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House of Representatives

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.

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Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois

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.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Broadband's Impact

House Commerce Committee Aligned on Telecom, Mapping and Supply Chain Security, Says Ranking Member

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Photo from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers' website

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.”

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House of Representatives

Emphasis on Combating COVID-19 and Rebuilding Infrastructure at First Energy and Commerce Meeting

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Photo of Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, by Bonnie Cash used with permission

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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Broadband Mapping

At INCOMPAS, Top House Democrats Say Republicans’ COVID-19 Broadband Response Inadequate

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Screenshot of Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Penn., at the INCOMPAS conference

September 15, 2020 – The lack of access to broadband is still a widespread issue across the country, especially in rural areas, two top House Democrats said Tuesday at the INCOMPAS virtual show ConnectIn.

“The failures of this administration are forcing people to put their health and their family’s health at risk,” said Pennsylvanian Mike Doyle, Chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

“We can’t rely on corporate promises or donations—we need Congress to act” on funding for broadband to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. The billions of dollars of funding for students, families, and those hit by the pandemic have been insufficient for the moment, he said.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of South Carolina highlighted the certainty that broadband will be a top priority of the 117th Congress next year.

Broadband “will absolutely be a top priority next year, said Clyburn. “Anything we do this year will be insufficient.”

Screenshot of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., at the INCOMPAS conference

Clyburn also advocated for broadband to be viewed as a utility. Last year when Clyburn formed the Rural Broadband Taskforce, his goal was to get broadband to be “classified as an infrastructure issue.”

“We call the internet the information highway. So, let’s treat it like we treat the interstate highways—a necessary entity to get us where we want to be.”

He argued that getting the internet in every home was the key to getting healthcare and online learning to rural communities: “Without the broadband we cannot have telehealth. we cannot have online learning. If you aren’t connected, you aren’t going to get educated.”

Democrats’ funding proposals for broadband don’t get traction with the Republican-controlled chamber

Doyle explained that since the start of the pandemic, the government has spent $2 billion in online learning and $1 billion to expand broadband for those with low income.

The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, put $5 billion toward remote learning and $9 billion toward emergency connectivity for low income and recently unemployed Americans. The measure passed the Democratic-controlled House 208-199 in May. It languishes in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Doyle asserted that the $100 billion Moving Forward Act, the Democrat’s pre-pandemic infrastructure measure H.R. 2, was the country’s most significant proposal to close the digital divide.

Doyle further presented four goals for addressing issues of connectivity in rural areas.

First, policy-makers should make historic investment in broadband, connecting all Americans. Second, lower the cost of broadband. Third, ensure students have the technology that they need. And finally, combat misinformation on the internet.

Clyburn suggested that government efforts keep the home and the economy in mind when designing relief programs. Bringing better-quality broadband to rural areas will greatly improve the economy because by allowing rural business owners to function more efficiently, because rural business owners wouldn’t need to go to the nearest city just to have access to reliable broadband..

Clyburn also highlighted the need for reform of broadband mapping.

In rural areas, he explained, some communities are still set up similarly to how plantations were, with a single large house and other smaller houses surrounding it.

He scolded broadband mappers for deeming the area “covered” when only a big house had coverage and the little ones did not.

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