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

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.

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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.”

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

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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