Hill, The

Architect of telecom law regrets FCC powers

A former lawmaker involved in the sweeping rewrite of communications laws in 1996 says he regrets giving too much discretion to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Former Rep Jack Fields (R-TX), who served as chairman of the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance back when the 1996 Telecommunications Act was passed, said that Congress should have been more prescriptive.

“We gave the Federal Communications Commission too much latitude and too much flexibility,” he said at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by the Internet Innovation Alliance, a group that advocates for universal broadband networks. “I think we should’ve been much more prescriptive in terms of legislative intent.”

Tech fights Internet ‘fast lanes’

Tech companies are pushing federal regulators to get involved in the multiplying disputes over how they connect to Internet providers.

The industry and allied groups are looking for opportunities to push for equal treatment of Internet traffic in the wake of a court ruling in March that opened the door to the use of “fast lanes” for Web traffic. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has said his agency wouldn’t look at the deals that websites strike with Internet providers -- called “interconnection” or “peering” arrangements -- in the agency's push to rewrite net neutrality rules.

Chairman Wheeler is keeping an eye on the issue, according to an agency spokesman. “Peering and interconnection are not under consideration in the Open Internet proceeding, but we are monitoring the issues involved to see if any action is needed in any other context,” he said.

Tech and advocacy groups say the FCC needs more information about the often-hidden deals, which were left untouched by the agency's first round of net neutrality rules. “We just don’t even know what’s going on in this market,” Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg said. “What we’ve been telling the FCC to do is figure out what’s happening” in the peering market, he said.

Tech group hires House cyber guru

TechAmerica is bringing on a former House Homeland Security Committee staffer as its director of cybersecurity policy. Michael Spierto, who worked on the Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection and Security Technologies subcommittee, will help the organization as lawmakers continue to push for legislation to protect the country’s computer networks.

“Cybersecurity is a worldwide challenge that spans across every industry and government sector,” Spierto said in a statement. “TechAmerica is on the forefront of this debate and I aim to build upon the organization's proven record of success to development of new thresholds of achievement.”

TechAmerica has urged Congress not to enact an overly broad cybersecurity bill that could end up doing more harm than good by imposing extra mandates or requirements on companies. Instead, it has pushed for a way to allow companies and the government to better share information as well as a nationwide set of rules for alerting people after their information may have been compromised in a data breach.

Apple, Microsoft, IBM team up for patent protections

Major tech companies including Microsoft and Apple are teaming up to advocate for strong patent protections as patent reform efforts heat up on the Hill.

Microsoft, Apple and IBM joined with GE, Pfizer, DuPont and Ford to launch the Partnership for American Innovation "to highlight the value of intellectual property and patents to US jobs and the economy." The group will focus on promoting strong patent protections, highlighting the role of those protections in the global economy and pushing for the Patent and Trademark Office to be fully funded.

The group is being advised by former Patent and Trademark Office Director David Kappos, now a partner at Cravath, Swaine and Moore. Kappos said he has seen "firsthand the significant role the patent system plays in encouraging inventors, promoting investment in innovation, and creating jobs." “Now is not the time to gamble with America’s innovation engine -- once patent protections are eliminated, they cannot be restored," he said.

Google pays $1.4 million over privacy concerns

Google has paid a fine of 1 million euros for violating Italian privacy rules with its Street View service.

Italy’s data protection watchdog said the Web giant’s cars “roamed the streets without being perfectly recognizable,” which prevented people from being about “to decide whether or not to avoid being photographed. The government agency received a slew of complaints, it said, from people who did not want to be captured by Google’s cameras but were not able to make the choice. One million euros is the equivalent of about $1.4 million.

The Italian watchdog claimed that Google’s cars were not easily identifiable. It required the company to publicize upcoming routes ahead of time online, on the radio and in at least two local newspapers. Google had “promptly adopted” those measures, it added.

Veteran Washington trade groups seek new blood in Silicon Valley

Old-school Washington trade associations and think tanks are taking their membership pitches straight to Silicon Valley’s doorstep.

Seeking to tap into the success of the sector, veteran influence groups are updating their rosters and opening offices to try and make inroads with the new wave of corporate giants.

“We’re seeing the elevation of tech as a significant driver of both economic and political events,” said Jessica Herrera-Flanigan, a lobbyist at Monument Policy Group who represents Microsoft and the tech-based Reform Government Surveillance coalition. “It’s a natural progression, and you want to capture that community, and it’s not a business community that plays by traditional rules,” she said. “You have to go to them as opposed to waiting for them to come to you.”

Chavern said the new Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, which is still hiring staff and looking for a West Coast office, is likely to expand the Chamber’s focus on issues like immigration, tax reform, trade and infrastructure, which are important to the tech sector.

FCC’s Wheeler defends broadcaster crackdown

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is defending a controversial move to limit broadcast companies’ ability to cooperate as merely an attempt to defend the laws on the book.

At a summit put on the by the American Cable Association, Chairman Wheeler accused broadcasters of carrying on a “charade” to skirt the rules. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,” he told the supportive cable industry crowd.

“This concept of competition and diversity and localism was being undone by legal legerdemain,” he said. “It makes no sense to create a situation where you own a broadcast license, I want to get control of that license but I can’t because I own another station in town, and I’ll tell you what, I’m going to buy 90 percent of all of your assets... and you keep the license because that makes you the owner.”

Chairman Wheeler added: “What we were trying to do was say: ‘Look, this is harmful to competition. It is harmful to the marketplace of broadcast transactions. There is a set of rules, a set of concepts, that have been hallowed in communications law. We’re trying to stick to those concepts and say how do those apply in this world?”

SEC defends email privacy practices

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) defended its practice of obtaining e-mails older than 180 days without a warrant.

SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White told the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services that her agency protects people’s privacy when it uses subpoenas -- rather than warrants, which have a higher burden of proof -- to access emails.

Under the Electronic Privacy Communications Act, law enforcement officials do not need a warrant to access electronic communications that have been stored for more than three months. Attempts to update that law -- including from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Reps Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Tom Graves (R-GA) and Jared Polis (D-CO) -- have been largely supported by law enforcement agencies but have faced backlash from civil agencies, like the SEC.

Rep Yoder asked why law enforcement agencies need a warrant to access physical documents but not electronic communications.

“Paper documents versus the file folders contained in our email accounts all seem to ... have Fourth Amendment protections,” he said. As a civil agency, the SEC relies on subpoenas, not warrants, to obtain information for its investigations, SEC Chairwoman White said. She told Rep Yoder that the SEC’s investigatory practices have built-in privacy protections.

Rep Eshoo calls for ‘rebalancing’ video law

Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the top Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee, wants to shift the balance of power between broadcasters and paid television companies like cable and satellite firms.

Rep Eshoo pushed for a “rebalancing” of the federal video laws to prevent broadcast companies like ABC, NBC and CBS from being able to black out local stations during disputes with cable and satellite companies, which pay to retransmit the channels.

“I think that there needs to be, obviously, a rebalancing of the law,” she said. “Much of the law was written to produce localism, but you see so many trends moving against that today.”

Consumers, she added, are getting “screwed and tattooed” in the arrangements allowed under current law, which can add up to billions of dollars but are “a racket.”

Tech advocacy groups back Internet oversight shift

A coalition of tech advocacy groups is backing the Obama Administration's move to relinquish oversight of the technical side of the Web address.

"This move could help thwart government overreach in Internet governance, which would have devastating implications for human rights worldwide," the coalition said in a letter to the top Republicans and Democrats on the House Commerce Committee. Signatories include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation and Access.

The letter of support comes before a hearing on the topic at the House Commerce subcommittee on Technology. The hearing will focus on the Commerce Department's announcement that it will be handing over its oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the technical side of the domain name system. That system is currently managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under a contract with the US government that must be renewed every two years and expires in September 2015.