WASHINGTON, August 6, 2019 — The United States should be cautious about including language similar to the Communication Decency Act’s Section 230 in trade agreements, wrote two members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
Article 19.17 of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement contains language mirroring that of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from some of the liability for content posted to the platforms by third-party users.
As big tech has increasingly come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans, these protections have been called into question.
Many Republican politicians, especially Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., have been extremely vocal in claiming that social media actively censors conservative voices and that this alleged censorship is cause to eliminate Section 230. Although these accusations lack evidence, they have gained significant traction among many prominent conservatives.
Facebook’s failure to take down a deceptively edited video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rise of online violent extremism have spurred Democrats to call for changes Section 230 as well.
Without taking a position on the debate over the statue, Chairman Frank Pallone, D-NJ, and Ranking Member Greg Walden, R-Ore., wrote that they “[found] it inappropriate for the United States to export language mirroring Section 230 while such serious policy discussions are ongoing.”
“Given that our committee closely oversees Section 230 and all portions of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we also hope in the future the Office of the United States Trade Representative will consult our Committee in advance of negotiating on these issues,” the representatives added.
In spite of the pushback against Section 230, the statute still has strong support from both sides of the aisle—including from its Republican co-author, former Rep. Chris Cox, who wrote in an essay on Wednesday that similar language was an important component of USMCA.
“For the U.S., there is much to be gained by routinely including provisions that protect internet freedom in its trade agreements,” Cox wrote. “Doing so will help maintain the competitive conditions in the global services market that have enabled U.S. commerce in services to thrive. For Americans who use the internet, promoting global norms proscribing censorship and surveillance of online speech and content creation will protect their privacy.”
(Picture of Rep. Frank Pallone by New America, used with permission.)
Telecom, Online Marketplace Consumer Protection Bills Pass House Committee
Among the bills sent to the House, the committee passed two on telecom and one on consumer safety.
WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed several bills Wednesday, including two on telecom policy and one meant to address consumer safety when using online retailers.
H.R. 1218, the “Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act,” H.R. 2501, the “Spectrum Coordination Act,” and H.R. 5502, the “Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act” were all passed unopposed and without amendments.
H.R. 1218 is a bill intended to target broadband resources to areas where “telehealth may be useful in the monitoring and care of pregnant women,” bill co-sponsor Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, said during the hearing, adding “it is a moral imperative to address the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.” The bill’s other sponsors are Reps. Lisa Rochester, D-Delaware, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida.
“To effectively deploy 21st Century resources to address the shocking rates of maternal mortality, the nation must first identify which communities lack adequate Internet access and have high maternal mortality rates. That is exactly what this bill seeks to do,” said Rochester.
H.R. 2501, which is sponsored by Bilirakis, requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – an agency of the Commerce Department – and the Federal Communications Commission to update the memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination, to ensure that spectrum is shared efficiently, and that a process is created to better resolve frequency allocation disputes.
H.R. 5502, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, takes aim at online retailers that do not take responsibility for the products that third-party groups sell on their marketplace. Legislators supporting this legislation asserted that this has allowed bad actors to sell unsafe, counterfeit, or otherwise fraudulent goods on common marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.
“What we’re saying now is very simply that online marketplaces will have to verify that the identity of their higher volume sellers, so they have to take some responsibility,” said Schakowsky. “It’s not just about counterfeiters, it’s not just about defrauding – we are talking about danger every year around this time.”
“This legislation is really going to help the consumers and legitimate businesses that are selling products and becoming victims themselves.”
Amazon has been on the wrong end of state court rulings recently that have made it liable for defective products. Experts on a Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in May remarked that this could open the floodgates for these types of lawsuits, a contrast to when Section 230 liability protections for platforms have historically been used as strong defenses for these platforms.
Now that these bills have passed their committee, they will be sent to the House to be considered. Should they successfully be passed in the House, they will be sent to the Senate and undergo a similar procedure; if the bills are successfully passed in both the House and Senate, they will then be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he can decide whether to sign them into law.
House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member
March 18, 2021 – House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington, said Wednesday that the committee was among the most bipartisan on issues including telecom.
Rodgers, who was speaking at the Internet Innovation Alliance with co-chair Bruce Mehlman, said that her Republican colleagues have put forth 28 solutions that would remove regulatory barriers and streamline broadband processes yet demonstrate funding is being spent wisely. She called on the government to ensure cost-effective ways to spend federal dollars.
She said the committee’s priority must be on accurate broadband mapping. That requires funding for more granular data. She also argued for national security against China, including on solar and wind energy products.
Rodgers also said she was excited about low-earth orbit satellites and the potential future they bring in connecting parts of the country with internet that have been “economically unfeasible in the past.”
Asked of her thoughts on virtual learning from home, especially how her 14-year old son with down syndrome is faring, Rodgers said she was completely in favor of reopening schools safely because not all parents have the means to provide optimal learning spaces at home.
Calling herself a working mother who could afford to provide an assistant to help her son through his school day, Rodgers said it was not the best way to learn when compared to in-person schooling.
This came after she said the country has the best networks and “some of the fastest speeds at the lowest prices in the world for internet service.”
Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting
January 28, 2021—During the first organizational meeting of the House Commerce Committee of the 117th Congress, Chairman Frank Pallone of New Jersey welcomed the newest members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The bulk of the Committee’s first meeting was dedicated to discussing best practices to reduce healthcare and prescription drug costs, rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, and combat climate change.
Members further discussed rebuilding and restoring the essential functions of key agencies. Strengthening the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency were deemed essential. Members considered the waning of the two agencies to be at “the very heart” of creating some of the nation’s most pressing current legislative and policy issues.
Members also approved governing procedures and announce subcommittee chairs, ranking members, and other subcommittee assignments.
Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington is the new ranking member, and the first woman in that role for the committee.
Pallone further announced Democratic members joining the Committee, including Rep. Kathleen Rice of New York, known for her interest in climate change and infrastructure. Rep. Angie Craig, of Minnesota, was touted for work on the Affordable Care Act. Rep. Kim Schrier of Washington was recognized for her work as a pediatrician.
Rep. Lori Trahan of Massachusetts has an interested in the opioid pandemic and the environment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Texas is focused on first responders and firefighting foams.
Pallone addressed members of the committee in the 117th Congress
Pallone thanked members and reiterated the need to enact policies to combat COVID-19 through vaccine distribution. He criticized former President Donald Trump for lacking effective implementation strategies to vaccinate more Americans sooner.
He said policies were needed that “provide critical assistance to struggling families, rebuild our economy, and bring an end to the pandemic, so people can begin to safely return to regular practice of life.”
Pallone praised President Joe Biden’s executive orders on vaccine distribution, expanded access to testing, and utilization of the Defense Production Act, which allows continued access to medical supplies and personal protective equipment for testing and vaccination.
The committee also took time to celebrate its own 225th birthday, which occurred last month. It is the oldest committee in the House.
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