Overnight Technology

Overnight Tech: Spectrum, cable boxes on agenda for FCC oversight hearing

LEDE: All five members of the Federal Communications Commission are slated to testify Wednesday in front of a Senate committee on their agenda for President Obama’s final year in office. 

Senate Commerce Committee John Thune (R-S.D.) hinted that two large topics of conversation will be the FCC’s newly proposed rules meant to open up the market on cable TV set-top boxes and the federal government’s spectrum policy. The FCC is slated to soon begin a large spectrum auction, and the committee is considering a bill that would require the government to study the best way to entice federal agencies to sell of their spectrum reserves to make room for more smartphone use. 

{mosads}A new GOP report that uncovered new evidence that the White House exerted undue pressure on the FCC when developing net neutrality rules is also likely to be a hot topic. Republicans have made the accusation for more than a year, but Wednesday’s report offers more details from internal FCC emails during that time. 

SUBSIDIES FOR INTERNET SERVICE: The FCC commissioners will likely field questions on an upcoming vote to offer Internet subsidies for low-income Americans. The FCC already offers phone subsidies through the Lifeline program, but the agency is considering an update to extend those subsidies to Internet service. A group of nearly two-dozen Internet service providers, wireless carriers and public interest groups sent a letter Tuesday supporting the plan, with reforms. That includes removing the burden on telecommunications carriers for deciding whether customers are eligible for the program. 

INTERNET OF THINGS BILL: Bipartisan members of the Senate Commerce Committee introduced a new bill meant to speed up the development of the Internet of things, a catch-all term meant to describe the slew of connected devices beyond phones, tablets and computers. The Digit Act would require the FCC to study and report how much spectrum will be needed to keep up with the growing demand for connected devices. The bill would also create a working group to issue recommendations for congressional action. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). 

FACEBOOK’S BATTLE IN BRAZIL: Facebook’s vice president of Latin America Diego Dzodan was detained by Brazilian police on Tuesday because the company failed to comply with a judge’s order. According to The Associated Press, the San Paulo police said the company did not comply with a judicial order in a secret investigation that deals with organized crime and drug trafficking. The order was aimed at the popular messaging service WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook. Last December, WhatsApp was briefly shut down in the country, spurring Mark Zuckerberg to call it a “sad day for Brazil.”

WHATSAPP SAYS IT DOESN’T HAVE THE INFO: In statements, WhatsApp said it “cannot provide information we don’t have” and said it had cooperated with authorities as much as it could. Facebook confirmed that its executive was “escorted” to a police station, calling it “extreme and disproportionate.” The company noted that Facebook operates independently of WhatsApp. 

NEW ONLINE TV OFFERING: AT&T later this year will begin offering live and on-demand TV over the Internet through DirecTV that “will not require annual contracts, satellite dishes or set-top boxes.” The package will include “much of what is available” over cable today. The offering will be available over wired Internet service and on a smartphone through an app. AT&T completed its acquisition of DirecTV in mid-2015. 

‘ALL PARTS’ OF GOVT FAILED TO UNLOCK IPHONE: FBI Director James Comey said his agency has “engaged all parts” of the government and failed to unlock the iPhone 5c used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, which is why it has sought a court order for Apple to help. During a House hearing, when he was asked whether the agency had reached out to others like the National Security Agency, he said: “Yes is the answer. We’ve talked to anybody who will talk with us about it, and I welcome additional suggestions.”

SUPER TUESDAY ONLINE BUZZ: To mark the Super Tuesday primary elections, The Associated Press partnered with Google and Twitter to track social media and Internet buzz about the candidates. Check it out here


At 10 a.m., the Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on geolocation privacy.

At 10 a.m., all five FCC commissioners will testify before the Senate Commerce Committee. 

At 10 a.m., the House Committee on Science will hold a hearing on empowering health apps.


Defense Secretary Ash Carter is spending Tuesday meeting with tech leaders in Silicon Valley amid a Pentagon push to combat terrorists in cyberspace.

Lawmakers on Tuesday pressed FBI Director James Comey to concede that a court order directing Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters could set a legal precedent.

Donald Trump is dominating the attention of Google and Twitter users talking about the GOP race on Super Tuesday.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Charter’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable has the potential to harm Internet competition, comparing it to Comcast’s failed acquisition last year. 

The White House exerted undue influence on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the drafting of net neutrality rules, causing the agency to overlook potential violations of public notice requirements, according to a report from Senate Republicans.


Please send tips and comments to David McCabe, dmccabe@thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@thehill.com Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @dmccabe, @_mariotrujillo

Tags Deb Fischer Donald Trump Federal Communications Commission Harry Reid John Thune Kelly Ayotte oversight

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