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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."

SEC warns investors to be careful with bitcoin

The Securities and Exchange Commission warned investors to be wary of the virtual currency bitcoin.

The financial regulator cautioned that bitcoin has historically been volatile, subject to hackers, and a potential target for fraudulent schemes. While the regulator did not say people should steer clear of investing in bitcoin or other virtual currencies, it did note that there are several unique challenges to consider.

For example, since bitcoin transactions are not backed by any government or routed through traditional financial institutions, it could be difficult to trace money should something go awry, the SEC said. The SEC also said that since some early bitcoin investors have enjoyed a windfall as the virtual currency gained value compared to dollars, they could be ripe targets for people peddling fraudulent or high-risk schemes. Promoters could also lean on the personal interest many bitcoin investors have in the success of the currency to get them to invest poorly.

After Google win, NARAL targets Yahoo ads

Abortion rights advocates are asking Yahoo to take down “crisis pregnancy center” ads that they say discourage women from having abortions.

The petition from NARAL Pro-Choice America and the women’s rights group UltraViolet comes fresh off of a victory with Google, which NARAL said took down similarly “deceptive” ads in April.

“We hope that Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer will follow Google's example and remove deceptive crisis pregnancy center ads so that women can continue to trust Yahoo to provide the accurate resources we are seeking when we use their platform,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said. “No search engine should allow themselves to be complicit in such a manipulative campaign to lure women into ideologically driven facilities by masquerading as actual abortion service providers.”

Abortion rights advocates say that the pregnancy center ads violate search engines’ advertising policies by targeting people searching for abortions while, in fact, discouraging those services. “These ads use the search term ‘abortion clinic’ when they don't provide those services,” NARAL said in the online petition.

Tech industry cheers new immigration regulations

Leaders of top technology companies applauded the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for announcing new regulations that would allow the husbands and wives of foreign workers to get jobs in the United States.

The draft regulations would help the families of people who are working in the country on high-skilled visas, tech leaders said, and keep top talent in the US.

“By sensibly improving these rules, we can help ensure that the most talented foreign innovators conduct their break-through research right here at home,” said Bruce Mehlman, head of the Technology CEO Council, which represents leaders of Intel, IBM and other tech companies.

Currently, foreign scientists, engineers or computer programmers can come and work in the US on an H-1B visa. Their husbands and wives, however, are stuck with an H-4 visa, which allows them to stay in the US but prevents them from working.

“These factors cause America to lose valuable talent when a green card candidate -- many of whom were educated at American universities -- to abandon their quest for citizenship and seek employment in countries that compete with the United States,” said Linda Moore, president of the TechNet trade group, which counts Apple, Microsoft and AT&T among its members.

Privacy groups mull action after Facebook deal with fitness app

Privacy groups are considering asking the federal government to intervene in Facebook’s recent purchase of fitness app Moves.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy both said that they are considering asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Facebook’s acquisition of Moves.

The new policy says the company “may share information, including personally identifying information, with our Affiliates (companies that are part of our corporate groups of companies, including but not limited to Facebook) to help provide, understand, and improve our Services.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said that Moves user data will not be integrated into Facebook's profiles of users. Instead, the company will use the data to to support the app, the spokeswoman said.

Privacy advocates expressed concerns about the updated policy. “The fact that they’ve changed their privacy policy so quickly is disappointing” and “deserves some investigation,” Julia Horwitz, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he is “exploring FTC regulatory action.”

Consumer watchdog pushes banks to post privacy policies online

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is pushing banks and other financial institutions to post privacy disclosures online, so information about their data-sharing activities is more accessible to consumers.

The CFPB announced it is considering a new rule that is intended to limit banks' data-sharing activities and improve transparency, and claimed it would save the industry millions of dollars each year.

“Consumers need clear information about how their personal information is being used by financial institutions,” CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement. “This proposal would make it easier for consumers to find and access privacy policies, while also making it cheaper for industry to provide disclosures.”

Currently, banks are required to mail privacy disclosures to their customers once a year. But the new rules would instead allow these disclosures to be posted online, under certain conditions. The privacy disclosures explain whether a bank is sharing customers' personal information, what information is being shared, and whom it is being shared with.

Rep Issa: Don’t sell off airwaves for short-term gains

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said he is tired of selling off public airwaves only to fund a pork-barrel project or make a tiny dent in the deficit.

Selling off chunks of the spectrum to make a little short-term cash, he said, would be like selling off pieces of the Mississippi River or the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

“Public assets for the public good have never been before sold in the way that we deal with spectrum,” he said at a conference pushing for more unlicensed spectrum, which allows Wi-Fi systems and devices like garage door openers to operate.

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission is planning to buy back chunks of the airwaves currently owned by broadcasters and resell them to wireless companies, which need the spectrum to offer high-speed Web access for consumers’ phones and tablets. Most of the airwaves will be allocated for specific companies, but the FCC will reserve some for unlicensed use to support Wi-Fi and other services. Just how much of the spectrum is unlicensed depends on how much broadcasters sell back to the government.

FCC must set strong net neutrality rules to protect innovation

[Commentary] It is imperative that all Americans have access to a truly free and open Internet. I strongly support network neutrality.

Network neutrality is about preserving a free and open Internet ecosystem, where consumers can access new products and ideas, and have an open market for new innovations. There should be no “gatekeepers,” or toll roads. More important, it’s about the idea that anyone can use the Internet to make his or her voice heard.

Allowing deals for prioritization could easily be used to favor some content at the expense of others and be used as a barrier to entry for a small startup without the resources to buy access to an Internet fast lane.

I agree that we need open Internet rules that encourage companies to compete for customers without striking special deals. I am hopeful the FCC will propose a set of rules that will truly preserve an open and free Internet that spurs innovation and protects consumers.

All Americans that care about the future of the open Internet should share their views with the FCC. The agency needs to hear from you about why the Internet must remain a platform for innovation and free expression.

FCC’s grab for new regulatory power could go beyond broadband providers

[Commentary] Internet application and content companies, what some refer to as “edge providers,” are increasingly concerned by the Federal Communications Commission’s newfound ability to regulate the Internet, and rightfully so.

For years, edge providers -- Pandora, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, to name just a few -- have flourished from the government’s hands-off approach to the Internet. Both Republicans and Democrats championed a structure that allowed the “application layer” of Internet architecture to be free from government intervention, apart from occasional Federal Trade Commission activity.

That is now subject to change. A very real threat is that edge providers could fall within the reach of the FCC’s newly invented authority to regulate the Internet under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recently announced the Commission will seek comment on proposed new net neutrality rules that will “meet the court’s test.” His focus may be on broadband providers, but edge providers shouldn’t be lulled into complacency. The notion of preserving an “open Internet” is so vague that any rules meant to accomplish that goal could unintentionally impact edge providers’ business models.

The only intellectually honest conclusion for net neutrality supporters is to extend the burden to everyone: broadband providers and edge providers. The only way to achieve that seems to be creative use of Section 706. With every Internet site, service and application vulnerable to Internet security threats, these could readily come under the purview of the FCC.

FTC commissioner ‘somewhat optimistic’ about data breach bill

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen thinks Congress can get together and pass legislation to protect consumers when hackers steal their data online, she said.

She also said she was “somewhat optimistic” about the prospect of a bill, after a series of headline-grabbing data breaches in recent months.

“I think there has been continuing interest in Congress and I think some of these big data breaches have kept the energy up behind it,” she said. “It’s very difficult,” she added. “Congress, obviously, has a lot on its plate...[but] I have found on a bipartisan basis there has been an interest in better data security guidance and having legislation in that regard.”