Kate Tummarello

Senators unveil bill to address 'massive and growing' threat

Private companies would have an easier time sharing information about cyber threats under a new bill from Senate Intelligence Committee leaders that is set to move forward.

Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) unveiled a bill that would incentivize companies to share information about cyber threats with each other and the government. The bill “responds to the massive and growing threat to national and economic security from cyber intrusion and attack, and seeks to improve the security of public and private computer networks by increasing awareness of threats and defenses,” according to a release from Feinstein’s office.

According to the release, the bill removes legal obstacles and provides liability protections for companies that want to share information about cyber threats. The bill also directs the federal government to share information about cyber threats with private companies “at the classified and unclassified levels.” The bill includes measures aimed at protecting privacy as companies share information with each other and the government.

House Republicans urge FCC to 'defer' to states

House Republicans are warning Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to tread carefully as he tries to open up local governments to more broadband competition.

Their letter, led by House Commerce Vice Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep Bill Johnson (R-OH), comes after Chairman Wheeler’s repeated pledges to make the market for Internet access more competitive by creating opportunities for community broadband projects, currently restricted by state laws.

“Inserting the Commission into the states’ economic and fiscal affairs as you have suggested ... violates state sovereignty in a manner that warrants deeper examination,” said the 60 House Republicans who signed the missive.

In their letter, the group of House Republicans urged Wheeler to defer to state governments, which “understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington.”

Lawmakers eye Facebook’s new ad practices

Privacy-minded lawmakers are pledging to monitor Facebook’s new advertising system, which will involve tracking users across other websites and apps to better target advertising.

Facebook announced that it would begin targeting advertisements to users based on the websites they visit and apps that they use. In a blog post, the company explained that users can opt out of the web browser-based tracking through an online ad industry program and can also opt out of the app-based tracking through their smartphones’ privacy controls.

“Facebook’s announcement today to track users as young as 13 outside its website in order to gather information for targeted advertising raises a major privacy red flag,” Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) said, touting his own bill to prevent online tracking of teenagers. “It doesn’t matter where teen users are online, Facebook will create detailed digital dossiers without their permission based on what they click,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to put rules on the books to ensure teens are protected from being tracked.”

Tech company, free speech groups to protect websites under attack

Online security company CloudFlare and free speech organizations are teaming up to protect “politically and artistically important” websites from attacks.

Through an initiative -- named Project Galileo -- CloudFlare will provide its tools to protect against Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks to websites facing free speech threats.

“Bullies should not be able to knock sites offline simply because they disagree with their content,” CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince said. CloudFlare will provide its security tools to threatened websites identified by the 15 free speech organizations that are a part of Project Galileo, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology and Access, the company said in its release announcing the initiative.

Senate Dems to FCC: Go easy on broadcasters

A group of Senate Democrats is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to show leniency to broadcasters that have resource sharing agreements, which are now banned.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the lawmakers said they worry the result of the agency’s new rules “will be less competition since certain broadcasters may be forced to cease operations, which would harm not only the broadcasters themselves but also the viewers they serve.”

Sens Charles Schumer (D-NY), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bob Casey Jr (D-PA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) signed the letter. With their request, the Senate Democrats join Republicans and broadcasters in expressing concern that the FCC’s recent actions to curb collusion between broadcasters will unfairly hurt the companies and their viewers.

Rep Walden: No hearings for Comcast, AT&T mergers

Despite calls from Democrats, the top House Republican on telecom issues isn’t planning to hold hearings on the proposed multi-billion dollar deals to combine giants in the telecom industry.

“It’s not really our intent to hold individual hearings on every merger,” Rep Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, said. “You’ve got these agencies that have the ability to do an independent look,” including the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Justice, he said.

Democrats on the committee called on Rep Walden and the Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) to hold hearings on the recently-announced $45 billion deal to combine Comcast and Time Warner Cable as well as the $49 billion deal to merge AT&T and DirecTV. Rep Walden said he receives these requests regularly, but his subcommittee is “trying to focus on the bigger policy issues.”

Rep Walden noted that other committees, including the House Judiciary Committee, are holding hearings on the proposed mergers. He said he does have concerns that the FCC will use the hearings to achieve its regulatory goals, such as net neutrality, without going through agency process.

Comcast hits back on tech group’s merger opposition

Comcast is pushing back on the tech industry’s opposition to the cable giant’s merger with Time Warner Cable. The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) -- which includes Google, Facebook, Aereo and T-Mobile -- is wrong to say that the merger will harm competition and consumers, Comcast Vice President of Government Communications Sena Fitzmaurice said.

"Every market Comcast operates in is highly competitive, and we compete actively every day against some of CCIA's members,” she said. Fitzmaurice criticized CCIA for its “inaccurate figures” about Comcast’s market share if the proposed merger goes through.

Chairman Leahy pushes ‘narrow’ bill to keep satellite TV from going dark

Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced a bill to reauthorize the law governing the satellite television marketplace. Chairman Leahy noted the narrow focus of the bill, which he said “may not please all stakeholders.”

“My focus is on the consumers who stand to lose access to broadcast television content in the event that Congress is unable to pass a bill by the end of the year,” he said. The bipartisan bill from Chairman Leahy and Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) reauthorizes the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) for five years.

Key provisions of that law are set to expire by the end of 2014, which would keep satellite television companies from providing broadcast programming to subscribers who are unable to get the broadcast programming otherwise.

“If Congress does not act by the end of 2014 to reauthorize the distant signal license, approximately 1.5 million consumers will lose access to the broadcast television programming that they are currently receiving,” Chairman Leahy said.

Media groups call for crackdown on cable, satellite TV prices

A coalition of media advocacy groups is pressing lawmakers to investigate the billing practices of cable and satellite companies. “Industry-wide practices, such as erroneous overbilling, equipment rental fees and inflated or unnecessary ‘extra’ charges, are the result of an uncompetitive market structure and all contribute to rising monthly cable and satellite TV bills,” the groups wrote to lawmakers.

The letters -- signed by broadcast advocacy group TVFreedom along with Media Alliance and the Hispanic Institute, which advocate for media diversity -- were sent to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Communications and the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Subcommittee on Communications.

Lawmakers should examine the lack of competition in the television marketplace, which allows cable and satellite companies to charge high prices for television programming through difficult-to-understand bills loaded with unexpected charges, the groups said.

“The marketplace has failed to adequately address significant annual increases in consumers’ monthly pay-TV bills,” the letters said. “As a result, consumer choice for video service across the country remains limited and family budgets must bear the heavy financial burden of ever-escalating monthly pay-TV bills.”

Tech group calls on feds to block Comcast merger

A group representing tech industry giants is calling on regulators to block the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Responding to questions from Sen Al Franken (D-MN), who has vocally opposed the merger, the Computer and Communications Industry Association encouraged regulators and lawmakers to oppose the merger.

“Regulators should block this merger, not only for the good of innovation, the Internet industry and of consumers; but also for the sanctity of antitrust law itself,” Ed Black, president of the CCIA, wrote.

The CCIA represents companies in the tech and telecom sectors, including Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, TiVo, Aereo, T-Mobile and Sprint. Black said his group opposes the merger between two of the country’s largest cable companies and Internet providers because it would increase the company’s “bottleneck market power,” giving it too much leverage when dealing with Internet users and websites.

The CCIA “is concerned that this merger poses a significant threat to innovation and competition in many parts of the marketplace, including ... the websites, platforms and online services that the vast majority of Americans use everyday,” the letter said.