Hill, The

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.”

House Intel chief ‘extremely optimistic’ on cyber bill's chances

The head of the House Intelligence Committee thinks the odds are good that the Senate will pass a long-delayed cybersecurity bill.

After a meeting with leaders of the Senate Intelligence panel, Rep Mike Rogers (R-MI) said his hopes for action soon have returned.

“That was one of the most productive meetings I thought we had this year on this issue, and I am back to being extremely optimistic that we are going to get a cyber sharing bill this year,” Rogers said. ”I am very, very encouraged by this meeting yesterday.”

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.

Senate to consider AT&T-DirecTV merger

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed $49 billion merger of AT&T and DirecTV in late June, the panel announced. The Antitrust subcommittee’s session will be held on the same day that the House Judiciary Committee holds its hearing, on June 24.

The House panel will go first with a hearing, followed hours later by lawmakers in the Senate. The twin hearings will likely feature some skepticism from lawmakers worried that the trend of mergers among major media companies will lead to higher prices and worse service for their constituents.

Poll: Many want email privacy overhaul

A poll sponsored by civil liberties organizations shows that many people in the country want to update the law that allows the government to search emails without a warrant.

According to the survey from Vox Populi Polling, more than 80 percent of people in six states and the greater Los Angeles area wanted to overhaul the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), which allows warrantless searches of emails that are older than 180 days. Additionally, between 64 and 72 percent of people in those areas thought that online privacy is becoming increasingly important. And in four states, more than 70 percent of voters said they would be more likely to support a candidate looking to update the law.

“There is a rare, overwhelming and incredibly diverse consensus among voters that ECPA needs to be updated,” Brent Seaborn, a Vox Populi Polling partner, said. “These levels of support are nearly unheard of in politics today... All candidates should note that this issue carries power whether they are involved in general election races or primary campaigns.”

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.

Mobile banking could help low-income people, feds say

The federal consumer watchdog says mobile banking services present enormous potential benefits for low-income people. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said it will take a closer look at how mobile banking and financial services applications can empower unbanked and underbanked people to take better control of their personal finances.

"For the economically vulnerable, mobile (banking) can enhance access to safer, more affordable products and services in ways that can improve their economic lives," the agency wrote in the Federal Register.

The CFPB issued a request for information as it considers how to regulate mobile banking services. The bureau said 74,000 people each day signed up for mobile banking services in 2013, many of whom are low-income individuals whose only access to the Internet is through their phone, the agency said. According to a Federal Reserve study, 39 percent of underbanked people use mobile banking applications.