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OVERNIGHT TECH: Google critics see validation in Europe

THE LEDE: Google's critics are basking in Wednesday's news that European regulators are charging the Internet giant for violating antitrust laws.

"The European Commission's action today validates the serious concerns raised by the Unites States Senate Antitrust Subcommittee in 2011 that Google 'cooked' its results," said Matt Reilly, the American counsel to FairSearch.org, a coalition of companies critical of Google's dominance in the market. In 2011, Sen. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeRepublicans wrestle over removing Trump Lawmakers, leaders offer condolences following the death of Capitol Police officer GOP senators urging Trump officials to not resign after Capitol chaos MORE (R-Utah) alleged that Google had "cooked" its search results so that its shopping services always appeared near the top of a user's searches.

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"These formal charges against Google also mirror the conclusions and evidence found by the FTC case team that Google's conduct 'has resulted -- and will result -- in real harm to consumers and innovation,'" Reilly added, referring to the recently disclosed details of a now-closed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation. "U.S. consumers deserve and demand the same level playing field in search."

Wednesday's announcement from Europe's top antitrust commissioner could spell the beginning of a major battle over the company's near-chokehold on Internet searches in Europe. The regulator accused Google of unfairly promoting its own shopping services in people's search results, to the detriment of companies like Amazon and eBay. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager also launched a formal probe into Google's Android operating system. 

Despite his previous critical eye towards Google, Lee's office did not have a public reaction to the news out of Europe. A spokeswoman for the senator, who is now the head of the Senate's Antitrust subcommittee, said that the office was reviewing the charges and will "monitor the situation closely."

INCENTIVE AUCTION 'ABOUT TO GET REAL': Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is telling broadcasters to put their chips on the table ahead of next year's incentive spectrum auction. "After five years of speculating about the incentive auction, it's about to get real," he said at the National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas, according to prepared remarks. The auction is on pace for "early 2016," he said. "That means we will begin accepting applications in the fall of this year."

The complicated auction will be a major test for the FCC to carry out. In large part, though, it will also depend on broadcasters' willingness to take part. Wheeler said on Wednesday that agency officials have talked with about half the stations eligible to participate, though he also described a lawsuit from the broadcast industry as "a possible bump in the road." 

"Truly, the incentive auction is a 'once-in-a-lifetime' opportunity," Wheeler said in a major pitch for broadcasters. "We want an auction that is good for consumers and competition – and that ensures a strong and vibrant broadcast industry."

Wheeler also used the opportunity to talk about net neutrality, a day after multiple trade groups filed lawsuits against the FCC's new rules. "I hope that you will see in it something important to maintaining your service to the American public, as well as your ability to expand that capability in a continually evolving network environment," he told broadcast companies. "Your goals as an important and innovative public service provider and our Open Internet goals are the same: when you want to offer something over the Internet, no one should stand in your way."

FCC JOINS PRIVACY FORUM: The FCC announced on Wednesday that it is joining the Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities, the major privacy enforcement group in the Asia-Pacific. The agency framed the move as an effort to help coordinate with foreign officials to crack down on threats to data security and consumer privacy.

DATA BREACH BILL GETS SOME CHEERS: Democrats may have lined up in opposition to a data breach bill that passed on a party-line vote through the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, but some companies and trade groups are getting behind it. "We need strong tools to combat criminal data breaches," National Retail Federation general counsel Mallory Duncan said in a statement about the committee vote. "Legislation must ensure public notice of breaches so consumers are promptly and effectively informed and businesses understand and appreciate the consequences of failing to adequately guard sensitive information. Today's draft makes important steps in that direction."

And some boos: Not everyone was on board. The New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute said that the "supposed pro-privacy bill would actually weaken privacy protections." Senior policy counsel Laura Moy criticized Republicans' opposition to Democratic amendments during the process, and hoped the bill's faults would be addressed when it hit the chamber floor.

PATENT DEMAND LETTERS ON DECK: On Thursday, an Energy and Commerce subcommittee is gearing up to examine legislation aiming to crack down on abusive patent demand letters. Ahead of the hearing, the United for Patent Reform coalition sent a letter to subcommittee Chairman Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessREAD: The Republicans who voted to challenge election results OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Westerman tapped as top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee | McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce | EPA joins conservative social network Parler McMorris Rodgers wins race for top GOP spot on Energy and Commerce MORE (R-Texas) and ranking member Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) with six recommendations for ways to improve the Targeting Rogue and Opaque Letters (TROL) Act. Among other measures, the coalition urged lawmakers not to specifically define "bad faith" in the bill and remove a requirement that offenders show "a pattern or practice" of sending the letters. "We urge the committee to continue its work with stakeholders until this legislation has language that will provide effective relief from patent trolls," group co-chairs wrote.

NOKIA TO BUY ALCATEL-LUCENT: Nokia on Wednesday announced that it had reached a deal to purchase French telecom firm Alcatel-Lucent for $16.6 billion. The deal could position Nokia to compete with major telecom equipment companies like Ericsson and is expected to close in the first half of 2016, Nokia predicted. Stock of both companies slipped slightly after the news broke.

BACK TO ART SCHOOL: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is planning on reintroducing his American Royalties Too (ART) Act on Tuesday, which would give visual artists a royalty whenever their work is resold either in the U.S. or around the world.

'ISSUES NEVER CHANGE' FOR LOFGREN: The tech policy battles of today look a lot like those of two decades ago, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said while receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Internet Association on Tuesday evening. "The issues never change," she said, referring to the latest iteration of the battle over encryption and fight against overly aggressive intellectual property protections online. Before the packed house of lobbyists, analysts and reporters, Lofgren touched on her 20 years in office and pointed towards the upcoming fight over surveillance reform. "It's up to all of us in the Congress as well as in the country to not let this slide, to not let people use our fears to defeat our freedom," she said to applause.

 

ON TAP:

At 9 a.m., NASA Administrator Charles Bolden will testify in the House Science committee.

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee will mark up the TROL Act at 10 a.m.

At noon, representatives from the Mercatus Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the R Street Institute and others will take part in a lunch briefing on Capitol Hill to talk about patent reform.

Bolden will head over to the Senate at 2:30, to testify in the Appropriations Committee.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Europe's top antitrust official has accused Google of breaking the continent's rules by using its massive size to dominate the market, the opening blow in what is likely to be a high-profile antitrust case.

Trade groups representing nearly every corner of the tech industry are putting pressure on Congress to rein in government surveillance ahead of a new battle over U.S. spying.

The tech industry hasn't been able to separate the need for more high-skilled foreign workers with the broader fight over immigration reform, the head of Cisco acknowledged Wednesday, in what he seemed to frame as a tactical mistake in recent years.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a controversial bill creating national data security standards after a chaotic markup that revealed deep Democratic concerns about the measure.

The advocacy arm of liberal telecom company Credo Mobile is refusing to honor a cease and desist order from the right-leaning American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

 

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

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