Congressional Republicans are moving against the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules. In recent days, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have offered legislation to roll back the Obama-era measures, with bills from Sen Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Both bills aim to kill the rules using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Republicans to block rules with only a simple majority in both chambers.
The FCC's privacy rules were approved under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, in October, and bar internet service providers from collecting "sensitive" consumer data like browsing information and app usage data without their customers' express consent. But Congress has only 60 legislative days after the regulations were approved to roll them back using the CRA. That timeline means Sen Flake and Chairman Blackburn have until mid-May to get their measures through Congress. So far, things are moving in the right direction for opponents of the privacy rules.
Federal Communications Chairman Chairman Ajit Pai said his agency is investigating an issue that left some AT&T customers unable to call 911. Both Chairman Pai and AT&T tweeted that the problem has since been resolved. “We're receiving reports of widespread AT&T 911 call outages,” Chairman Pai wrote on Twitter just before 10 pm March 8. “@FCC public safety staff are investigating. I'll post more info once available.”
Sens Ed Markey (D-MA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced a bill aimed at cracking down on robocalls from government contractors. The bill, dubbed the Help Americans Never Get Unwanted Phone Calls (HANGUP) Act, would remove loopholes that exempt government contractors and federal debt collectors from robocall regulation, the lawmakers said.
“When Congress passed the [Telephone Consumer Protection Act], the goal was clear: consumers should not be subject to unwanted robocalls and robotexts on their phones,” Sen Markey said. “But recent carveouts by Congress and the FCC allow government contractors to robocall and robotext consumers without their affirmative express consent," he added, referring to the Federal Communications Commission. Sen Lee characterized the legislation as "a check on Congressional entitlement and bureaucratic overreach." "If independent and private businesses are not allowed to harass consumers with unwanted robocalls and texts, government and government contractors should be held to that same standard," Sen Lee said.
Coalition of 171 Public Interest Groups Send Letter to Pai and Senate Leaders To Protect Net Neutrality
A coalition of 171 public interest groups [including the Benton Foundation] sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL) urging them not to dismantle the network neutrality rules from 2015.
“Protecting net neutrality is crucial to ensuring that the internet remains a central driver of economic growth and opportunity, job creation, education, free expression, and civic organizing for everyone,” the letter reads. "In order to promote continued economic, social, and political growth and innovation, it is imperative that the internet remain open and accessible to all people in the future." "We, the undersigned organizations, representing a diverse group of consumer, media, technology, library, arts, civil liberties, and civil rights advocates and content creators, urge you and your colleagues to oppose legislation and regulatory actions that would threaten net neutrality and roll back the important protections put in place by the FCC in 2015, and to continue to enforce the Open Internet Order as it stands."
A coalition of 171 public interest groups sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission and Senate leaders urging them not to dismantle the net neutrality rules from 2015.
The ACLU, the Benton Foundation, Free Press, MoveOn.org, and Public Knowledge were among the groups signing on to the letter favoring the regulations, which prohibit internet service providers from discriminating against traffic to certain sites. “Protecting net neutrality is crucial to ensuring that the internet remains a central driver of economic growth and opportunity, job creation, education, free expression, and civic organizing for everyone,” the letter reads. The message was addressed to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Ranking Member Bill Nelson (D-FL). “In order to promote continued economic, social, and political growth and innovation, it is imperative that the internet remain open and accessible to all people in the future,” the groups wrote.
President Donald Trump met with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. “Chairman Pai had a warm meeting with President Trump this afternoon, in which they reconnected for the first time since Chairman Pai was elevated to head the FCC," an agency spokesman said. "No proceedings pending at the FCC were discussed.” Chairman Pai is set to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on March 8 for an oversight hearing.
President Donald Trump will meet with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on the afternoon of March 6, according to the White House schedule. It appears to be the first time the two will meet since President Trump elevated then-Commissioner Pai to the chairmanship in January. The White House did not immediately respond when asked what the two would discuss at the meeting. Chairman Pai is set to appear before the Senate Commerce Committee on March 8 for an oversight hearing.
The new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission is heading before Congress for the first time since taking over the agency.
Republican Chairman Ajit Pai will testify on March 8 before the Senate Commerce Committee, joined by FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Reilly. While GOP lawmakers are likely to praise Chairman Pai, Democrats will look to put the FCC's new boss on the hot seat. Sure to get attention are Pai's moves to chip away at the Obama administration's landmark net neutrality rules. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) has been one of his most vocal critics and can be expected to hit Chairman Pai with tough questions.
Democrats are also likely to voice their concerns about the makeup of the FCC. The FCC currently has two vacancies for commissioner and its unclear when President Trump will nominate another Republican and Democrat to fill those slots
Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, joined with activists on Capitol Hill to commemorate the anniversary of the agency's landmark network neutrality rules and vowed to fight to defend them. “Now it is time for us to once again roll up our sleeves and fight for the protections embodied in the Open Internet Order, that are designed to ensure that the internet remains an open platform, that enables free speech, freedom of expression and the ability for innovation to flourish,” said Commissioner Clyburn, speaking alongside representatives from civil rights groups and advocates of net neutrality. “For me it can be summed up in this way: How do we ensure that one of most inclusive, enabling, empowering platforms of our time continues to be one where our applications, products, ideas and diverse points of view have the exact same chance of being seen and heard by everyone, regardless of our class, race, economic status or where we live?” Clyburn added.
The top Sens on the Judiciary Committee's antitrust panel are urging the Department of Justice to scrutinize the proposed AT&T-Time Warner merger for the possibility that it leads to anticompetitive practices. The subcommittee's chair, Sen Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ranking Member Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), wrote a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions pointing to aspects of the deal that they find troubling. "The proposed transaction raises complex questions that will require a fact-intensive investigation that has yet to be completed, as well as a deep understanding of the economics of the digital content creation and distribution markets," reads the letter.