Republicans want to accuse the president of undue influence in this process, even when he submitted -- he did in the right way -- an ex parte filing, they can't just conveniently ignore similar actions on the part of the Republican side," Cummings said. "There's something wrong with that picture: fairness, balance. And I'm concerned about that."

In response, O'Rielly said that the collaboration was "on my personal views and advocacy, not lobbying or expressing views to the commission in any capacity." The outside input also "did not have any effect on my ultimate decisions or the outcome of the FCC proceeding," he added.

The three people who helped O'Rielly with the op-ed were former FCC Commissioners Robert McDowell, Harold Furchtgott-Roth and TechFreedom head Berin Szoka.

SENATE GEARS UP FOR FIRST PATENT HEARING: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will hold its first hearing of the year on so-called "patent trolls." Witnesses from the manufacturing, food and information technology industries will argue in favor of changes to the patent litigation system to cut down on abusive lawsuits, similar to reforms included in a House bill already introduced. Leaders on the Senate panel are working on their own proposal. But they will hear resistance from the biotechnology industry and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who introduced his own proposal.

Coons has his defense ready: In anticipation of the hearing, Coons is criticizing many advocates for believing "the only way to stop those abusing the system is to weaken protections for inventors." He added, "America's patent system needs to work for all inventors, and it shouldn't be carved up to benefit certain industries over others."

Venture capitalists make a push: A group of 140 venture capitalists sent a letter to Congress urging broad reform to the patent litigation system. They outlined principles to increase transparency requirements, limit the scope of discovery, allow court discretion on fee-shifting, and protect end users from initial litigation. The letter could be aimed at countering the message from the National Venture Capital Association, which has been wary of large-scale reform.

TECH DEFENDS VISA PROGRAM: A host of technology trade groups and other advocates released statements defending the high-skilled H-1B visa program as the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject, with many critical of the program. Fwd.us said some critics were presenting a "false choice" between American and foreign workers. TechNet said it was a "myth" that the program harms U.S. workers, while Compete America pushed to increase the cap on the visa program, saying it is a "win-win for our economy."

DEMS WANT RESEARCH FUNDING: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Bill Foster (D-Ill.) are rolling out the American Innovation Act, which they say will help ensure the U.S. is a global leader in discovery. The legislation would increase by 5 percent the budgets of five science agencies: NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Energy Department's science office, the Pentagon's science and tech programs as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology's research arm.

HAPPY SAINT PATENT'S DAY: The Internet Association is using a leprechaun to fight patent trolls. In honor of Saint Patrick's Day on Tuesday, the Web lobbying group released a 15-second video of a troll riding on a rainbow pulled by Interne meme Nyan Cat across the Capitol. "Don't let patent trolls get their pot of gold," it says. "Congress, it's time to stop bad patents."

COMCAST BRINGS ON HARBINGERS: The cable giant hired Harbinger Strategies and its handful of former GOP congressional staffers to monitor "general tax, trade and cybersecurity issues."

HP GOES ROCK CREEK: Hewlett-Packard is making some lobbying moves of its own, bringing on Rock Creek Counsel to help it out with tax reform and global tax issues.

 

ON TAP:

Starting at 9 a.m., Georgetown University is holding a daylong forum on the five-year anniversary of the National Broadband Plan.

At 10 a.m., the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on patent reform.

Also at 10 a.m., the House Energy and Commerce Committee will mark up new legislation designed to help companies and people better respond to data breaches.

A House Homeland Security subcommittee is looking at security implications of drones at 10 a.m.

At 2 p.m., Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google, will speak at the American Enterprise Institute

At 2:30 p.m, all five FCC commissioners will testify in front of the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Information Technology Industry Council is holding a tech showcase at 6 p.m.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The inspector general for the Federal Communications Commission has opened an investigation into the agency's process for writing new rules for the Internet, according to the House Oversight Committee.

A key GOP lawmaker is out with legislation to reauthorize the FCC for the first time in a quarter century.

A bipartisan Senate bill aiming to increase the number of high-skilled visas doled out by the federal government is running up against Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) then-chief of staff asked the White House in May to "back off" its support for tough Internet rules.

A dozen anti-secrecy groups are demanding that the State Department and National Archives independently verify that all official emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are accounted for.

 

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