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Senate Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Tech Giants on Controversial Content, Also Advances Supreme Court Nominee

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Screenshot from the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting

October 23, 2020 — Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee boycotted Thursday’s executive meeting, during which the committee, led by a Republican majority, advanced Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Additionally, the committee voted to authorize subpoenas relating to the Online Content Policy Modernization Act of Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Both Barrett’s nomination and Graham’s subpoena requests were met favorably by present members of the committee, receiving votes of 12-0.

The committee’s moves today advance Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination out of the committee and to the Senate floor for final voting. Graham called it a momentous day for conservative women and a groundbreaking, historic moment for the American legal and political community.

The legislators also approved subpoena requests for Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, relating to the the Online Content Modernization Act. “There is a lot of interest on the Democratic side for these subpoenas,” said Graham, “hopefully this will give us some leverage to secure their testimonies.”

Graham’s bill has been met with much criticism. So has the nomination of Barrett.

Many have called Graham’s Online Content Policy Modernization Act a threat to the open internet. It would rewrite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That would remove technology platforms’ immunity for the publication of objectionable third party content on their sites.

Instead, the act would insert a limited list of what kinds of content could be moderated without accountability, potentially making it harder for online platforms to take common-sense moderation measures like removing spam or correcting disinformation.

For the nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has been criticized for trying to push through an appointment before Election Day on November 3. Furthermore, many remember the Republican Party’s united front four years ago in blocking a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill an election-year vacancy on the high court.

While Democrats continue to criticize the recent Republican move, apparent by today’s boycott, Republican members present claimed that the Democrats set the precedent, by ushering in an era of judicial filibusters.

“The era of mutual respect ended in 1987,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-Utah, “when the Democratic Senate defeated the nomination of Judge Robert Bork.”

Chairman Graham noted that Democrats “changed the rules in 2013 when they utilized the filibuster for Justice Neil Gorsuch.” Graham said that the move set in motion patterns he has worried about for a long time.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Infrastructure

Alan Davidson’s NTIA Nomination Clears Commerce Committee, On to Senate Floor

The committee did not raise Gigi Sohn’s nomination during its meeting.

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WASHINGTON, December 15, 2021 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association Alan Davidson.

Davidson’s nomination will now be brought up for a confirmation vote before the entire Senate.

The committee approved Davidson, a former public policy director at Google, by voice vote. Republican Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., were the only senators to express reservations with Davidson.

Telecom trade associations reacted favorably to Wednesday’s committee vote.

The NCTA said Davidson’s role at the NTIA would be “critically important” to broadband funding and implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in unserved and underserved communities.

Utilities Technology Council President and CEO Sheryl Osiene-Riggs lauded Davidson’s “diverse background in public service and the private sector,” and US Telecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter called Wednesday’s developments “super important.”

Consideration of Gigi Sohn’s nomination to the Federal Communications Commission was not on the Commerce Committee’s agenda Wednesday. She faced opposition in the Senate in part due to her ties to the since-shuttered streaming service Locast.

Additionally on Wednesday, the committee voted on a bipartisan basis to advance the Securing Semiconductor Supply Chains Act of 2021 amid ongoing supply chain delays in the shipping of semiconductor chips.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., would direct Commerce Department trade promotion agency SelectUSA to increase collaboration with state economic development organizations to attract foreign direct investment in the semiconductor industry.

Additionally, a group of eight former NTIA administrators on Wednesday asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to quickly hold a vote so that the full Senate can quickly approve Davidson as the agency’s next leader.

The group:

  1. David Redl (NTIA Administrator 2017 – 2019)
  2. Lawrence E. Strickling (NTIA Administrator 2009 – 2017)
  3. Meredith Attwell Baker (Acting NTIA Administrator 2007 – 2008)
  4. John Kneuer (NTIA Administrator 2006 – 2007)
  5. Michael Gallagher (NTIA Administrator 2003 – 2006)
  6. Nancy Victory (NTIA Administrator 2001 – 2003)
  7. Greg Rohde (NTIA Administrator 1999 – 2001)
  8. Larry Irving (NTIA Administrator 1993 – 1999)

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FCC

Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.

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Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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Digital Inclusion

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act

Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.

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Patty Murray, D-Washington

June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.

The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”

The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.

Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.

In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a  $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”

Infrastructure portion

A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.

During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.

When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”

The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.

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