Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
September 22, 2014

September 22, 2014

Week Ahead: OkCupid, High-Skilled Immigration Policy & Cross-Border Data Flows

Lawmakers are out of town for several weeks, and that means a somewhat quieter week in Washington. But there’s still plenty going on, with OkCupid’s co-founder and president talking at Sixth & I as well as events on high-skilled immigration policy and and cross-border data flows.


OkCupid’s Christian Rudder caused a stir this summer over a blog post about experiments the online dating site has conducted. He has a new book out and he’ll be at Sixth & I on Monday talking to The Atlantic’s Megan Garber.

On Monday and Tuesday, The National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy hosts a conference titled “High-Skilled Immigration Policy & the Global Competition for Talent.”


On Tuesday, The Brookings Institution hosts an event releasing three papers proposing ways to spur more efficient use of government-owned spectrum.


The Center for Democracy & Technology on Wednesday holds an event on education, data and privacy.


On Thursday, Brookings hosts a panel discussion on challenges to cross-border data flows and their potential impacts on communications, trade and commerce.

September 19, 2014

Weekly Recap: Net Neutrality, Satellite Television Reauthorization and Boeing/SpaceX

It was a big net neutrality week in Washington: the deadline hit for Open Internet comments with the Federal Communications Commission, the agency held Open Internet roundtables with stakeholders and the Senate held its own hearing on net neutrality.  A few highlights from the week:

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Friday Q&A: ICANN’s Christopher Modini, Part One

You might be familiar with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers from policy debates here in Washington about Internet governance and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s plan to step back from its role in certain functions of the Internet domain name system. Technocrat talked with ICANN’s Christopher Modini about what ICANN does, how it’s governed, what its stakeholders are concerned about and more.

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September 18, 2014

Wireless Group Asks Lawmakers for Support on Net Neutrality Stance

dw100325093 222x335 Wireless Group Asks Lawmakers for Support on Net Neutrality Stance

Baker, during a House Energy Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet hearing on the national broadband plan. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly)

The group representing wireless carriers is looking to Congress for help in trying to convince the Federal Communications Commission to continue treating mobile broadband differently from fixed broadband in its net neutrality rules, which has meant fewer requirements for mobile.

CTIA – The Wireless Association sent a letter to all lawmakers Thursday asking for “support in urging the Federal Communications Commission… to retain mobile-specific Open Internet rules that reflect the unique engineering, competitive, and legal conditions of today’s 4G LTE mobile network.”

The FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules didn’t apply to mobile broadband to the same extent as fixed broadband. In rewriting those rules (after the bulk of them were struck down by an appeals court earlier this year) the current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before the FCC asks whether the agency should revisit that different treatment given big changes in the mobile market that have happened over the past few years.

CTIA has contended that mobile faces different technical issues than fixed broadband and that there’s more competition in the mobile marketplace, and in Thursday’s letter to lawmakers, the group’s president and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker writes:

As the FCC contemplates revising its Open Internet rules, it is vitally important for the Commission to retain the mobile-specific approach that has governed the mobile industry since 2010. Under that approach, which recognized the very significant engineering differences between wireless and wireline networks, wireless operators have been able to compete, invest and innovate.

She goes on to write that: “Contrary to the assertions of some that wireless broadband’s success justifies a heavier regulatory burden, the industry’s record of investment, innovation and expanded consumer choice strongly suggests that the FCC got it right in 2010.”

The letter also calls on lawmakers to “direct the FCC to not reclassify mobile broadband as a Title II service,” contending that current law bars the agency from such action and that doing so would spur “litigation and uncertainty.”

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 4:32 p.m.

Head of U.S. Copyright Office Will Tell Lawmakers Office is Understaffed

The U.S. Copyright Office is understaffed and could face additional strains in the future, according testimony by the head of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Maria A. Pallante has brought up the staffing concerns to Congress before, and in prepared testimony for a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing Thursday on Copyright Office oversight, she writes that the office’s staff is “smaller than it should be to carry out the volume and complexity of work prescribed by Title 17.” The office has 360 full-time employees, she writes in her testimony.

The most pressing concern, according to Pallante’s testimony, is the number of registration staff:

The registration program has been decimated by budget cuts and early retirement packages and has forty-eight vacancies out of a staff of 180 experts. Moreover, about 25% of the registration specialists remaining are approaching retirement.

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Disagreement Between FCC and its Watchdog Over New ‘Strike Force’

It was a jam-packed day of tech policy activity on the Hill Wednesday, with the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing on net neutrality, a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee markup of a satellite television reauthorization bill, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifying before the House Small Business Committee, a House Judiciary subcommittee copyright hearing, and more. So, in case you missed it, there was an interesting rift that emerged between the FCC and its watchdog body during Wednesday’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on FCC oversight, CQ Roll Call’s Joanna Anderson reports (subscription).

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September 17, 2014

Wheeler Talks Net Neutrality at House Hearing

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testified before the House Small Business Committee Wednesday in a pretty toned-down hearing, where he talked about a number of issues, including net neutrality.

“It is clear that there must be an open Internet,” Wheeler said. “That is what’s necessary for small business, that’s what’s necessary for entrepreneurs, that’s what’s necessary for consumers. At the same point in time, communications carriers are investing $60 billion a year in infrastructure. And we have got to have that kind of infrastructure build out. And you don’t want to put in place rules that would disincentivize companies from making that kind of continued investment.”

South Carolina Republican Tom Rice — who said he was concerned about reclassifying broadband as a common carrier — asked if Internet service providers were blocking, prioritizing, requiring paid performance or degrading service.

“The issue is that yes there are indications of these kinds of problems having happened in the market,” Wheeler said, citing instances like Comcast blocking BitTorrent and AT&T’s restrictions on accessing Apple’s Face Time on the iPhone.

Rice contended that there’s been much innovation from the Internet in a “wild, wild West” regulatory environment and that government regulation would “stifle it far more” than anti-competitive efforts which he contended could be dealt with under antitrust law.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 4:49 p.m.
Net Neutrality

Exemption Process for DMCA Anti-Circumvention Rule: Time for a Change?

Should there be some changes to how exemptions are issued to a section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that bars circumvention of anti-piracy technologies? While there’s deep disagreement over the broader question of whether the anti-circumvention section of the 1998 law is beneficial or problematic,  some witnesses at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Wednesday seemed to think it’s at least worth looking at changes to how certain exemptions are handled.

“At a bare minimum, we urge Congress to take action to relieve the burden of repeatedly seeking re-approval of uncontroversial exemptions like the one we must re-propose during each review,” Mark Richert, public policy director at the American Foundation for the Blind, wrote in his prepared testimony.

The Library of Congress issues exemptions every three years to that section of the 1998 law, but the process begins anew for each cycle. Certain exemptions in previous years have been granted for accessibility of e-books for the blind.

While Christian Genetski, senior vice president and general counsel for the Entertainment Software Alliance, said there’s been “unrivaled innovation” since enactment of the 1998 law, he seemed open to changes to how certain exemptions are handled.

“I think that we all share the frustration expressed by Mr. Richert in his testimony about the need to return repeatedly and use extensive resources to seek… renewal of an exemption” where there isn’t opposition, Genetski said. “I think there are instances like those where now we have the experience of several iterations of the rulemaking process where we see some patterns emerge.”

He added that there are areas emerging, like ones Richert speaks to, that could “warrant some thought about how we might address situations like that.”

Similarly, Jonathan Zuck, president of ACT – The App Association, said that the law “taken as a whole” has worked, but also said there’s “room for improvement” in the triennial review process “to make that process more fluid and create fewer impediments to legitimate exemptions.”

September 16, 2014

NASA Announces Commercial Crew Contracts for Boeing and SpaceX

iss nasa 445x294 NASA Announces Commercial Crew Contracts for Boeing and SpaceX

The International Space Station, photographed by a crew member on the Space Shuttle Endeavor in a 2001 mission (Source: NASA)

Boeing and SpaceX will be the private companies that shuttle U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, ending NASA’s reliance on Russia for transport to the research station since the U.S. shuttle program ended in 2011.

From a NASA release announcing the contracts for the two companies totaling $6.8 billion:

These Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contracts are designed to complete the NASA certification for human space transportation systems capable of carrying people into orbit. Once certification is complete, NASA plans to use these systems to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station and return them safely to Earth.

The companies selected to provide this transportation capability and the maximum potential value of their FAR-based firm fixed-price contracts are:
– The Boeing Company, Houston, $4.2 billion
– Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Hawthorne, California, $2.6 billion

The contracts include at least one crewed flight test per company with at least one NASA astronaut aboard to verify the fully integrated rocket and spacecraft system can launch, maneuver in orbit, and dock to the space station, as well as validate all its systems perform as expected. Once each company’s test program has been completed successfully and its system achieves NASA certification, each contractor will conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station. These spacecraft also will serve as a lifeboat for astronauts aboard the station.

A couple initial responses from the Hill:

House Science, Space and Technology Committee chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas: “I congratulate Boeing and SpaceX on their achievements in the Commercial Crew Program. Both companies and the thousands of people they employ have a crucial task before them as they work to further U.S. space exploration. They also have a responsibility to the U.S. taxpayers who are making considerable contributions to the development of these commercial space capabilities.”

House Science ranking Democrat Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas:  ”I am encouraged by today’s announcement as it will allow NASA, Boeing, and SpaceX to complete development, testing and certification of the needed capability.  That capability must be proven safe according to NASA requirements and it must be cost-effective given the significant investment taxpayers are being asked to make.  These partnerships are important and I look forward to monitoring their development because we need safe and reliable crew transport to allow the full and productive utilization of the ISS.”

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 5:39 p.m.

Should FCC Keep Treating Mobile Broadband Differently in Net Neutrality Rules?

The Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Open Internet rules didn’t apply to mobile broadband to the same extent as fixed broadband. For instance, the unreasonable discrimination rule didn’t apply to mobile.  The current Open Internet proposal before the FCC “tentatively” thinks it should keep that same approach, but should the FCC revisit its different treatment of mobile broadband given big changes in the mobile market since 2010?

That’s basically one of the questions asked in the current Open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking (the 2010 rules are being rewritten in response to an appeals court decision earlier this year that struck down the bulk of those rules).

Below are a some excerpts of what a few of the reply comments, which were due on Monday, had to say on the matter of mobile broadband and net neutrality rules. They might give you a sense of the debate that could emerge in this afternoon’s FCC Open Internet roundtable on mobile broadband.

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