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Agency Heads Appear Before Congress to Tackle Privacy Issues

WASHINGTON July 18, 2011- Two congressional subcommittees called on the heads of several government agencies late last week to inquire how each addresses Internet privacy issues.

The panel, assembled by the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology included the heads of the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

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WASHINGTON July 18, 2011- Two congressional subcommittees called on the heads of several government agencies late last week to inquire how each addresses Internet privacy issues.

The panel, assembled by the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology included the heads of the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“The explosive growth of technology has made it possible to collect information about consumers in increasingly sophisticated ways. Sometimes the collection and use of this information is extremely beneficial; other times, it’s not,” said Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA)

“Frankly, I am somewhat skeptical right now of both industry and government. I don’t believe industry has proven that it’s doing enough to protect American consumers, while government, unfortunately, tends to overreach whenever it comes to new regulations.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski warned that if consumers are not able to trust the websites and services they use on the Internet then the true potential of high speed broadband can never be actualized.

“As the National Broadband Plan found, privacy concerns are a barrier to broadband adoption,” Genachowski said. “When people fear that new technology puts their privacy at risk, they’re less likely to use those new technologies. In general in this area, we need to strike a healthy balance – ensuring that private information is protected, and at the same time ensuring a climate that encourages new investment and new innovations that will create jobs and improve our quality of life.”

Genachowski went onto explain how the FCC approaches privacy in three main ways, consumer control and choice; business transparency about privacy practices, and data security.

To ensure consumer control and choice the FCC conducts a number of different educational programs in conjunction with the FTC, the Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Administration (SBA).

Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) called for a new Privacy Bill of Rights to protect children’s privacy rights.

NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling supported the idea of a Privacy Bill of Rights but wanted the protections to be extended to all citizens, not just children. The Obama administration asked Congress in March to develop a “Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights” but no bill was created.

“We urged Congress to consider legislation that would establish these rights and obligations; to create incentives for the private sector to develop legally enforceable, industry-specific codes of conduct that can address emerging privacy issues while providing companies some assurance that they are in compliance with the law; and to grant the FTC sufficient authority to enforce the law,” Strickling said.

Strickling suggested that the FTC be given additional enforcement authority under the privacy bill of rights to protect consumers.

FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez presented a new framework for dealing with privacy issues, “companies should adopt a “privacy by design” approach by building privacy protections into their everyday business practices.  Such protections include providing reasonable security for consumer data, collecting only the data needed for a specific business purpose, retaining data only as long as necessary to fulfill that purpose, safely disposing of data no longer in use, and implementing reasonable procedures to promote data accuracy.”

Ramirez also endorsed the implementation of a Do Not Track list which would be a universal list that consumers could join to permanently op out of being tracked by websites and services.

 

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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