OVERNIGHT TECH: Wheeler wraps up hearing marathon

THE LEDE: The head of the Federal Communications Commission has survived a marathon five hearings in eight days and emerged relatively unscathed.

Tom Wheeler's fifth and final appearance on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon -- in the House Judiciary Committee -- touched on many of the same points that had come up through the other series of congressional appearances over the last week. Despite the criticism from many Republicans over his net neutrality regulations, Wheeler has avoided any major stumbles or foot-in-mouth situations. Given the ring of fire he was believed to be walking into, that's about the best that could have been expected.

Wednesday's hearing ranked among his most combative in Congress, with GOP lawmakers occasionally shouting. Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteThe job of shielding journalists is not finished Bottom line No documents? Hoping for legalization? Be wary of Joe Biden MORE (R-Va.) didn't allow himself to get that heated, but nonetheless declined to pull any punches. "By raising costs, imposing a heavy regulatory burden, introducing regulatory uncertainty, and instituting government meddling into nearly every aspect of the Internet, the FCC will seriously undermine the competitive nature of the Internet," he said.

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Goodlatte has said that net neutrality should be best left up to antitrust regulators, and Wheeler was flanked on Wednesday by Federal Trade Commissioners Joshua Wright and Terrell McSweeny, in addition to GOP FCC Commissioner Ajit PaiAjit PaiLobbying world Biden revokes Trump-era order targeting shield for website operators Top Democrat: FCC actions are a 'potential setback' to autonomous vehicles MORE, who reprised his role as a foil to Wheeler. Wright, a Republican, supported using antitrust law to police Web firms who abuse consumers, while McSweeny said "there is neither an either-or choice" between the two.

"Playing God': There were some fireworks. Firebrand Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) unloaded on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during his time on the panel, raising his voice to a shout. "Before the FCC stepped in, everybody was able to explore new business models," he yelled. "The only business is now you're playing God with the Internet, while saying "I'll leave some room for you to come up with new business models.' That's not your job!"

'Biggest since SOPA': Watchers of the net neutrality process know how much the issue has consumed the tech policy world in recent months, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, made clear that Congress is feeling it too. "Other than SOPA, this is the biggest issue that's been before the tech community in a long, long time," Lofgren said during Wednesday's hearing, referring to the controversial intellectual property law killed in 2012.

COMCAST EXPECTS MERGER REVIEW'S END BY MID-YEAR: Comcast expects the government's review of its $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable to finish by the middle of the year, the company said after the FCC paused its informal shot clock on the review last week. The new deadline is a break with its previous expectations that the deal would be finalized "early" in the year. In a blog post, Comcast also said the merger would bring faster speeds to current Time Warner Cable customers, noting that its average speeds are "two and a half times" faster. More than 90 percent of Comcast customers have 25 Mbps speeds, according to the company.

MERKLEY, FRANKEN INTRODUCE STEM BILL: Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Al Franken introduced a proposal Wednesday meant to increase student access and teacher recruitment in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Arguing there is a "skills gap" in the United States, they are hoping the proposal will make it into the rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act.

GOODLATTE'S PATENT VIDEO: House Judiciary Chairman Bob Bob Goodlatte's (R-Va) office produced a short video showing small business owners lamenting patent trolls and calling on Congress to support the chairman's Innovation Act, which aims to rein in abuse of the patent litigation system. After some technical difficulties, Goodlatte showed the video during a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, instead of making an opening statement.

SPECTRUM SHARING DEAL REACHED: The Commerce Department and Defense Department have signed a new memorandum of understanding that gives access to lab and test sites in order to help more people share spectrum channels. The effort is all part of the president's 2013 memorandum to free up more spectrum. 

ON TAP: 

Sen. Dean Heller (D-Nev.) gives opening remarks at an event on the "Internet of Things" hosted by Microsoft's Innovation and Policy Center at 8 a.m.

Starting at 8 a.m., Bloomberg is holding an event on cybersecurity with Financial Services Roundtable head Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).

At 9:30 a.m., the Brookings Institution will hold a talk on visas for STEM graduates.

The Federal Communications Commission will hold an open meeting that starts at 10 a.m.

Also at 10 a.m., Bill Gates will testify in a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on diplomacy and development. Ben Affleck is also scheduled to testify.

At 10:15, the House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on the "next steps for spectrum policy."

At 2:30, NetCompetition is holding a Capitol Hill briefing on the "collateral damage" of the FCC's new rules.

Another "Internet of Things" roundtable is taking place at the Microsoft center at 3 p.m., which will feature Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.).

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: 

The House Oversight Committee on Wednesday approved a bill aimed at increasing the public's access to government documents. 

The Obama administration will end the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of Americans' phone records if Congress is unable to reauthorize an expiring provision.

Some of the world's biggest technology companies are teaming up with top advocacy groups to push Congress to reform the nation's spying laws.

PayPal on Wednesday accepted a $7.7 million settlement with the Treasury Department over charges it violated a myriad of U.S. economic sanctions.

One federal regulator seems to be hinting that Twitter might have been operating unfairly by imposing limits on what it shares with live-streaming company Meerkat.

 

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