Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
December 19, 2014

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December 18, 2014

Group of 36 Democrats Call for Quick FCC Action on Net Neutrality Rules

A group of 36 House and Senate Democrats wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler Thursday,  saying it’s “time for action” on net neutrality rules, and that those rules should reclassify broadband service as a common carrier with “appropriate forbearance.”

The letter was led by Sen. Edward J. Markey, of Massachusetts, and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, of California, who have been calling for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act.

It’s been nearly year since an appeals court struck down the bulk of the agency’s 2010 net neutrality rules and since then, millions of companies and constituents have articulated the “need for the Commission to use its authority to prevent broadband providers from engaging in discriminatory practices,” the lawmakers write.

“Many of us have previously written to you and urged the Commission to put the strongest possible rules on the books in order to ensure the health and vitality of the Internet for future generations,” they write, adding that the agency should reclassify broadband with “appropriate forbearance.” President Barack Obama has also urged this approach, they write.

“Everyone has spoken; now is the time for action,” they write.  “We urge you to act without delay to finalize rules that keep the Internet free and open for business.”

Report: No Consensus on Privacy Infrastructure by 2025

There isn’t a consensus on whether in the next decade we’ll have a commonly-accepted “privacy-rights infrastructure” that balances business innovation and individual privacy options, according to a report released Thursday by the Pew Research Center and Elon University.

It’s part of a project where more than 12,000 “experts and members of the interested public” were invited to share their thoughts on the “likely future of the Internet,” according to the report. Roughly 2,500 people responded to the privacy question. Thursday’s report is part of a series Pew and Elon University has been releasing on the future of the Internet and technology.

According to the report, 55 percent of respondents answered no while 45 percent responded yes to this question:

Will policy makers and technology innovators create a secure, popularly accepted, and trusted privacy-rights infrastructure by 2025 that allows for business innovation and monetization while also offering individuals choices for protecting their personal information in easy-to-use formats?

The report also lays out themes in the responses.

Interestingly, the idea that “public life is the new default” was a theme the report pointed out in both the affirmative and negative answers.

For those who didn’t think there would be a commonly-accepted privacy infrastructure in the next decade, the report sums up a common theme in their answers this way:

Living a public life is the new default. It is not possible to live modern life without revealing personal information to governments and corporations. Few individuals will have the energy, interest, or resources to protect themselves from ‘dataveillance’; privacy will become a ‘luxury.”

But the idea of a default public life was also marked out as a theme in the answers from those who did anticipate a privacy agreement by 2025. From the report:

Living a public life is the new default. People will get used to this, adjust their norms, and accept more sharing and collection of data as a part of life—especially Millennials and the young people who follow them. Problems will persist and some will complain but most will not object or muster the energy to push back against this new reality in their lives.

Another interesting theme the report describes among people who didn’t anticipate a privacy infrastructure in the next decade was the idea that different cultures have different views on privacy making it impossible for a consensus on “how to address civil liberties issues on the global Internet.”

December 16, 2014

NHTSA Has New App to Help the Tipsy Find a Ride Home

During the height of the holiday party season, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that they have an app to help people who’ve been drinking call a cab or a friend to get them home.

Called SaferRide, the app is available for Android devices, and NHTSA says in a release that it will help “keep drunk drivers off our roads by allowing users to call a taxi or a friend and by identifying their location so they can be picked up.”

The description for the app on Google Play says users can call taxis from a list of services in the area and also call a “pre-programmed contact.”

And the description includes this: “If you just need to know where you are, you can bring up a map of your current location.” So, apparently, if you’re too drunk to know where you are, this app might help.

On a more serious note, the announcement for the app came as NHTSA started its “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign.

“We’re making progress in the fight against drunk driving by working with law enforcement and our safety partners, and by arming people with useful tools, such as our new SaferRide app,” said NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator David Friedman in a statement.

It looks like NHTSA isn’t alone in the anti-drunk driving app department. The Governors Highway Safety Association pointed to a couple state anti-drunk driving mobile apps on Tuesday, like Maryland’s ENDUI app, which the Associated Press reported was funded by NHTSA. California also has an app targeted at designated drivers.

December 15, 2014

The Week Ahead: Digital Privacy Laws, Microsoft’s Data Warrant Case and Intellectual Property Enforcement Abroad

The Senate is still in session after clearing a $1.1 trillion spending package over the weekend and there are a couple events dealing with intellectual property enforcement abroad as well as digital privacy laws and Microsoft’s data warrant case.


At 11 a.m., the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in D.C. will show a live webcast of a Microsoft event in New York City where the issue of overhauling of digital privacy laws will be discussed. There will also apparently be an announcement related to the company’s legal case dealing with a warrant for data in a data center located in Ireland. You can also watch the event here.


The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Intellectual Property Center hosts a roundtable of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s intellectual property attachés to talk enforcement and protection of intellectual property rights abroad.


December 9, 2014

Lawmakers Respond to Commerce Department IG Report on FirstNet

After the Commerce Department’s inspector general reported last week that some board members of the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet, which is developing an interoperable public safety broadband network, had inadequate financial disclosure forms and might have conflicts of interest, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over telecom issues, Oregon Republican Greg Walden,  said he’ll hold more hearings on FirstNet early next year.

In a statement Monday, Walden said:

Unfortunately, the Inspector General’s report confirms what we have suspected and long feared – that FirstNet had been operating without proper processes and with disregard for laws that guard against impropriety. Questions of ethics threaten the legitimacy of FirstNet’s efforts and ultimately undermine its important mission to build a nationwide public safety broadband network.

The inspector general reported that the Commerce Department’s “confidential and public disclosure monitoring procedures were inadequate” for FirstNet, that “board members did not file timely public financial disclosure reports” and that “FirstNet Board operational procedures for monitoring potential conflicts of interest need improvement.”

Among the report’s findings was that when one board member eventually filed a required public disclosure form, he or she “neglected to disclose a potentially conflicting company that had been included in the initial confidential, nonpublic filing from the previous year,” and that one board member “inappropriately directed” hiring actions of a contractor.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and a champion of the public safety network, said the report servers as a “note of caution to everyone involved in FirstNet – they must be diligent about following rules.” But he added that he continued to “trust that FirstNet is in good hands, both from the Board and its executive leadership team, and I am confident that they will make sure to carefully abide by all applicable rules and regulations going forward.”

“In fact, I understand that FirstNet has already taken steps to remedy many of the problems documented by the Inspector General,” he said.

December 8, 2014

The Sharing Economy and Taxes

The sharing economy, in which people rent each other goods and services (think Uber, Airbnb and Lyft), could complicate the collection of taxes in the future, says Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

At a panel discussion hosted by the Internet Committee of the Congressional Internet Caucus on Monday, Sundararajan said that part of what used to be an underground economy is becoming more transparent, and that’s positive.

But there’s also what he called a “scaling of the behavior.” People will increasingly engage in “peer-to-peer business,” he said, which will mean fewer people employed in full-time jobs. That, in turn, might lead to a “fragmentation of …. the units of taxable sort of  income that are reported, a reduction in the number of people who are reporting traditional income tax because they have now set themselves up as small businesses, and because of that the potential fall in the tax base.”

At the same time, he said, the  safety net provided by corporations and government is starting to shrink as well.

“We may thus need to figure out new ways of funding capital contributions to society,”  Sundararajan said. “ In the long run, the sharing economy also calls into question the logic of some existing taxes like hotel taxes.”

By Anne L. Kim Posted at 5:53 p.m.

December 5, 2014

Weekly Wrapup: Sports Blackouts, Intellectual Property Panel Chairman, Orion Test Flight

A Senate hearing on sports blackouts, the announcement of the next chairman of the House Judiciary subcommittee with jurisdiction over intellectual property issues and NASA’s Orion crew capsule’s first flight into space was among the news this week.

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on sports blackouts and CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta reported (subscription) that senators and the National Football League exchanged threats over the issue.
  • A coalition of groups and companies, called the Stop Mega Comcast Coalition, opposing the Comcast Time-Warner merger was announced. The coalition includes satellite television provider Dish Network, Public Knowledge, Writers Guild of America, West, and NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, and others.
  • House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., announced Darrell Issa, R-Calif., as chairman of the Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee.
  • NASA’s Orion crew vehicle had its test flight which the Wall Street Journal described as “virtually flawless.” Technocrat had a preview here.
  • The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Pennsylvania resident Anthony Elonis, who was convicted in 2010 of a felony for making violent comments on Facebook and Technocrat had a roundup here.
  • Technocrat reported that Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.,  said there was “such potential for conflicting regulatory directives” from agencies when it comes to the Internet of Things and that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee had a responsibility to “really look at the big picture and ensure that agencies aren’t conflicting with each other, that what is being done makes sense and… allows for future innovation that we can’t even anticipate right now.”

December 3, 2014

Could Reclassification of Broadband Under Title II Impact a Communications Act Overhaul?

A former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over telecommunications policy contended Tuesday that a legislative overhaul of communications law would end up as collateral damage if the Federal Communications Commission reclassifies broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

The question of whether the agency should reclassify broadband under Title II is a major point of contention in the policy debate surrounding net neutrality.

Saying that he was “stating the obvious when I say this,” former Virginia Democratic House member Rick Boucher at a panel event hosted by the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies said that “Congress, in the event that reclassification occurs, can pretty much put on the shelf any notion of passing a telecom reform.” He cited a “highly partisan debate” about net neutrality if reclassification occurs.

Boucher now is a partner at Sidley Austin LLP and honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance.

He said that if reclassification occurs, Congress would conduct numerous hearings, that the FCC chairman would end up repeatedly testifying on the Hill, that the agency would be occupied with responding to questions and that legislation would be introduced.

“If the debate about network neutrality creeps over into the telecom reform conversation, then I think it’s very difficult to get into the real issues,” he later said.

That would happen is reclassification occurs, he said, and what would result is that “any notion of a meaningful telecom reform” would need to be postponed for at least one Congress until the dust settles, he said.

December 2, 2014

Roundup: SCOTUS Case Dealing with Online Threats and Free Speech

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in the case of Pennsylvania resident Anthony Elonis, who was convicted in 2010 of a felony for making violent comments on Facebook. CQ Roll Call’s  Todd Ruger reported (subscription):

Elonis considers his posts rap lyrics that were therapeutic to write — and protected First Amendment speech, just like music from artists. Federal prosecutors say the posts crossed the line and were threats.

At oral arguments, the justices used their questions to explore the gray area in between. There was no clear indication from the arguments which way the justices would rule.

The Washington Post reported:

The justices seemed reluctant to accept the government’s position that a threat exists whenever the speech in question would make a reasonable person fearful. But there did not seem to be a consensus on what more prosecutors should be required to prove.

The AP reported:

The government argues the proper test is not what Elonis intended, but whether his words would make a reasonable person feel threatened. That’s the standard a jury used in convicting him under a federal law barring threats of violence.

Some justices seemed concerned that the government’s position is too broad and risks sweeping in language protected by the First Amendment. But there seemed to be little agreement over what standard to use.

November 25, 2014

Study Indicates Most Internet Users Understand Concept of Net Neutrality

According to a survey by Pew Research Center, the majority of Internet users correctly identified what the concept of net neutrality refers to.

The online survey released Tuesday – which quizzed roughly 1,000 Internet users between Sept. 12 and 18 – asked a number of questions, like whether Twitter has a 140 character limit and whether the Internet and the World Wide Web are the same.

One of the questions asked what net neutrality refers to, and according to Pew, 61 percent selected the correct answer from four options: “Equal treatment of digital content by internet service providers.”

Another 12 percent incorrectly chose the answer “The postings on websites that are nonpartisan” and 13 percent selected “A promise by users of some websites that they will not make critical comments.”

“The way Wikipedia editors are instructed to handle new entries on their site” was an answer selected by six percent of respondents and nine percent didn’t answer the question at all.

The percent of respondents who correctly answered a privacy-related question was much lower.

The survey found that only 44 percent of Internet users are “aware that when a company posts a privacy statement, it does not necessarily mean that the firm actually keeps in information it collects on users confidential.”

The majority – 52 percent – incorrectly answered that this statement was true: “When a company posts a privacy policy, it ensures that the company keeps confidential all the information it collects on users.”

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