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Congressional Members Discuss Net Neutrality, Privacy and Spectrum at CCIA Meeting

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WASHINGTON May 5, 2011- At the Washington Caucus meeting of the Computer and Communications Industry Association Wednesday, Congressional leaders presented their views on preserving the Open Internet, expanding patent reform, ensuring consumer privacy online and the need for spectrum reform.

“As the Internet becomes an increasing source of commerce and communication we cannot allow it to become a walled garden,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chair of the Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness. “While it is unknown how many jobs the open Internet creates, it is clear without an open Internet it will become very difficult for businesses to sell their goods and provide services.”

Wyden stated that the best way to protect consumers and ensure an open internet was through anti-trust laws, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chair of the Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, echoed this sentiment. Goodlatte expressed that he feels the Federal Communications Commission should not be regulating the issue.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), ranking member of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, also supported the open internet and said that the FCC had the authority to act to protect consumers. She then called the debate of the joint resolution condemning the FCC on the floor of the House while the budget was not yet resolved “a royal waste of time.”

Rather than discuss the merits of the issue, the Republicans used the resolution to condemn the FCC, said Eshoo.

Wyden also implored the Obama administration to follow the lead set by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and expand Internet freedom. While he noted the importance of consumer protection and the need to remove malicious websites, Wyden said he fears that the indiscriminant taking down of websites sends a bad message to other nations.

“Foreign nations will see our domain seizures as approval of limiting Internet communications,” Wyden said. “If we continue with this practice it won’t be long before other nations follow suit.”

“As Americans we deeply care about our privacy and do not want it invaded by business or government,” Eshoo said. “However we also do not want to kill off any innovation which can come from new devices and services. We need to educate the public about what information is being collected and who is collecting it.”

On the tail of several recent statements from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MD) expressing concerns about how Apple tracks its customers with the iPhone, Eshoo predicted that Congressional hearings will likely be held on the issue.

Goodlatte called upon industry to change their privacy settings from the current model that requires users to opt out of the collection of data to an opt in model in which users would choose to provide their data to companies.

“We must preserve the trust of users on the Internet,” said National Telecommunications and Information Administration  Deputy Administrator Anna Gomez. “Consumer groups and industry have both asked us to explore the issue and we plan to release an update to our green paper soon.”

The green paper advocates that Congress pass legislation that would provide a base set of consumer protections that the Federal Trade Commission would be able to enforce.

Wyden also called upon Congress to protect the rights of innovators through expanding patent reform and previewed the soon-to-be-introduced Digital Trade and Promotion Act, which will include digital goods in future trade agreements.

Goodlatte informed the group that there is currently patent reform legislation, which has bipartisan support, being brought to the floor of the House.

“Patent reform is an issue which has support from both sides and is key to expanding our economy,” Goodlatte said.

All of the Congressional speakers supported the idea of providing the FCC with the authority to conduct incentive auctions to obtain additional spectrum and Gomez called spectrum a key pillar in the nation’s digital infrastructure.

To expand the availability of spectrum for future use, Gomez said that spectrum owners need an incentive to release their holdings.

She went on to say that the federal government is looking at ways it can relocate its current spectrum holdings, but relocation will take time.

“We also need to seriously work on the development of a national public safety network,” Eschoo said. “It’s been 10 years since the attacks of 9/11 and we are nowhere near having a working network.”

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