OVERNIGHT TECH: Wheeler’s marathon coming to a close

THE LEDE: Tom Wheeler is coming around the final bend and eyeing his fifth and final congressional hearing in the last week and a half.

It doesn't look like he's getting off easy. On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman will take the witness stand in the House Judiciary Committee, in what has all the trappings of a combative hearing. While he has also blasted the agency for the "bulky" regulations, committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteTop Republican releases full transcript of Bruce Ohr interview It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute DOJ opinion will help protect kids from dangers of online gambling MORE (R-Va.) has said that the FCC has little business writing Internet regulations in the first place. Antitrust regulators at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are better suited to the task, Goodlatte has said.   

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"The Internet doesn't need an inflexible 'one-size-fits-all' government mandate to ensure net neutrality," Goodlatte said in a statement announcing the hearing earlier this month. "The key to an open and free Internet lies in strong enforcement of our nation's antitrust laws. These time-trusted laws allow for maximum flexibility and consistently have demonstrated their ability to prevent discriminatory and anti-competitive conduct in the marketplace."

On Wednesday, Wheeler will be up alongside Ajit Pai, the Republican FCC commissioner with whom he has frequency sparred, as well as FTC Commissioners Joshua Wright and Terrell McSweeny.

Even the budget hearing is a net neutrality hearing: Tuesday was a disappointing day for people hoping that Wheeler would be forced to talk about anything other than net neutrality. The FCC chief was repeatedly pressed on the regulations during a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing, which left notably little time for discussion of the agency's information technology needs, its planned move to a new headquarters and other budget issues.

"For me to say that I didn't know that this was going to turn into a net neutrality hearing would have been foolish," said subcommittee Ranking Member José Serrano (D-N.Y.), who often came to Wheeler's defense over the rules. Tuesday's session was Wheeler's fourth over the last week -- and the third that he has spent alongside GOP Commissioner Ajit Pai -- and Serrano claimed that he could tell "by the looks on your faces."

"They've had a weekend to rest up," quipped subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), "so they're here today."

Upton, Walden set stage for 'years of challenges': Now that the first lawsuits against the net neutrality rules have been filed, Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) are settling in for a long fight. "These filings are the first in what will undoubtedly be years of challenges spurred by the FCC's unnecessary and inappropriate regulation of the Internet," the chairmen of the Energy and Commerce panel and its Communications subcommittee said in a joint statement Tuesday morning.

The lawsuits should give Democrats some incentive to hop onboard with their planned legislation, the two hinted. "Congress has the opportunity to change this poorly-chosen course and enact durable solutions that protect consumers. The door remains open to our colleagues so we can make Open Internet protections a reality."

PATENTS ON TAP: The House Judiciary subcommittee on Intellectual Property is gearing up for a hearing on patent "trolls" on Wednesday, ahead of a possible new push for legal reform. Mark Griffin, the general counsel at Overstock.com, is one of the witnesses, and he will push for "multi-faceted reform" from Congress. Since 2004, Overstock has been sued 32 times for patent infringement, Griffin said in his prepared testimony, at a cost of about $11 million.

On the other side of the issue, the Innovation Alliance -- which has opposed sweeping reforms to the current system -- urged lawmakers to "search for a balanced approach" for upcoming legislation in a statement ahead of the hearing. Any reform efforts should be sure not to unnecessarily hurt "inventors, startups, and other responsible patent holders."

FEDS GIVE DRONE BREATHING ROOM: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is making some changes that it hopes will make things easier for companies that have received an exemption to fly drones. Previously, companies that had received an exemption to use drones as part of their business had to file a new application every time they wanted to enter a new airspace zone, which could take up to 60 days. Now, the new "blanket" authorizations will allow the companies to fly them anywhere in the country -- with certain restrictions.

Brian Wynne, head of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a drone trade group, called the move "a step in the right direction" that will help companies "fly sooner by eliminating some red tape in the process." Still, however, he criticized the FAA for its poor record of approving the requests, hundreds of which are still outstanding. 

PANDORA ADDS SOME HELP: Pandora has singed Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr to help represent it on antitrust, intellectual property and digital media, according to a new disclosure document

ON TAP:

The House Oversight Committee is marking up legislation to reform the Freedom of Information Act at 9 a.m.

A House Judiciary subcommittee is talking about patent reform at 10 a.m.

At noon, the House Energy and Commerce panel will mark up data breach legislation.

FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Michael O'Rielly will talk about unlicensed spectrum at a WifiForward event at the National Press Club.

The House Judiciary Committee takes on the FCC's net neutrality rules at 2 p.m.

At 4 p.m., that same Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on Crime will talk about online gambling.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

The House Intelligence Committee has introduced its bill to bolster cyber threat data sharing between the government and the private sector. 

Republicans are hearing calls to use the congressional power of the purse to make it harder for the FCC to implement controversial regulations on access to the Internet. 

Tennessee is suing the FCC over its attempt to block a state law limiting the growth of government-run Internet providers. 

Online sales giant Amazon recently received permission to test fly some drones, but it still isn't happy. 

The Federal Reserve's expected move to raise interest rates for the first time in years is likely to send ripples across the economy, but the fast-growing tech sector isn't bracing for a new crisis. 

 

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