Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 4, 2015

March 3, 2015

Fun Fact: ‘Supernova Mikulski’

At least a couple stories on Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski’s, D-Md., announcement of her retirement on Monday remind us that a supernova was named in her honor a few years ago.

From Reuters: “In 2012, when NASA researchers in Baltimore discovered the fleeting glimmer of an exploding star, they named it ‘Supernova Mikulski,’ after one of their chief congressional patrons.”

A 2012 story by The Associated Press reported some details about the supernova and more:

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski is known for her outspoken support of space exploration.

On Thursday, she will have a supernova named after her at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

From a 2012 Heard on the Hill post:

The astronomers found Supernova Mikulski using the Hubble Space Telescope. About 7.4 billion light-years from Earth, it is not visible to the naked eye.

Space researchers have an affinity for Mikulski, which should come as no surprise because she’s the Senate appropriator charged with the NASA budget.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore will also be renamed in Mikulski’s honor. Data collected by both the Hubble and Webb telescopes will be held at the institute.

Mikulski is the longest-serving woman in Congress, the first woman to helm the Senate Appropriations Committee and has been the top Democrat on the Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee for years.

March 2, 2015

The Week Ahead: American Cable Association Summit and Budget, Cybersecurity Hearings

The American Cable Association holds its summit and congressional committees hold cybersecurity hearings as well as budget hearings on NASA, the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department this week.


Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology discusses net neutrality at the American Enterprise Institute.

The Center for Strategic & International Studies hosts a panel event on the Internet of Things and the transportation industry.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States hosts an event titled “Internet Freedom 2.1: Lessons from Asia’s Developing Democracies.”


A House Appropriations subcommittee holds a Commerce Department budget hearing.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee has a cybersecurity hearing.


The American Cable Association holds its summit, which continues on Thursday.

The Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Innovation Alliance, the Medical Device Manufacturers Association, and the National Venture Capital Association host a patent event.

A House Appropriations subcommittee holds a NASA budget hearing.

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing titled “Reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission: The FCC’s FY 2016 Budget Request.”

A House Homeland Security subcommittee holds a hearing titled “Industry Perspectives on the President’s Cybersecurity Information Sharing Proposal.”

New America hosts an event on technology and disability.


The House Intelligence Committee holds a cybersecurity hearing.

A Senate Appropriations subcommittee holds a hearing on NASA’s fiscal 2016 budget request.


USTelecom hosts a cybersecurity event.

February 27, 2015

Weekly Wrapup: Net Neutrality and City-Owned Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission took historic action this week to claim broader regulatory authority over broadband service providers, reclassifying broadband service under a 1934 law that governs common carriers. Your Weekly Wrapup includes posts on the FCC’s net neutrality rules, city-owned broadband and a tax bill in Oregon that state lawmakers hope will attract Google Fiber and others.

FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules

Net Neutrality Meeting Highlights

Walden Wants “Better Path” on Net Neutrality

FCC Republicans Call for Delay in Net Neutrality Vote

Twitter Praises Wheeler’s Net Neutrality Proposal

Net Neutrality Wasn’t the Only Item the FCC Voted on Thursday

Oregon Senate Panel Advances Tax Bill that Lawmakers Hope Will Attract Google Fiber and Others

A Look at the FCC’s Rules Seeking to Improve 911 Call Location Accuracy

Oregon Senate Panel Advances Tax Bill that Lawmakers Hope Will Attract Google Fiber and Others

An Oregon state Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that could “resolve years of dispute over state taxes on telecommunications companies,” The Oregonian reports. The measure has drawn objection from cities, according to the newspaper.

From The Oregonian:

Lawmakers hope the bill would open the door for Google Fiber to bring its hyperfast Internet service to the Portland area and prompt Amazon and Apple to resume expansion of data centers they operate in central and eastern Oregon.

By capping some taxes and exempting data centers from others, though, the new law would also limit future revenues to local governments that are reliant on property taxes. That has therefore sparked skepticism, particularly of the tax cuts for existing telecom providers.

February 26, 2015

Net Neutrality Rules Wasn’t the Only Item the FCC Voted on Thursday

The big news Thursday was the Federal Communications Commission’s vote of net neutrality rules, so you might have missed another significant action the commission took Thursday. It pre-empted portions of state law in North Carolina and Tennessee that petitioners have argued restrict their ability to expand municipal broadband offerings.

That action responds to petitions submitted this past summer by Chattanooga, Tennessee’s Electric Power Board, which runs its network, and the government of Wilson, N.C., to preempt state laws they say prevent them from geographically expanding their broadband offerings.

Full story

Net Neutrality Meeting Highlights

In case you missed Thursday’s historic Federal Communications Commission vote on net neutrality rules, here are some highlights.

Tom Wheeler:

“Today’s order is more powerful and more expansive than any previously considered or… suggested.”

“The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.”

“This proposal has been described by one opponent as, quote, a secret plan to regulate the Internet. Nonsense. This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.”

“It is important for consumers as well as companies that nothing in today’s order alters the economic model for continued network expansion. An ISP’s revenue stream will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday.”

Mignon Clyburn:

“We worked closely with the chairman’s office to strike an appropriate balance, and yes it is true that significant changes were made at my office’s request including the elimination of a sender-side classification, but I firmly believe that these items have strengthened this item.”

“So for those in a panic about rate regulation, there are millions who can testify to… how high the bar is to when it comes to the FCC intervening… when it comes to rates and charges.”

Jessica Rosenworcel:

“The result honors the creative, collaborative and open Internet envisioned by those who were there at the start.”

Ajit Pai:

“We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason only – President Obama told us to do so.”

“So, the FCC is abandoning a 20-year bipartisan framework for keeping the Internet free and open in favor of great Depression- era legislation designed to regulate Ma Bell. But at least we’re getting something in return, right? Wrong. The Internet is not broken. There is no problem for the government to solve.”

“To start, the commission’s decision to adopt President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works.”

“One facet of that control is rate regulation.

Michael O’Rielly:

“Today, the majority of the commission attempts to usurp the authority of Congress by rewriting [ the] Communications Act to suit its own values and political ends. The item claims to forbear from certain monopoly-era Title II regulations but reserving the right to impose them using other provisions or at some point in the future. The commission abdicates its role as an expert agency by defining and classifying services based on unsupported and unreasonable findings.”

“Net neutrality is now the pretext for deploying Title II as far greater extent than anyone could have imagined just months ago.”

FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote that would reclassify broadband service as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.

The panel vote comes roughly a year after a federal appeals court struck down the bulk of 2010 net neutrality rules and the process for drafting new rules has drawn much public attention. The new set of rules is expected to draw litigation.

The rules would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the same portion of law the agency uses to regulate phone companies and other common carriers, and it would prohibit broadband providers from blocking content, throttling traffic or engaging in paid prioritization. The rules would fully apply to mobile broadband. In addition, the agency would have enforcement authority over interconnection actions.

Chairman Tom Wheeler said Thursday’s action was an “irrefutable reflection of the principal that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free and open access to the Internet.”

“This proposal has been described by one opponent as, quote, a secret plan to regulate the Internet. Nonsense,” he later said. “This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.”

Republican commissioners gave lengthy statements in opposition, including Ajit Pai saying:

But if this order manages to survive judicial review, these will be the consequences: higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation and fewer options for American consumers. Put simply, President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet is not the solution to a problem. His plan is the problem. This order imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work to solve a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 1:56 p.m.
Net Neutrality

February 25, 2015

Walden Wants “Better Path” on Net Neutrality

The top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over tech said Wednesday that he hopes that once “everybody has a chance to digest” the text of net neutrality rules the Federal Communications Commission will vote on Thursday, “maybe we will find that there’s a better approach and path and that would be by legislating.” 

The proposed rules to be voted on by the FCC would reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, a move that’s drawn Republican ire and praise from Democrats. Senate and House GOP committee leaders released draft legislation last month that would bar broadband service providers from blocking content, throttling traffic and entering into deals to give priority to some content, while at the same time writing into law the FCC’s current classification of broadband as an ‘information service.” It hasn’t gotten Democratic support.

On Wednesday, Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, told reporters after a net neutrality hearing that “it’s too early to tell when we might move” on legislation, noting that he was waiting to see the agency’s rules.

“And then we have to all take time to absorb what they really did and hear from people about… the implications of the order,” he said.

Responding to a reporter’s question about how optimistic he was about getting Democrats on board, he said he anticipated that once the agency acts, perhaps some Democrats might be “freed up” to be more engaged legislatively, but deflected a reporter’s question on why he thought that would be the case, saying it was a question for Democrats.

“It’s not for lack of trying on our part,” he said. “This effort started back in December with multiple meetings and outreaches, but … has gone nowhere yet.”

“I’m hopeful when everybody has a chance to digest the… actual language of the FCC’s order, that maybe we will find that there’s a better approach and path and that would be by legislating,” he said.

WSJ on Municipal Broadband: Wheeler Wants to ‘Usurp’ State Authority

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to move to pre-empt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that restrict municipalities from offering Internet service. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he recommended approving petitions from the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tenn., a public utility run by the city, and the city of Wilson, N.C.

Wheeler wrote last July, even before the petitions were filed, that, “If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.”

The Wall Street Journal in an editorial contends that Wheeler wants to “usurp state authority to regulate municipal broadband networks.”

The piece argues that municipally run networks can “undercut the private market” and that public financing of these networks “puts taxpayers and in some cases electric-utility ratepayers on the hook if the ventures got belly up.”

From the editorial:

In Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League (2004), the Supreme Court rejected federal pre-emption of a state ban on municipal telecom services.

Mr. Wheeler is trying to end-run this ruling by appealing to the FCC’s mandate to “promote competition” and “remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” But if the Labor Department construed its mandate to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare” of workers as broadly, the feds could nullify state laws that forbid cities from raising their minimum wage or restrict collective bargaining for local government workers.

Mr. Wheeler may figure that liberal ends justify illiberal means, but he is threatening serious damage to the federal system and local self-government.

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 10:46 a.m.

February 24, 2015

Individual Universities Write to Judiciary Panel Leaders on Patent Legislation

As lawmakers make another effort to pass legislation targeting abusive patent litigation, universities are continuing to let them know they have problems with proposals they think go too far.

On Tuesday, more than 140 universities signed a letter to House and Senate Judiciary Committee leaders saying they’re “deeply concerned” that “much of the patent legislation currently being discussed in Congress, including the Innovation Act, H.R. 9, goes well beyond what is needed to address the bad actions of a small number of patent holders, and would instead make it more difficult and expensive for patent holders to defend their rights in good faith.”

The Association of American Universities and the Association of Public Land-grant Universities organized the letter and, according to a press release, most of the institutions that signed it are members of either or both groups. The two associations opposed House legislation during the previous Congress, saying it was too sweeping and would discourage legitimate patent rights enforcement. The two groups were critical of fee-shifting and joinder provisions in that measure and  Tuesday’s letter from the individual institutions continued raising concern about those two issues:

 Two such proposals – mandatory fee-shifting, where courts award attorney’s fees to the party that prevails in a suit, and involuntary joinder – are especially troubling to the university community because they would make the legitimate defense of patent rights excessively risky and thus weaken the university technology transfer process, which is an essential part of our country’s innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem.


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