Kate Tummarello

Tech hits back after Sen Leahy shelves patent bill

The tech industry is accusing the Senate Judiciary Committee of bowing to “patent troll” lobbyists after Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) shelved his patent reform bill.

“Patent trolls and their special interest allies are the only winners today,” Matt Tanielian, executive director of the Coalition for Patent Fairness, said. Sen Leahy announced that he would be pulling his patent reform bill from his committee’s agenda.

In response, tech groups slammed Sen Leahy and the committee for caving under pressure from patent trolls, the companies that profit by bringing and threatening meritless patent infringement lawsuits. Many groups pledged to continue pushing for patent reform, pointing to the businesses that currently spend time and money defending themselves from patent trolls.

Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- who some say played a role in derailing Sen Leahy’s bill -- to circumvent the Judiciary Committee. “If it is not possible for the Senate Judiciary Committee to proceed with its own legislation,” Reid should “stand with innovators and bring the House-passed Innovation Act to the floor of the Senate for an up or down vote,” Beckerman said. The Internet Association includes Google, Facebook, Amazon and Reddit.

Privacy advocates angry as NSA reforms 'watered down'

Privacy advocates that have pushed for legislation to reform US government surveillance are backing away from a House bill that they say has been "watered-down" as it heads to the floor.

Though the original bill intended to end sweeping surveillance programs, the bill that the House will vote on soon allows for “mass surveillance on a slightly smaller scale,” according to Harley Geiger, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

The bill -- the USA Freedom Act, authored by Patriot Act Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) -- was originally written to prohibit the US government's sweeping surveillance program. But after moving through the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, where it saw some changes but retained the support of privacy advocates, last minute negotiations between House leadership and the Obama Administration have left the bill with weakened language when it comes to banning mass surveillance, advocates say.

Rep Sensenbrenner filed a manager’s amendment at the House Rules Committee to be considered on the floor in place of the bill that passed the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Rep Sensenbrenner’s amendment still prohibits bulk collection but would allow government officials to search for records using “a discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address, or device, used by the Government to limit the scope of the information or tangible things sought.”

While the standard in Rep Sensenbrenner's amendment is more specific than the one under current law, it leaves too much room for interpretation, as opposed to earlier versions of the bill, Geiger said. It may keep the intelligence community from sweeping surveillance on a national level, but “it is ambiguous enough to allow for large scale collection,” he said.

House critics ready questions for FCC chief

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler will testify in front of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications on the heels of decisions at his agency that have raised concerns for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

“Given some of the most recent actions out of the commission, I fear that we may be heading into rough waters,” Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said in his prepared opening statement. Rep Walden criticized Chairman Wheeler’s attempts to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules and more seriously consider reclassifying Internet providers.

“The practical consequences of reclassification are to give the bureaucrats at the FCC the authority to second-guess business decisions and to regulate every possible aspect of the Internet,” he said, adding that reclassification “will harm consumers, halt job creation, curtail innovation and stifle investment.”

In his opening statement, Rep Walden also slammed Chairman Wheeler over reports that he held major revisions to key items from Republican FCC Commissioners for too long and for recent FCC actions aimed at cracking down on collusion between broadcasters.

AT&T exec: Deal struck with regulators in mind

The merger of AT&T and DirecTV was designed with regulators in mind and will benefit consumers, executives from the two companies said.

“There were a few areas we looked at that we thought might be areas of concern or caution for regulators,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said. “We’ve tried to be very proactive ... and tried to get out in front of those.” Stephenson added that the companies are making “unprecedented commitments to address concerns that the regulators might have.”

Those commitments include abiding by the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from slowing or blocking access to certain websites before they were struck down in federal court in early 2014. As the agency attempts to rewrite them, AT&T is pledging to obey the now-defunct rules for three years if the merger with DirecTV is approved.

Additionally, AT&T said the merger would allow it to expand its Internet service to 15 million households and would not keep the company from participating in the FCC’s upcoming airwave auctions, where it is expected to spend billions. “We have structured this transaction to ensure we have plenty of capacity to be very active in both of these auctions,” Stephenson said.

Senators pledge to monitor AT&T, DirecTV deal

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have pledged to monitor the recently announced merger of AT&T and DirecTV.

Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said that his committee "will be looking closely at this transaction." "I will closely monitor the [Federal Communications Commission's] and the antitrust authorities’ response to this announcement," Sen Leahy said in a statement.

Executives from AT&T and DirecTV are touting the deal as appealing the regulators as it includes commitments to expand Internet access in rural areas and abide by the Obama Administration's net neutrality rules, even though they were struck down by a federal court in early 2014.

In addition to reviewing the deal to combine AT&T and DirecTV, Sen Leahy's committee recently held a hearing to review the $45 billion merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable, which was announced in February. Sen Leahy said he is "concerned that the telecommunications marketplace is trending even further toward one that favors big companies over consumers."

FCC Republican Commissioners in the dark on newest ‘fast lane’ proposal

The two Republicans at the Federal Communications Commission say they have not seen Chairman Tom Wheeler’s latest plans to rewrite the agency’s network neutrality rules, despite the vote on the item scheduled soon.

“When it comes to the Chairman's latest net neutrality proposal, the Democratic Commissioners are in the fast lane and the Republican Commissioners apparently are being throttled,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office said in a statement.

“The Chairman's Office should end this discrimination and stop blocking the Republican Commissioners from seeing the Chairman's latest plan,” Commissioner Pai’s Chief of Staff Matthew Berry said. Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s office confirmed that he had not received Chairman Wheeler’s latest proposal either.

Senate Dems protest FCC plan for Internet ‘fast lanes’

A group of 10 senators are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to abandon a proposal that would allow Internet providers to create online “fast lanes.”

The proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would “irrevocably change the Internet as we know it,” the senators wrote in a letter to Chairman Wheeler.

“Small businesses, content creators and Internet users must not be held hostage by an increasingly consolidated broadband industry.” The letter comes days before the FCC’s scheduled May 15 vote on Chairman Wheeler’s attempts to rewrite his agency’s network neutrality rules.

In their letter, the senators said Chairman Wheeler’s proposal “would eradicate net neutrality, not preserve it.” They told the FCC chairman that his plan goes against the agency’s commitment to an open Internet.

“The genius of the Internet is that it allows innovation without permission, not innovation only after cutting a deal with the [Internet provider] and receiving the FCC’s blessing for it,” the letter said. Instead of Chairman Wheeler’s current plans, the agency should consider reclassifying Internet providers to make them more like traditional phone companies, over which the agency has clear authority to regulate more broadly.

Rep Green: Sprint, T-Mobile rumored deal needs ‘critical look’

Rep Gene Green (D-TX) called on the federal government to carefully examine a yet-to-be-proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile. “Congress must take a careful and critical look at this deal if and when it is announced and stand up for what’s best for American consumers and American jobs,” Green said, speaking on the floor of the House.

Though the companies have not officially announced their plans to merge, officials from SoftBank -- which purchased Sprint in early 2013 -- have begun publicly touting the benefits the company could bring to the American wireless market if it had a bigger presence. Advocates for the merger say the two companies could better take on industry giants AT&T and Verizon if they combine.

Broadcast giant forms PAC

Broadcast industry giant Sinclair Broadcasting Group is forming a PAC, according to paperwork recently filed with Federal Election Commission.

Sinclair Senior Vice President of Policy and Strategy Rebecca Hanson, the company will use the PAC as it works on issues in front of Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“There are a lot of challenges facing our industry, and we believe that engaging in the process through the PAC is one of a variety of ways to further our goals,” Hanson said. On its website, Sinclair boasts being "one of the largest and most diversified television broadcasting companies in the country today," including FOX, ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates.

FCC plan for Internet 'fast lanes' in jeopardy

The network neutrality overhaul proposed by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was thrown in doubt as the agency's two Democratic members expressed serious concerns with the proposal.

With the commission’s two Republican members expected to vote against the plan, Chairman Wheeler needs the votes of commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Cylburn to get it enacted.

Speaking at a public event, Commissioner Rosenworcel threw cold water on Chairman Wheeler's plans to rewrite the net neutrality rules to allow Internet “fast lanes” and called on him to delay consideration of his proposal, which is now scheduled for May 15.

In a blog post, Commissioner Clyburn pledged to take the negative feedback into account heading into the upcoming vote. "Over 100,000 Americans have spoken. ... I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote to preserve an ever-free and open Internet," she wrote. She also pointed to her pervious calls to have the agency prohibit "pay for priority arrangements all together."