Hill, The

GOP senators press FCC on rural broadband

Sens Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) are urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to press ahead with plans to bring broadband Internet to remote parts of the country.

Sens Ayotte and Blunt (R-MO) told Chairman Wheeler to “move forward promptly.” “The most rural and mountainous areas of New Hampshire and Missouri are in great need of broadband communications,” the two wrote. The FCC’s effort, they added, “could help ensure that American consumers who live and work in sparsely populated, unserved areas have access to affordable broadband services.”

Under the umbrella of FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which attempts to bring broadband to all corners of the country, $100 million has been set aside for the Remote Areas Fund (RAF), which specifically targets rural residents. The full program was originally scheduled to be implemented by the end of 2012, but the money has not yet been fully allocated. The delay, the lawmakers wrote, is making it harder for people to get access to highest-speed connectivity.

Court reverses, will allow NSA to keep data longer

A federal court reversed an earlier decision and will allow the National Security Agency (NSA) to hold phone records relating to pending lawsuits.

Judge Reggie Walton, siding with plaintiffs who were suing over the legality of the NSA's surveillance programs and wanted the government to retain the data for the lawsuits, issued a restraining order to keep the government from destroying the data. The Department of Justice filed with the surveillance court, asking for clarification on the two conflicting rulings.

"These conflicting directives from federal courts put the government in an untenable position and are likely to lead to uncertainty and confusion," Judge Walton wrote, allowing the government to keep the data. Judge Walton set out limits for how the NSA can use the data it must now retain. Agency personnel can access the data "only for the purpose of ensuring continued compliance with the government's preservation obligations," he wrote.

Pay TV’s mission is to kill free broadcast TV

[Commentary] During the last Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) reauthorization, the process was derailed by debates about other cable industry (Pay TV) issues.

Pay TV is pushing Congress to transform STELA into a debate about “retransmission consent” -- the right of TV stations (Free TV) to control redistribution of their programming. Pay TV claims they are raising consumer prices because Free TV is charging too much for retransmission rights. Spinning it as a consumer issue has prompted Congress to ask whether it should adopt reforms to retransmission consent in the STELA process.

The answer is “No.” Changes sought by Pay TV could have significant consequences for video consumers and market participants that cannot be adequately explored in the truncated STELA process. The absence of credible evidence that retransmission prices are too high begs the question Congress should be asking: Why has Pay TV made this their highest legislative priority?

In short, Pay TV’s fixation on retransmission rights isn’t about programming prices -- it’s about eliminating the Free TV model and increasing advertising revenues for Pay TV distributors. This explains the cognitive dissonance of some free market advocates who, while clamoring for repeal of retransmission consent and other provisions that are essential to the Free TV model, are not advocating for repeal of provisions mandating that TV stations broadcast their signals for free. It’s a nifty way of killing Free TV without expressly acknowledging it.

[Campbell is executive director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology and former chief of the FCC's wireless bureau]

[March 11]

President Obama pick pledges transparency at NSA

President Barack Obama’s pick to lead the National Security Agency (NSA) pledged to protect privacy rights while at the helm of the spy agency.

Appearing before a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Vice Adm. Michael Rogers, who would also be taking the reins as the head of the US Cyber Command, said that he would work to make the embattled agency’s surveillance efforts more transparent. If he takes office, Vice Adm Rogers said he would be “ever-mindful” that the agency needs to work “in a manner which protects the civil liberties and privacy of our citizens.”

“I will be an active partner in implementing the changes directed by the president with respect to aspects of the National Security Agency mission and my intent is to be as transparent as possible in doing so, and in the broader execution of my duties, if confirmed.”

Rogers has spent more than 30 years in the Navy, and has been in charge of the branch’s cyber command since 2011. He has also been the director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the US Pacific Command. As a cryptology expert, he is a relative unknown to privacy and civil liberties advocates, though he will be taking over the NSA amid turmoil unlike any the agency has ever seen.

[March 11]

Senate panel ‘very close’ to cyber bill

Lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee are getting “very close” to a new cybersecurity bill, according to the panel's top Republican.

“As you know we have been working on a cyber bill for years now,” Sen Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told President Barack Obama’s nominee to lead the US Cyber Command and National Security Agency, Vice Adm. Michael Rogers. “We’re getting very close to an agreement within the Intelligence Committee between the chairman and myself, on a cyber bill that is much needed. One of the key provisions, and kind of the last remaining obstacle we’ve got, is the immunity provision or the liability protection provision.”

Lawmakers have for years pushed for a comprehensive bill to protect American financial markets, transportation systems and the electric grid in the event of a massive cyber attack. “I believe one of our greatest vulnerabilities is cyber attack,” said Sen Angus King (I-ME). "I think the next Pearl Harbor is going to be cyber. And the problem is we’re more vulnerable than many other places.”

[March 11]

Yahoo taps surveillance critic as security chief

Security expert and surveillance critic Alex Stamos is Yahoo's new Vice President of Information Security, the company announced.

Previously, Stamos was Chief Technology Officer at Internet security firm Artemis and is an organizer of TrustyCon, a technology conference organized and sponsored by anti-surveillance companies and advocacy groups.

Stamos "will lead all aspects of information security at Yahoo, including our team of Yahoo 'Paranoids,' charged with making our products as secure as possible," Yahoo Senior Vice President of Platforms and Personalization Products Jay Rossiter wrote in a company blog post. "This is a broad role which includes implementing top-to-bottom security for our products and systems but also to lead the company and the industry in not just how security works today but how it needs to work in the future."

[March 11]

Can Congress save TV?

Unless Congress acts, more than a million satellite TV subscribers could turn on their TV in a year and miss out on news, hit shows and sporting events.

On Dec 31, the law allowing satellite television companies like Dish and DirecTV to carry out-of-market broadcast channels to many rural customers expires. Unless Congress takes action, that means some subscribers won’t be able to watch ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox as of 2015. And it’s no sure thing Congress will act. While renewing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) is one of the few must-pass bills of 2014, many observers expect it to become entangled in larger fights between cable, satellite and broadcast providers. A deadlock might make a short-term extension of the law the only way out.

“You know, I suppose there’s always a possibility, like there is around here, that you get some sort of a short-term extension until we get a chance to do a more complete process with it, but we’ll see,” said Sen John Thune (R-SD) of the Senate Commerce Committee. “The goal is to try and get it done.”

The law allows satellite providers to import broadcast signals to an estimated 1.5 million rural consumers who are unable to pick up the broadcasts on their own. The legal authority for the companies to provide local broadcast channels to people who would otherwise be able to pick them up with an antenna does not expire.

[March 10]

Consumer groups protest TV bill draft

Public interest groups are opposing an effort to update cable TV laws, which they say would “eviscerate” protections for consumers.

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill, a coalition of groups including Public Knowledge, the National Consumers League and Consumer Action criticized part of a draft bill recently released by Rep Greg Walden (R-OR), the chairman of the Commerce subcommittee on Communications. Ending a requirement that all set-top boxes come with the same cards to descramble signals, they wrote, would lead to unequal treatment for customers who buy boxes at retail locations rather than rent them from their provider.

“This is the wrong time to step backward,” the groups wrote. Free Press, the Writers Guild of America and the AllVid alliance, which includes TiVo, Sony and Best Buy, also signed on to the letter. Rep Walden’s effort to update the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) includes a measure to end the requirement on so-called CableCARDs in rented boxes as well as purchased ones.

[March 10]

Tech industry watching European privacy votes

The tech industry is bracing for an imminent vote at the European Union that could put its business on the continent at risk.

Despite assurances from the US government, some European officials are calling for changes to the rules and agreements that allow US companies to process data belonging to European citizens, in the hopes of keeping that data out of the hands of the National Security Agency (NSA).

The EU Parliament will consider two measures that would affect the way American tech companies do business in Europe. The first is a privacy regulation that would end the Parliament’s role in a two-year process to update, strengthen and make cohesive EU privacy law, heightening privacy and security standards for the companies that deal with European citizens’ data. Once the Parliament approves the regulation, which is the expected outcome of the upcoming vote, the EU legislators have to negotiate over the law with the individual governments of EU countries. The second measure is a report from the body’s Civil Liberties Committee, which opened an investigation into US government surveillance after the revelations about NSA electronic surveillance, including that of European officials. That report made a number of recommendations about US companies’ access to data belonging to European citizens, including the immediate suspension of international agreements between the EU and US that allow US companies to process European data.

[March 10]

Snowden to EU: NSA Spying distracts from real threats

The National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial sweeping surveillance distracts the agency from real threats, former government contractor Edward Snowden told European lawmakers.

“Suspicionless surveillance not only fails to make us safe, but it actually makes us less safe,” Snowden wrote in testimony to European Union Parliament members. “By squandering precious, limited resources on ‘collecting it all,’ we end up with more analysts trying to make sense of harmless political dissent and fewer investigators running down real leads,” he said.

Snowden’s testimony is a response to a request from the European lawmakers, who are conducting a review of government surveillance -- including the NSA’s sweeping surveillance programs. Snowden pointed to government reports that questioned the efficacy of the mass surveillance programs as a tool to stop terrorist attacks, including a report from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

[March 7]