Hill, The

Sen Franken: FCC chief's plan for ‘fast lanes’ will ‘destroy’ Internet

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) called a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow Internet “fast lanes” an “affront to net neutrality" that will "destroy" the open Internet.

In a letter, Sen Franken asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to reconsider his current plans to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules in a way that allows some content companies to pay for better access to Internet providers’ subscribers.

“This proposal would create an online ‘fast lane’ for the highest bidder -- shutting out small business and increasing costs for consumers,” Sen Franken wrote. “I strongly urge you to reconsider this misguided approach and recommit to protecting the Open Internet for all Americans.”

Advocates press Obama on warrantless searches

President Barack Obama needs to take a stand on whether or not the government should be able to get someone’s emails without a warrant, a coalition of business and privacy advocates said.

In a letter sent to the White House, dozens of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce blamed the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the Administration’s reticence on the issue.

“You have a rare opportunity to work with Congress to pass legislation that would advance the rights of almost every American,” the groups wrote. “Please act now to support meaningful privacy reform.”

Under terms of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), emails, texts, photos and other data stored online can be searched by law enforcement without a warrant as long as they have been in the cloud for at least 180 days. The law was written in 1986, when dial-up Internet was still cutting-edge technology, and is deeply in need of an update, advocates say.

A reform bill in the House from Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Jared Polis (D-CO) has 205 co-sponsors, but the White House has yet to respond to a November petition to take sides on the issue.

What Congress will and won’t get done

Lawmakers are back in Washington with a sharper eye on the midterms and an ever-mounting pessimism about the legislative possibilities ahead of November.

What’s on Congress's plate?

Aside from proposed laws on government funding and immigration, possibly patent reform. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has scheduled a markup on legislation aimed to rein in "patent trolls," after working for months behind the scenes to address concerns with members of both parties. But it remains uncertain if he has the votes to get it out of the committee, let alone pass the bill on the chamber floor.

Sec Kerry calls to ‘tear down’ Internet censorship

Different countries’ control of the Internet is increasingly dividing the world into “two different visions” reminiscent of the Cold War, Secretary of State John Kerry warned.

In remarks to a global Internet governance conference, Sec Kerry said that barriers to Internet access and online freedom needed to be torn down, just like the Berlin Wall in 1989.

"Today, we’ve all learned that walls can be made of ones and zeros and the deprivation of access even to those ones and zeros, and that wall can be just as powerful in keeping us apart in a world that is so incredibly interconnected,” he said at the fourth annual Freedom Online Coalition conference. “So it's very much our ... common responsibility to try to tear down those walls just as it was our responsibility to try to do that during the Cold War.”

He specifically mentioned Russia and Venezuela as countries with an “an absolutely unmistakable pattern” of Internet crackdown. “The places where we face some of the greatest security challenges today are also the places where governments set up firewalls against some of the basic freedoms online,” he said.

US takes Philippines off intellectual property watch list

The Obama Administration says that the Philippines has fixed its problems protecting intellectual property enough to take it off of a special watch list on the issue.

“Although significant challenges remain, the commitment of Philippine authorities and the results achieved merit this change in status,” said the Office of the US Trade Representative. “The United States will continue to engage with the Philippines to address unresolved and future challenges.”

The Philippines had appeared on the watch list or the priority watch list continually since 1994, and was first added in 1989. Countries on the list, which include nations from India to Russia to Canada, are considered to have a weak record of defending or enforcing intellectual property rights, or close off market access to people relying on intellectual property.

The Obama Administration said that the Philippines had enacted “a series of significant legislative and regulatory reform” to protect intellectual property rights in the country.

FCC’s Wheeler: AT&T bluffing on boycott threat

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he doesn’t believe AT&T will sit out of the agency's highly anticipated airwaves auction in 2015.

He pointed to AT&T's past insistence that it needs more airwaves for its growing mobile business.

“I have a hard time envisioning this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this kind of beach-front spectrum being something that people throw up their hands and walk away from,” he said.

“Nobody is compelling anybody to participate in the spectrum auction,” he said. “Whether the broadcasters sell or the wireless carriers buy is entirely a function of their own free will and a marketplace that we create."

Lawmakers push advertisers to stop supporting pirate sites

Members of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus are asking online ad networks to do more to keep advertisements off websites that promote online piracy.

"Only through proactive efforts will the harms associated with ad-supported piracy be mitigated," the caucus wrote in identical letters to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

The caucus is led by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The group of lawmakers called on the ad networks to develop "greater specificity" around steps to prevent legitimate ads from ever appearing on pirate sites, as well as ways to measure how effective those steps are.

Cable companies shell out for lobbyists ahead of merger decision

Comcast and Time Warner Cable forked over more than $5 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2014, according to recently disclosed lobbying records.

The two cable giants are pushing regulators at the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission to approve their proposed $45 billion merger, which they say will lead to faster Internet and better service.

Skeptics warn the deal will offer few benefits and cause consumers’ bills to go up. Comcast, the largest cable company in the country, spent $3.09 million to pay for dozens of lobbyists so far. Among those were at least 27 different firms to focus specifically on the Time Warner Cable merger or “competition” issues.

Time Warner Cable spent $1.93 million on lobbyists, including at least four shops focusing on the merger or “competition” in the marketplace. Among the hired lobbyists are multiple former lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill.

Critics: Cable merger could sideline sports

A pending mega-merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable could affect some sports fans' ability to watch their favorite teams, critics are saying.

Opponents of the proposed $45 billion deal are warning it could lead Comcast to squeeze out competition and force leagues to show games exclusively to the company's subscribers. "What [Comcast] can do is it can favor its own content in a lot of ways on its own platform, and then it can also deny its own content to other platforms, meaning typically the satellite guys," said Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press. Comcast owns a handful of regional sports networks, as well as NBC and its slate of channels.

That could give it an incentive to make sure games are shown only on its stations, not others, and give the company more leverage over teams when it comes to broadcasting rights. That potential exists for a variety of types of programming, critics say, but would be especially egregious for sports, which are often supported by local tax dollars.

"Because sports are publicly subsidized, our belief is that everything should be viewed through the lens of what makes them more available," said David Goodfriend, the chairman of the National Sports Fan Coalition and former deputy staff secretary in President Clinton's White House.

Lawmakers have expressed similar concerns. In a hearing in April, Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said Comcast would own 16 regional sports networks after the merger, which amounts to "a very formidable amount of local sports programming in the largest media markets in the country."

After another data breach, Congress pressed to act

Credit unions are looking for Congress to take up legislation following news of a new data breach that exposed millions of shoppers’ data.

The National Association of Federal Credit Unions told House and Senate leaders that revelations about the data breach at arts and crafts chain Michaels, which affected about 2.6 million customer debit and credit cards, are a reminder to act.

“In light of this and the numerous other large scale data breaches occurring on the heels of major breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus over the holidays, it is clear that Congress must take action to protect consumers’ financial information,” trade group CEO Dan Berger wrote.

The Target and Neiman Marcus breaches that potentially affected more than 100 million people rattled Washington and led to a wave of hearings and proposed legislation.