Democratic lawmakers are promising to fight new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai if he tries to roll back network neutrality rules. Democrats seem to be most concerned that Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai will set his sights on undoing the landmark Open Internet Order that implemented rules promoting net neutrality.
Sen Brian Schatz (D-HI) promised that Chairman Pai would run into a “wall of opposition” from those committed to protecting net neutrality. But he said he's cautiously optimistic that Chairman Pai may seek to find a middle ground. “The Commerce Committee and the FCC have been islands of nonpartisanship over the years and only recently have there been so many party-line votes,” Sen Schatz said. “So perhaps Chairman Pai can get back to a place where the FCC does the work of trying to arrive at compromises. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR) said, “As with many appointments by Mr. Trump, I am concerned that as Chairman, Commissioner Pai will work for policies that benefit special interests and Big Cable, which have sought for years to control access to content on the internet above the interests of the American people. I will hold the FCC accountable to protect consumers and fight any attempt to roll back net neutrality."
In one of his last official acts as commander in chief, President Barack Obama signed a law Jan 20 codifying his Presidential Innovation Fellows Program. The program offers top tech talent opportunities to serve in the executive branch. President Obama created the fellowship in 2012, with the bill enshrining it into law the last he signed as president.
The fellowship was popular among both Republicans and Democrats. The bill, called the Tested Ability to Leverage Exceptional National Talent Act of 2017, sailed through the House and Senate with little opposition. The program’s continuity will likely be a boon for President-elect Donald Trump, who was notably unpopular in Silicon Valley throughout the campaign but has since extended an olive branch to the tech industry.
Here are five of the biggest players to watch on technology:
- Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal, was arguably the sole top Silicon Valley executive to have publicly backed Trump during the campaign. He is also reportedly considering a run for governor in California in 2018, in a race that may pit him against another billionaire, the Democratic environmentalist Tom Steyer.
- Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) will oversee the confirmation process for Trump’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and will likely have a say in who is selected to chair the commission. Some of Thune’s legislative priorities could get more traction under the Trump administration, including sharing government-owned wireless spectrum with the private sector, rewriting the Communications Act and expanding broadband access to rural communities.
- FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is widely seen as Tom Wheeler’s likely successor as chairman of the FCC. As chairman, Pai will get to set the FCC’s agenda and potentially reverse policies imposed under Wheeler, including net neutrality. Pai has already expressed interest in reevaluating the rules as soon as possible.
- House Telecommunications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is an outspoken opponent of the net neutrality rules enshrined in the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
- The Trump transition’s FCC landing team will be in charge of setting the agenda and recommending hires for the new administration when it takes over the agency. The group consists of three scholars from the conservative American Enterprise Institute: Roslyn Layton, Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach, as well as David Morken, the founder of Republic Wireless and Bandwidth.com. Layton, Jamison and Eisenach are all critics of net neutrality and are generally seen as traditional conservatives when it comes to telecommunications policy.
President-elect Donald Trump signaled a willingness to change his stance against the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger, saying in an interview that he has not “seen any of the facts.” "I have been on the record in the past of saying it's too big and we have to keep competition,” he said. “So, but other than that, I haven't, you know, I haven't seen any of the facts, yet. I'm sure that will be presented to me and to the people within government."
In a campaign speech in October, Trump said unequivocally that he would oppose the $85.4 billion deal because it would give more power to the mainstream media. "As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few," he said, adding later, "Deals like this destroy democracy." But now that Trump is set to take office, many in Washington whether he is open to softening his position on the merger.
Lawmakers will have a shortened, but busy week, ahead of President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration. Congress will be moving into its second week of hearings on Trump's Cabinet nominees, with the tech industry keeping a close eye on his Commerce pick, Wilbur Ross.
Ross will appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on Jan 18, following the delay of his first scheduled hearing, which was pushed back because he had not submitted ethics paperwork. The investor and former banker could have a big impact on tech issues. The Commerce Department is responsible for the National Telecom and Information Administration, the Patent Office, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology -- agencies that closely oversee the tech industry. Ross can expect to field questions about the Privacy Shield, the U.S. legal framework with the EU that allows companies to move data across the Atlantic.
President Barack Obama and Democrats are making a last-ditch try to get Jessica Rosenworcel back on the Federal Communications Commission. President Obama renominated Rosenworcel for a five-year term. Rosenworcel, a former FCC commissioner, failed to be reconfirmed at the end of the 2016 legislative session, after a two-year fight over her nomination. Rosenworcel failed to get a vote, despite efforts from lawmakers to try and cut a deal and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's offer to step down in exchange. Wheeler is still stepping down when President-elect Donald Trump is sworn into office. Control of the FCC will swing to Republicans, but two of the five commissioners must be Democrats. That has Dems hopeful that Rosenworcel can return, but its unclear if anything will be different this time around. Republicans will likely be reluctant to work out a deal on Rosenworcel with Trump slated to take office in two weeks. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) has said that while he respects her work, he'll wait on confirmations until Trump is in the White House.
Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will be the new chair of the House Communications Subcommittee. Rep Blackburn is replacing Rep Greg Walden (R-OR), who left the post after being elected by House Republicans to chair the full Energy and Commerce Committee in December.
“It is an honor to have been chosen to serve as the Chairman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee," Rep Blackburn said. "I look forward to working with Chairman Greg Walden and my great colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee.” “We’ve got a lot of work to do this Congress when it comes to fixing our broken health care system, advancing solutions that empower consumers and small businesses, and valuing low-cost, transformative energy solutions,” Chairman Walden said. “It will be an all hands on deck effort, and I’m confident that the team we’ve assembled will put forth the hard work needed to get the job done.” Rep Blackburn was previously the vice chairwoman of the committee, a post that is now being filled by Rep Joe Barton (R-TX).
Civil libertarians are blasting new rules from House Republicans that would impose fines on lawmakers who take pictures or live-stream video on the House floor. The fines are intended to prevent a repeat of protests like the sit-in by House Democrats in 2016 calling for gun control legislation after the mass shooting in an Orlando (FL) nightclub. Democratic Reps broadcast their sit-in on social media, including Periscope and Twitter, after GOP leadership cut the camera feed that was being aired by C-SPAN.
Democratic Reps in the House Judiciary Committee released a letter by a group of law professors denouncing the fines, which they believe pose “significant constitutional and policy problems.” “If adopted, the new provisions would undermine core constitutional protections under Article I of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights,” wrote the group, which included Laurence Tribe of Harvard University and scholar Norman Ornstein.
Sen Bernie Sanders (I-VT) supporters tore into the Democratic National Committee (DNC) on social media after a leaked e-mail appeared to show a DNC official plotting to question Sanders's religion. The e-mail, written by Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall and leaked by the DNC hacker Guccifer 2.0 to WikiLeaks, suggests sending a surrogate to ask an unnamed candidate whether that candidate believed in God. The e-mail does not name the Vermont senator, but it talks about a man of “Jewish heritage” Marshall believes to be an atheist. It makes reference to voters in Kentucky and West Virginia, two states that were weeks away from a Democratic primary at the time.
"It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist,” said the e-mail, to other party officials in its entirety. Marshall did not respond to a request for comment. But he did say, “I do not recall this. I can say it would not have been Sanders. It would probably be about a surrogate.”