Emerging Technologies Washington Update

April 4, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Bipartisan House Judiciary leaders reintroduce Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, Energy and Commerce Committee sends Net Neutrality legislation to House floor, Senate Commerce Committee advances nominations, legislation to combat robocalls, House Appropriations panel examines FY20 FCC budget request

Week in Review

A $13.5 billion disaster supplemental continued to stall in the Senate this week as Democrats press for more funds for Puerto Rico’s hurricane recovery efforts, failing twice to attract the 60 votes needed to move forward.

On the other side of the Capitol, the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines on Wednesday to authorize Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to issue a subpoena to obtain the full report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Nadler does not plan to use that authority right away, saying he instead prefers to work with Attorney General Bill Barr to make the report public without resorting to a subpoena.

Members of the House and Senate convened on Wednesday to hear from North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. President Trump also hosted Stoltenberg at the White House for a bilateral meeting.

Today, the House voted 263-158 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which lapsed in February.

Yesterday, the President signed a presidential memorandum on combating trafficking in counterfeit and pirated goods. Citing a lack of government resources, the memorandum is intended to place more responsibility on the private sector, including online marketplaces and intermediaries and others in the supply chain, to combat the sale of counterfeit goods. The Departments of Commerce, Homeland Security, and Justice are also tasked with compiling a report on the sale of counterfeit products online, which the administration will rely on to provide further policy changes.

The President announced last Friday that Administrator Linda McMahon is stepping down from the Small Business Administration on April 12 to transition to a political group supporting his reelection bid.

Looking Ahead

Next week, Cabinet secretaries and agency heads will continue to appear before the Appropriations and authorizing committees to support the President’s FY20 budget request. Congress will also continue to examine drug pricing; on Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee will hold the third in a series of hearings, this one focused on pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will also have a hearing Wednesday on insulin pricing.

The Senate Commerce Committee will examine broadband mapping on Wednesday, while a Senate Judiciary subcommittee chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) will hold a hearing on “Stifling Free Speech: Technological Censorship and the Public Discourse.”

Bipartisan House Judiciary Leaders Reintroduce Journalism Competition and Preservation Act

This week, House Judiciary Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) and Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline (D-RI) reintroduced the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (H.R. 2054). The legislation, first introduced last congress, would establish a temporary safe harbor for publishers of online content to collectively negotiate with dominant online platforms regarding the terms on which their content may be distributed. “The free press is a cornerstone of our democracy. Journalists keep the public informed, root out corruption, and hold the powerful accountable. This bill will provide a much-needed lifeline to local publishers who have been crushed by Google and Facebook. It’s about time we take a stand on this issue,” Rep. Cicilline argued in an adjoining press release. “Through our bipartisan legislation, we are opening the door for community newspapers to more fairly negotiate with large tech platforms that are operating in an increasingly anti-competitive space,” Chairman Collins added.

The lawmakers touted the importance of the legislation during a Washington Post Live event earlier today on “Protecting Local News.” Rep. Cicilline underscored the importance of safeguarding competition in the media industry, maintaining consumer access to reliable information, and supporting the journalism industry more broadly. He added that journalists and reporters play a critical role in ensuring accountability and exposing corruption. Chairman Collins highlighted the measure’s aim of mitigating the growing trend of “news deserts,” wherein communities lack access to local reporting. The event featured a number of other panel discussions and keynote remarks addressing the latest issues impacting local news, including increasing reliance on subscription-based revenue, heightened focus on building and maintaining consumer trust, and the rise in partnerships between local and national publications on investigations and media coverage. 

Energy and Commerce Committee Sends Net Neutrality Legislation to House Floor

Yesterday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 30-22 to clear the Save the Internet Act. During the markup, Republican members offered 19 amendments, none of which were accepted. The only amendment accepted was offered by Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Doyle (D-PA). The provision provides a one-year exemption from the transparency requirements of the 2015 Open Internet Order, which mandates broadband providers to disclose accurate information regarding network performance for each broadband service they offer, including speed, latency, and packet loss. The amendment defines “small business” as any broadband internet access service provider with fewer than 100,000 subscribers and requires the FCC to provide a report on both whether the definition of small business should be modified as well as whether the exemption should be made permanent.

Doyle noted on passage of the bill that “[t]he approach that we are discussing here today charts a new course for net neutrality and would put in place 21st Century rules for a 21st Century Internet.” Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) noted in his statement that “[i]t’s time for the full House to vote to keep the internet open and free, and I will work to make that happen soon.”

Senate Commerce Committee Advances Nominations, Legislation to Combat Robocalls

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held an executive session to consider a slew of pending nominations and legislation. Notably, the Committee again advanced Heidi King’s nomination to be Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Diana Furchtgott-Roth’s nomination to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Research and Technology. Both votes were 14-12 along party lines. The Committee previously advanced both nominations last Congress, but neither reached the floor amid opposition from Democrats.

The Committee also approved the the bipartisan TRACED Act sponsored by Senators Thune (R-SD) and Markey (D-MA) aimed at combating abusive robocalls. The bill authorizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to impose civil penalties of up to $10,000 per call and increases the window in which the FCC can take enforcement action from one to three years. The Committee also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Moran (R-KS) that requires the FCC to produce an annual report to Congress on its enforcement actions.

House Appropriations Panel Examines FY20 FCC Budget Request

This week, the House Appropriations Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee held a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) budget hearing featuring testimony from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Members questioned Chairman Pai and Commissioner Rosenworcel on a number of issues, including the status of ongoing FCC spectrum auctions, the accuracy of FCC broadband mapping, efforts to expand rural broadband access, and the impact of the Trump Administration’s repeal of the 2015 Obama Administration Open Internet Order.

In his opening remarks, Chairman Pai expressed support for the Trump Administration’s FY20 FCC budget request and outlined his current policy priorities as FCC Chairman. These included supporting and expanding 5G technologies, closing the digital divide, protecting public safety through improving emergency alert systems, and ensuring diversity in the communications sector by supporting ownership by and employment of underrepresented communities.

In contrast, Commissioner Rosenworcel expressed opposition to the Trump Administration’s FY20 FCC budget request for lacking adequate resources to execute the agencies core missions. She specifically cited the FCC’s role in upholding consumer protections, maintaining access to universal services, safeguarding market competition, and protecting public safety. She called on Congress to expand funding and resource to the agency in the upcoming appropriations cycle.

Cabinet secretaries and agency heads have been testifying in support of the White House’s FY20 budget request – released last month – before the Appropriations and authorizing committees. While the budget outlines the Trump Administration’s proposed spending levels, Congress will produce and pass its own funding bills.