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Congress

‘Kill Switch’ Legislation Faces Uphill Battle in Light of Egypt Crisis

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2011 – Senate lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow the President to declare a national cyber emergency and give him the power to use an internet “kill switch” which could shut down internet access nationally.

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Senate lawmakers are considering a measure that would allow the President  to declare a national cyber emergency and give him the power to use an internet “kill switch” which could shut down internet access nationally.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) originally introduced the Protecting Cyberspace as a National Asset Act of 2010, which would have authorized the forming of an Office of Cyberspace Policy. This new office would have been given the responsibility of putting into place plans to protect the nation’s infrastructure from cyber-attacks.  The 2010 bill died when Congress failed to act on it; however, Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-NV) reintroduced the bill to the new Congress last week under the title Cyber Security and American Cyber Competitiveness Act of 2011.

Those who oppose the legislation feel the bill hinders the neutrality of the internet, and could possible pose a threat to free speech. The most controversial element of the bill is the lack of specificity of the powers given to the president during a “national cyber emergency.”

A summary of the bill located on the Library of Congress web site specifies the President “notify the owners and operators of the infrastructure of the nature of the emergency, consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods.” The cyber emergency could last up to 30 days and be extended 30 days if the National Center for Cybersecurity and Communications (NCCC) Director and the President ‘ affirms that such measure or action remains necessary to address the continuing emergency.”

Detractors also point to actions that recently took place in Egypt, during which the Egyptian government shut down the nations internet in an attempt to control political unrest.

“The bill authorizes the NCCC, in an emergency declared by the President, to take unspecified emergency actions to preserve the reliable operation of particular covered critical infrastructure,” said the American Civil Liberties Union and twenty four other groups in a recent letter to congress. “The government can compel companies that own or operate critical infrastructure systems to take those undefined actions for 30‐day periods that may be renewed indefinitely. While the bill makes it clear that it does not authorize electronic surveillance beyond that authorized in current law, we are concerned that the emergency actions that could be compelled could include shutting down or limiting Internet communications that might be carried over covered critical infrastructure systems.”

The cosponsors of the bill say that this was not their intent as the bill was introduced before the unrest in Egypt.

“Some have suggested that our legislation would empower the president to deny U.S. citizens access to the Internet,” said the statement from Sen. Lieberman, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Senator Tom Carper, (D-DE). “Nothing could be further from the truth.”

They said, however, that they’ll make sure their forthcoming legislation will contain contains language prohibiting the president from doing what occurred in Egypt.

Nate Hakken is a native of Washington, DC. As the son of two itinerant academics, Nate spent much of his childhood living in England and Scandinavia. He has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College, as well as a J.D. from Vermont Law School, where he studied Internet and technology law. Nate is a jack-of-all-trades, having worked as a sound engineer, teacher, camp director, outdoor adventure guide, and medical researcher. Outside of work, he is an avid cyclist who competes across the Mid-Atlantic and has been known to play the guitar when asked nicely.

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Congress

Congress Working to Enact Permitting Reforms for Broadband

‘Red tape really does have the possibility to kill project,’ argued a House subcommittee chief counsel.

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Photo of Kate O'Connor from LinkedIn.

WASHINGTON, November 2, 2022 – Congress is advancing a series of proposals to reform broadband permitting, which include the elimination of unnecessary historical and environmental reviews and streamlining the process to deploy broadband on federal lands, staffers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a Fiber Broadband Association web event, Evan Viau, a staff member for the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said the House is working to generally liberalize the permitting process for new deployments and upgrades to existing infrastructure as well.

“Red tape really does have the possibility to kill project,” argued Kate O’Connor, chief counsel for the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

“$42 billion (from the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program) seems like a lot of money…but if we don’t change all of the processes that allow that $42 billion to actually get spent to deploy this infrastructure, it could all be wasted,” she added.

O’Connor called for an “all-hands approach” to permitting reform, saying the federal government should encourage such reforms at the state and local levels, as well.

In 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband funding – America’s largest investment in connectivity to date. The IIJA followed the American Rescue Plan Act, passed earlier that year, which also provided money for broadband to the states.

Republicans plan to oversee federal agencies

In addition to permitting reform, agency oversight is a top priority of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, O’Connor said. In September, McMorris Rodgers warned Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel against acting beyond the statutory limits of the Commission’s authority.

And McMorris Rodgers isn’t the only high-ranking Republican with the oversight itch. In September, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R–Penn., ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, told Broadband Breakfast he would likely issue subpoenas to the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration following the agencies’ refusal to testify at a hearing.  

Should the GOP retake the house in the November midterms, McMorris Rodgers, Thompson, and other Republicans will be better positioned to take action against President Joe Biden’s executive agencies.

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Senate

National 6G Strategy Bill Passes Senate Commerce Committee

The Next Generation Telecommunications Act received bipartisan support.

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Photo of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto by Senate Democrats, via Wikimedia

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2022 – Legislation that would create a council to advise Congress on 6G and other wireless technologies and how they may power smart cities on Tuesday passed the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation committee with bipartisan support.

In addition to advising Congress on the state of technology in the telecommunications industry, the council would also develop a comprehensive, national telecom strategy, which will address topics related to technology, workforce demands and security.

The bill, Next Generation Telecommunications Act, S.3014,was introduced by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., who said in a press release that the legislation is a key part of her state’s goal of being “on the cutting edge of new technologies.

“We’ve got to promote American competitiveness in these kind of cutting-edge technologies that we’re building in Nevada,” Cortze Masto said in a statement on the bill. “That means improving access to quality broadband, ensuring we have the necessary workforce, and putting in safeguards to make sure we protect emerging technologies.”

The council would be comprised of 15 members including the deputy secretary of Commerce, the assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, the undersecretary of the National Institute of Standards, the chairperson of the Federal Communications Commission, and the director of the National Science Foundation.

The council would also feature three members appointed by the majority leader of the Senate, two members appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, three members appointed by the Speaker of the House, and two members appointed by the minority leader of the House.

The bill has received notable bipartisan support: it is co-sponsored by two Republicans and two additional Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ben Luján, D-N.M.

“As China and other countries seek to exploit communications networks for surveillance and intellectual property theft, the U.S. needs a cohesive strategy for the safe deployment of next-generation wireless technologies,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

South Dakota senator and Senate Republican minority whip John Thune also came out in support of the bill. “This bill would allow the United States to continue competing on the global stage, and it would help prepare the United States to lead the way in deploying next-generation technology, including 6G. I’ll continue to work on bipartisan solutions that will increase innovation and bolster the private sector’s ability to compete in this emerging space.”

The bill must now get through a general vote in the Senate, at which point it will need to also pass the House.

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Senate

Gigi Sohn Nomination for FCC Advances Out of Commerce Committee on Party Lines

Nomination of Alvaro Bedoya to the FTC can also advance to the floor following a party-line vote.

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Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

WASHINGTON, March 4, 2022 –  President Joe Biden’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission Gigi Sohn saw her nomination advance out of the Senate Commerce Committee Thursday following a vote split along party lines.

Sohn, as well as Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya, did not receive the vote of a single Republican on the committee while receiving the support of all Democrats including more moderate senators such as Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., allowing for their nominations to advance to a full vote on the Senate floor.

Republican ranking member of the committee Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi stated that on the FCC Sohn would have the appearance of conflicts of interest related to her involvement in past legal battles and cited her past recusals on retransmission consent as problematic.

The controversy is related to Sohn’s involvement with nonprofit streaming service Locast which attempted to make local broadcast network content available to the public for free, sparking copyright lawsuits.

Wicker stated that Bedoya was too divisive and not unifying enough to serve on the FTC, a trend of partisanship that he says is new to the agency.

Strong Democratic support for both nominees makes their confirmations in the Senate seem quite plausible. Should all Republicans vote against the nominations, the approval of all Democratic senators will be required in the deadlocked Senate so that the vice president may break vote ties in the nominees’ favors.

Both the FCC and FTC remain split along party lines, and the confirmations of Sohn and Bedoya would give Democrats the upper hand at the agencies.

The nominations’ advancements out of committee earned praise from telecom industry groups such as think tank New America, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, and intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge – the organization Sohn formerly headed.

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