WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced plans to invoke a rarely-used Senate procedure to force a floor vote on a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic.
“Today we are officially filing the discharge petition to force a vote on my Congressional Review Act resolution that would put strong net neutrality rules back on the books,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said as he kicked off a Wednesday morning news conference. “The CRA resolution would fully restore the rules that ensure Americans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower internet traffic, and even blocked websites because the big internet service providers want to pump up their profits.”
“We’re here today because Democrats in the Senate are taking the final step to consideration of a bill to restore net neutrality,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re now one step away from allowing the American public to see where their elected officials stand on protecting their internet service.”
Markey’s bill would restore previous network neutrality rules
The bill in question is S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval, which makes use of procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back FCC rules in effect since April which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).
The regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.
A rare opportunity for Democrats to hit back for the little guy
Schumer cast Markey’s bill as part of a broader response to how under Trump administration congressional Republicans frequently enact the priorities of big business into law at the expense of “average folks.”
“When the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December, they handed the largest internet service providers all the cards, and left American families and small businesses helpless before these providers,” he said. “That’s why we Democrats are so concerned about net neutrality.”
“Our Republican friends say ‘let the free market prevail, let the big boys do whatever they want,’” he continued. “We don’t do that for highways, you can’t charge different toll rates for different people. We don’t do that for utilities. In the 21st century, the internet is every bit as important to average folks as highways and utilities have been through the 20th century, and we’ve learned through the years that average folks need some protection from the big boys.”
What Schumer called the “final step” is the filing of a discharge petition, which when signed by 50 senators, invokes a rarely-used parliamentary procedure to force a bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. The maneuver is necessary because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not indicated any interest in bringing the resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.
Democrats are using one of the GOP’s favorite laws against it
Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC.
Such bills are joint resolutions, which require the president’s signature to become law. But unlike most bills, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.
One of these CRA resolutions is unlike the others
But while Democrats have complained that those resolutions lifted restraints on business, Markey said his use of the CRA will do the opposite.
“Passing this resolution will “send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies, but rather, will do right by the people who sent us here,” he said, adding that he was “pleased” that his bill has bipartisan support thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.
Although there are only 49 Democrats in the Senate currently, the addition Collins gives Democrats enough signatures to force McConnell to hold a floor vote on Markey’s resolution.
Markey hopes pressure from constituents will convince one more Republican to vote ‘yes’
As for the 51st vote that would allow the bill to pass the Senate, Markey said a number of other Republicans had “expressed an openness” to voting for it, and that they might be swayed by constituent calls supporting the bill.
It’s likely that those senators will receive a number of those calls thanks to an online advocacy campaign including many popular websites, which are showing their users ads urging them to call their elected representatives in support of Markey’s bill.
But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the choice of whether to support Markey’s bill or not “is not at all complicated.”
“if you want a free and open internet, which means that after you pay your internet access fee, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want, you have to support the Markey measure,” said Wyden, a longtime advocate of network neutrality protections.
The alternative envisioned by FCC Chairman Pai, Wyden said, “[puts] the big communications monopolies in charge rather than the consumers.”
“What he’s about is building an info era aristocracy where the well-to-do get faster speeds…and the average person is on the road to digital serfdom,” he added, urging internet users to employ the same tactics used in the campaign to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2011 and 2012.
Even if Democrats get a 51st vote for the bill, its prospects in the House are uncertain
While Markey noted that Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. has introduced a companion bill in the House, H.J.Res. 129, that bill remains a long-shot despite having 160 co-sponsors, as it lacks Republican support.
When asked about whether there’d been much outreach to House Republicans by the bill’s Senate supporters, a source within Senate Democratic leadership said there hadn’t been much in the way of inter-chamber outreach at this point.
“[The] first step is [the] Senate, where we’re still fighting to get 51,” said the source.
Even if Markey and Schumer’s gambit fails, however, there is still hope for advocates of the old rules, in the form of a federal lawsuit filed against the FCC by a number of public interest groups in hopes that a court will order Pai and his colleagues to return to enforcing common carrier regulations on broadband providers.
(Photo: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reads from a statement as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., look on. Image captured from video at https://www.facebook.com/EdJMarkey/videos/10155722134966379/)
Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed
Two information technology industry groups are trying to stall implementation of Texas’ social media law.
September 30, 2022 – Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday petitioned the Fifth Circuit of Appeals to delay the implementation of a Texas law that limits social media companies’ ability to moderate content on their platforms.
The Texas law – H.B. 20 – would limit the ability of large social media companies to remove user speech from their platforms based on viewpoint. Supporters of the law say it will prevent platforms such as Twitter from discriminating against conservative political speech.
H.B. 20 was initially blocked by a federal judge last year, but the Fifth Circuit upheld the bill earlier this month. The plaintiffs say they will soon file a petition for a writ of certiorari at the Supreme Court. Thursday’s motion attempts to prevent H.B. 20 from taking effect before the High Court weigh ins.
“There is no question that a law that defies over two centuries of First Amendment protections warrants further federal court review,” said a statement from CCIA President Matt Schruers.
“If states like Texas are allowed to issue must-carry mandates, internet users can expect a torrent of dangerous content and misinformation, just as we head into an election season. Given the implications for the First Amendment and democratic institutions, we are asking the court to block this statute from taking effect until its constitutional problems have been heard.”
Alabama invests in middle-mile infrastructure
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday a $82.45 million grant to Fiber Utility Network, a conglomerate of eight rural electric cooperatives.
The grant will fund a middle-mile network that is expected to connect nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure within three years. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Alabama Digital Expansion Division will administer the grant, the funds for which came from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“Achieving full broadband coverage is a journey, not a short trip, and today is an important step toward completing that journey. The Alabama Middle-Mile project – the infrastructure setting part of this journey – is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Ivey.
“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality.”
“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” said Tom Stackhouse, president of the Fiber Utility Network. “We want to thank Governor Ivey and the staff at ADECA for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”
Public Knowledge honors IP3 awardees, for Internet Protocol, Information Policy and Intellectual Property
Public Knowledge hosted the 19th annual IP3 Awards ceremony Thursday, honoring leading voices in technology and tech policy.
Public Knowledge presented the “Internet Protocol Award” to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Rural Broadband Taskforce, for his work promoting affordable broadband access. Notably, his work advanced the broadband-funding provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, received the “Information Policy Award” for her work promoting free expression online.
Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, received the “Intellectual Property Award.” He works extensively on copyright and library-related legal issues.
Courtney developed the Copyright First Responders program to “help advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright.”
Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds
Legislation introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband funding from being taxed.
September 29, 2022 – A bill introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband money from being taxed.
The Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code so that funding for broadband from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act won’t be considered taxable income.
“Grants awarded to industry for the purposes of broadband deployment are currently factored into a company’s income and will soon be subjected to additional taxes due to scheduled changes to the corporate tax code that kick in beginning next year – unless Congress acts now to address the problem,” a press release said.
Warner said in a press release that if these investments were taxed, the outcome would be counterproductive and would cause companies to not ask for grants if they knew they’d be receiving a higher tax upon receiving grants, adding it could “ultimately diminish efforts to give Americans access to high-speed internet.”
“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Warner and Moran for their efforts to eliminate the tax on broadband grants. With an eye toward 100 percent connectivity, Congress made a historic investment in the broadband grant program in 2021,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry trade group USTelecom, said in a statement.
“However, requiring grant recipients to return as much as 20 percent of those grants in the form of taxes jeopardizes our shared goal of universal connectivity. It is vital that Congress move to eliminate this tax, as America’s broadband providers carefully plan and prepare to allocate resources to connect as many Americans as possible.”
Doreen Bogdan-Martin first female elected to lead ITU
American Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union Thursday, becoming the first female to take the lead role of the United Nations’ telecommunications regulator.
Bogdan-Martin, who will lead the ITU for the next four years, secured 139 votes to 25 for Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov in votes Thursday at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania.
“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution. Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues,” Bogdan-Martin said in a statement.
The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.
“[Bogdan-Martin will be a tremendous leader for the [ITU],” Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said on Twitter. “We support her vision of open, free, secure and inclusive communications networks, available to all,”
In a statement, Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said, “We applaud the election of an expert veteran to lead the ITU, and support global efforts in maintaining internet freedoms that promote access to information and democracy.
“The ITU plays an important role in facilitating international connectivity in communications networks, and we look forward to working with ITU leadership to carry out the organization’s important mission.”
Last week, President Joe Biden announced his support for the American as a candidate for the position.
Google Fiber tests at 20 Gbps, will announce multi-gig service tiers
Google Fiber said in a blog post Tuesday that it will have announcements about upcoming multi-gigabit service tiers, after its fiber product hit download speeds of 20.2 gigabits per second in a home test in Kansas City.
The company said in the post that the new test is part of its move toward “dramatically” expanded multi-gigabit tiers of service, and an overall goal of hitting the 100 Gigabits per second download and upload milestone.
“We believe that many, if not most, communities across America will ultimately have at least two, if not three, fiber providers and an incumbent coax provider. We see it in communities we plan to build in, and expect investment in the industry to continue,” the post said.
“This means that a fiber network alone will no longer be the differentiating factor it once was for internet providers,” it added. “The unique selling points will be how that network is built to deliver symmetrical multi-gig speed at accessible pricing — all with a focus on enabling service that takes advantage of that speed not just to the home but in the home, as well.”
Google Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
NTIA Updates Website, New Head of FCC’s Native Affairs Office, Study Criticizes FTC Regulatory Reach
Updates to the Commerce agency’s website includes access to information about other federal broadband programs.
September 28, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released an update to its Federal Funding website last week.
Advertised by the NTIA as a “one-stop-shop” for federal broadband-funding resources, the new site provides “funding opportunities and information on more than 80 federal programs across 14 federal agencies.”
“The [NTIA] has been working to expand access and increase connectivity across the U.S. through the Internet for All effort by increasing awareness of federal funding available for closing the digital divide,” the NTIA’s announcement said.
To navigate various funding and program types, the new site allows potential grant applicants to search by agency, eligible recipient–type, and “program purpose.” The NTIA’s announcement says the new site now includes fields for “Matching Requirements,” “Speed/Technical Requirement for Broadband Infrastructure,” and more.
“Notably, the site features many new programs, including those that were funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law including the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD), Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure, and Digital Equity Act programs,” it says.
New chief of FCC’s native affairs office
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday that Denise Bambi Kraus will be the next chief of the agency’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
The FCC’s announcement laid out four primary objectives for Kraus’s tenure at ONAP: Inclusion of tribal communities in the agency’s mapping initiative, tribal engagement in the E-rate program, promotion of the Affordable Connectivity Program in tribal communities, and “work[ing] to develop a framework for long term telecommunications infrastructure sustainability.”
Kraus is of Tlingit heritage and was the National Tribal Affairs advisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before being tapped to be ONAP’s chief.
“I am thrilled Bambi is joining us. Her wealth of experience will be an asset as we advance the agency’s work to ensure modern communications reaches us all, including Native communities,” Rosenworcel said.
Phoenix Center study argues the FTC is overextending itself
A new study from the Phoenix Center argues that Federal Trade Commission’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on “commercial service and data security” is overly broad, economically detrimental, and potentially in conflict with existing law.
According to the study, the ANPR – which contains 95 questions and was released for public comment in August – covers a wide range of topics but fails to account for many “factual complexities” native to those topics. In addition, the study says the ANPR suggests the introduction of a heavily regulatory burden that may be unmanageable for small companies.
The study also says the ANPR suggests regulations that, by considering issues outside of the “deceptive acts and practices as proscribed by the [Federal Trade Commission] Act,” exceed the agency’s statutory authority.
Finally, the study argues that the rules which may result from the ANPR would likely be vulnerable to legal challenge. Cited is Supreme Court’s recent decision in West Virginia v. EPA, in which the majority invoked the “major questions doctrine.” The major questions doctrine is the legal theory that administrative agencies cannot take it upon themselves to regulate on major policy questions absent a clear statutory mandate.
- Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed
- State Broadband Maps Show Significantly Fewer Served Locations than Does FCC’s Map
- As LEO Industry Grows, FCC Adopts Rule to Limit Space Debris
- Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds
- Public–Private Partnership Model ‘Most Effective Way’ to Address Digital Divide: AT&T Rep
- In Video Session, Christopher Mitchell Digs Into Community Ownership and Open Access Networks
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