Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 11, 2016

Hill Keeps Busy on Satellite TV, ‘Troll’ Letters, Cellphone Unlocking

Thursday saw lots of action on tech-related legislation, with three committees advancing bills on separate topics. Here’s a rundown:

Satellite TV: Multiple committees on the Hill have jurisdiction in addressing expiring provisions of a satellite television law and the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday became the third panel to move legislation. CQ Roll Call’s Rob Margetta writes that the law, the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (referred to by its acronym, STELA), allows satellite providers to bring in “distant signals” when they can’t get broadcast television signals in a particular market and the bill would extend the law’s authority for five years.

That follows action by the Senate Judiciary Committee in approving a similarly narrow bill last month. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also advanced a bill back in May that has a number of additional provisions, such as one that would prevent, according to Margetta, unaffiliated broadcasters in a single market from jointly negotiating over fees satellite and cable companies have pay to retransmit their content.

While the bill the House Judiciary panel approved on Thursday wouldn’t make major policy changes, Margetta writes that lawmakers indicated a willingness to consider language dealing with the joint negotiation issue as well as language dealing with blackouts of channels during disputes in negotiating retransmission fees.

With three panels having acted, that leaves awaited action by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which also has jurisdiction.

That panel’s ranking Republican, John Thune, R-S.D.,  said a couple weeks ago at a Free State Foundation event that “we’re hoping to mark that up in the Commerce committee sometime” in the July work period.  There are three weeks left before that work period ends. After that, lawmakers go back home for the entire month of August.

‘Patent Trolls': A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee approved a bill that CQ Roll Call’s John Gramlich writes would change how the Federal Trade Commission handles threatening letters sent by “patent trolls.”

Gramlich notes that lawmakers have long been at odds over how to address the broader issue of patent-enforcement entities, and that even the narrow proposal taken up by the subcommittee Thursday displayed the “difficult balancing act that lawmakers face.”

Cellphone Unlocking: The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a cellphone unlocking bill that, according to CQ Roll Call’s Joanna Anderson, would make it  legal for consumers to remove software that keeps cellphones exclusive to service providers.

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act outlaws circumvention of access controls. The Librarian of Congress provides exemptions and has done so in the past for cell phone unlocking, but didn’t do so in 2012.

Anderson writes that the Senate committee incorporated changes as part of a bipartisan deal. Back in February, the House passed its own bill. The bills are similar, according to Anderson, but the Senate bill does not include language explicitly blocking bulk unlocking.

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