Kate Tummarello

Rep Lofgren: No appetite for consumer privacy bill

Rep Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) doesn’t see Congress moving a bill to protect consumer privacy anytime soon.

“We’re not doing that,” Rep Lofgren said.

Earlier in 2014, the Administration renewed previous calls by President Barack Obama for baseline consumer privacy legislation through its report on Big Data. That report -- initiated after the administration faced public backlash over government surveillance practices -- called on the Commerce Department to work with the private sector to develop legislative proposals.

Rep Lofgren said that there is no enthusiasm in Congress for such a bill at the moment. “Do you see any appetite to do that? No,” she said. That appetite might increase based on consumer reactions to evolving, and potentially privacy-threatening, technologies, she acknowledged. “Consumer reaction … will shape what goes on,” she said.

Sen McCaskill eyes measure to combat TV bills

Sen Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is working on legislation to ban misleading and unfair cable and satellite television bills, and she’s looking to consumers for the worst offenders.

Sen McCaskill asked consumers to visit her website and log their complaints if “they have experienced deceptive, or confusing billing practices” from cable and satellite companies.

"Consumers in every corner of the country share common experiences about fending for themselves against confusing, deceptive billing practices by cable, satellite and other pay-TV companies-and I want to hear their stories," Sen McCaskill, chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, said.

Broadcasters defend radio stations’ free music

Broadcasters are defending radio stations’ ability to play music without paying musicians as Congress looks to update the copyright system. The National Association of Broadcasters released a new study arguing that musicians sell more songs when radio stations play those songs.

"This study highlights clearly the enormous value that radio airplay provides in promoting music and generating music sales," NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton said. “Local radio remains the premiere platform for exposing new music and generating sales for record labels."

According to the study -- conducted by Nielsen and commissioned by NAB -- increased radio airplay has “an immediate” impact on a song’s sales and drives on-demand streaming of that song. The study noted to a strong correlation between radio airplay and sales, which is even stronger for country, Latin and Top 40 music.

The study also pointed to a previous Nielsen study, which found that 61 percent of people discover new music through AM/FM radio stations. Currently, AM/FM radio stations do not pay musicians to play their songs over the air, a facet of the current copyright system that some lawmakers are determined to change.

Microsoft exec: US hypocritical on privacy abroad

Microsoft’s top lawyer is warning that US government surveillance could open the door for other countries to try to spy on data stored by tech companies in the US.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith criticized the US government’s attempts to compel American tech companies to hand over data about foreign users stored abroad. He pointed to a US warrant for information about a person in Europe that was being stored at the company’s data center in Ireland.

“If the data is in the US, it’s subject to the reach of US law,” but if the data is stored in a data center in a foreign country, it is subject to that country’s laws, Smith said. If the US goes after data stored abroad, other countries will be emboldened to pursue data stored in the US, he continued.

“If we want to protect the rights of Americans for data that exists in the US, we has a country need to pursue principles” that are agreed to and applied globally, he said. Rather than “deputizing” tech companies to spy on their users for government surveillance, the US should turn to established legal processes, Smith said.

AT&T claims merger is about ‘consumer demand’

AT&T and DirecTV executives will make the case to lawmakers that the proposed $49 billion deal to merge the two companies is necessary to stay competitive.

“This transaction is about meeting consumer demand,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told members of the House Judiciary’s Antitrust subcommittee in his prepared testimony. “It’s about providing consumers with the integrated video and broadband Internet services they want, delivered over any type of device, to nearly anywhere in the country.”

AT&T offers phone and Internet service, but its television offerings do not turn a profit and “cannot meet the needs of enough consumers,” Stephenson claimed, noting that the company’s U-verse service operates in less than one-quarter of the country. And even in those markets, AT&T doesn’t have the “scale” to “to forge strong relationships with programmers and compete effectively against the dominant cable companies,” he said.

DirecTV, which has about 20 million TV subscribers in the US but no Internet service, needs the deal in order to keep up with the changing market, the satellite company’s chief executive Michael White added.

“If we want to compete effectively in today’s Internet-driven marketplace, we must adapt,” he claimed in prepared testimony. That means “integrated bundles” of TV and Internet service, like the deals offered by competitors at Comcast and Time Warner Cable, as well as the ability to offer subscribers chances to watch television online with companies like Netflix.

Compromise struck on cellphone unlocking bill

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have reached a bipartisan deal on legislation that would allow people to “unlock” their cellphones when changing providers.

The bill, which is scheduled for consideration, would allow users to take their mobile device from one wireless network to another, and is backed by Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and ranking member Sen Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“Consumers should be able to use their existing cell phones when they move their service to a new wireless provider,” Sen Leahy said. “Our laws should not prohibit consumers from carrying their cell phones to a new network, and we should promote and protect competition in the wireless marketplace,” he added.

Sen Grassley called the bipartisan compromise “an important step forward in ensuring that there is competition in the industry and in safeguarding options for consumers as they look at new cell phone contracts.” “Empowering people with the freedom to use the carrier of their choice after complying with their original terms of service is the right thing to do,” he said.

House Republicans: FTC should take the lead on net neutrality

Republicans on a House panel want the country’s antitrust regulators, not its telecom regulators, to take the lead on net neutrality.

During a hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law, Republicans questioned the need for net neutrality regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“The Internet has flourished precisely because it is a deregulated market” and should be kept open through “vigorous application of the antitrust laws,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) said.

“As regulatory proceedings continue to stretch on, a question I have is whether there might be a more efficient and more effective way to safeguard against potential discriminatory behavior than federal rulemaking,” Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL) said in his opening statement. “That is where antitrust law comes in.”

He also pushed for evidence that Internet providers are behaving in a way that warrants FCC intervention in the form of net neutrality rules and said the agency should conduct a cost-benefit analysis “before regulating such an important component of our national economy.”

Email privacy bill gets a boost

Tech companies and privacy groups are pushing Congress to move ahead with email privacy reform now that a majority of the House supports a bill that would require law enforcement to obtain a warrant before accessing stored emails.

The Email Privacy Act -- from Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) -- got its 218th cosponsor, meaning a majority of the House now supports the bill, which would reform a 1986 law that allows law enforcement officials to access, without a warrant, emails that have been stored more than 180 days.

The companies and privacy groups that have long lobbied for email privacy reform hailed the milestone. Among others, Google and Digital 4th -- a pro-ECPA reform coalition that includes the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Heritage Foundation and Americans for Tax Reform -- hailed the bill and called for Congressional action.

Lawmakers aim to close the NSA's 'backdoor'

A bipartisan duo in the House is hoping to use a defense funding bill to keep the National Security Agency (NSA) from spying on the Internet. Reps Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) are introducing an amendment to the 2015 Defense Appropriations bill that would keep intelligence agencies from using funds to conduct warrantless and “backdoor” searches of US communications.

The amendment would cut off funding for efforts to build security vulnerabilities, or “backdoors,” into US tech products or services that can be used for surveillance, according to a memo from the lawmakers’ offices. The provision would also prevent agencies from searching communications to or from people in the US without a warrant, according to the memo.

While the authority for those searches is aimed at collecting foreign communications, information about US persons can be swept up if one party is based in the US or if the communication is processed or stored in another country. The defense bill will be considered on the House floor imminently.

Consumer groups back anti-‘fast lane’ bill

Consumer interest and free speech groups are getting behind Democratic legislation to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) block agreements to speed up some users’ Internet speeds.

The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act from Sen Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA) “sends a clear signal” to the FCC, according to Public Knowledge vice president Chris Lewis.

“As the FCC continues to evaluate new net neutrality rules, it's important they understand that Americans want an Internet that everyone can succeed in, not just the companies with enough money to pay a toll to [Internet service providers]," he added.

The head of the American Library Association, which has previously supported the network neutrality concept of equal treatment for all online traffic, said the Democrats’ bill was "vitally important" to preserving free speech and education online. "It is critical for all to have equitable access to the Internet to support our nation’s social, cultural, educational and economic well-being," Barbara Stripling said.