Emerging Technologies Washington Update

November 21, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Senate Commerce Committee holds hearing on autonomous vehicles, Senate Democrats release principles for federal privacy legislation, FCC Chairman Pai tackles tough spectrum issues in closing weeks of 2019, White House releases progress report on national artificial intelligence strategy.

Week in Review

With government spending authority set to expire on Thursday, the House unveiled a continuing resolution (CR) on Monday to extend funding through December 20. It went on to pass the chamber Tuesday, 231-192 and the Senate followed suit today, 74-20. The President is expected to sign it into law, averting a government shutdown.

On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee held a confirmation hearing for Dr. Stephen Hahn, the President’s nominee to serve as the next Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner. The Committee pressed Hahn on his opinions on issues related to vaping, opioids, and prescription drug pricing.

House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders struck a deal on legislation to reauthorize an expiring satellite television law (STELAR) just hours before marking up the compromise on Wednesday. The Television Viewer Protection Act does not include a license renewal provision that falls under the jurisdiction of the House Judiciary Committee, which marks up the Satellite Television Community Protection and Promotion Act today. The Senate Commerce Committee has yet to consider a STELAR reauthorization ahead of its December 31 expiration.

The House Democratic Caucus elected Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) on Wednesday to chair the House Oversight and Reform Committee. She succeeds the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

On Monday, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen gave a speech at the American Bar Association Antitrust Forum during which he said: “we do not view antitrust law as a panacea for every problem in the digital world. Indeed, we will not ignore any harms caused by online platforms that partially or completely fall outside the antitrust laws.” This raises questions about whether the Department of Justice is willing to pursue tech companies for issues that do not implicate the Sherman Antitrust Act.

During a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) meeting on Tuesday, federal accident investigators criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a lack of oversight over autonomous vehicles (AVs), including producing guidance that does not outline metrics by which developers can determine if they’ve met certain safety goals. The NTSB recommended that NHTSA require developers seeking to test on public roads to provide safety self-assessment plans before testing begins. During the hearing, the NTSB noted that there are 62 developers undergoing testing in California, but only 16 have submitted safety self-assessments to NHTSA.  (Current NHTSA policy recommends but does not require companies to provide self-assessments.) The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also held a hearing yesterday on AVs; see below for more details.

NHTSA announced today in a Federal Register notice that it is requesting public comment on nine draft research test procedures to assess the performance of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) available to consumers. Comments are due by January 21, 2020.

On Tuesday, the FCC announced the members of its Precision Agriculture Task Force and the first meeting of the group. The Task Force will be chaired by Teddy Bekele, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer, Land O’Lakes, and Catherine Moyer, Chief Executive Officer and General Manager, Pioneer Communications. Members of the Task Force include John Deere, SpaceX, and a host of other entities that represent a range of stakeholders in the agriculture sector. The Task Force’s first meeting it set for December 9 at 9:30 am. 

Looking Ahead

Congress will be in recess next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. The President will host Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov at the White House on Monday.

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Autonomous Vehicles

The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing yesterday on “Highly Automated Vehicles: Federal Perspectives on the Deployment of Safety Technology.” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, Acting Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy Joel Szabat, and Acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens testified.

The hearing focused on the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) efforts to oversee and regulate autonomous vehicles and the next steps in the process. During his opening remarks, Chairman Wicker (R-MS) noted that the Committee has resumed its efforts to draft legislation to set a federal regulatory framework governing the safety of AVs. Led by Senators Thune (R-SD) and Peters (D-MI), the Committee has been working with the House Energy and Commerce Committee to draft bipartisan, bicameral legislation through a consultative process involving stakeholders. Chairman Wicker noted that although the U.S. is home to the world’s leading AV companies, the U.S. ranks 9th in the world in legislation and policy governing AVs. He argued that in the absence of a strong national approach, other countries could have the opportunity to take the U.S.’s place as a leader in the field. Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) emphasized that the interaction between humans and automation technology needs a lot more attention.  

During the hearing, Senator Thune asked Mr. Szabat how Congress can support DOT’s efforts to encourage safe and efficient AV integration into the nation’s transportation system. Mr. Szabat suggested that Congress and the Department should coordinate with state and local governments, rather than pursue a “top-down” approach. Mr. Szabat noted that flexible legislation will be critical because there will be a need to modify legislation as technology continues to evolve. Senator Fischer (R-NE) asked Mr. Sumwalt if DOT still agrees with the policy that the federal government should oversee AV safety performance and states and localities should oversee traffic laws, licensing, insurance, and liability. Mr. Sumwalt stated that the department does still agree with such policy. 

Senate Democrats Release Principles for Federal Privacy Legislation

This week, Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Banking Committee Ranking Member Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) unveiled principles for federal privacy and data protection legislation. The principles fall into four categories that are intended to 1) establish data safeguards, 2) invigorate competition, 3) strengthen consumer and civil rights, and 4) impose real accountability.

On the controversial issue of preemption, the principles assert that the framework should not be “interpreted to change or displace existing privacy laws, or privacy laws scheduled to go into effect.” They go on to say that federal enforcement must be complemented by state enforcement of federal protections and include a “meaningful” private right of action that cannot be overridden by mandatory arbitration clauses.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) maintained this week that he and Cantwell continue to work towards a bipartisan privacy bill and intend to hold a hearing in early December on a number of proposals.

FCC Chairman Pai Tackles Tough Spectrum Issues in Closing Weeks of 2019

Resolution on C-Band’s Future.  On November 18, FCC Chairman Pai announced his proposal to conduct an FCC-led auction of 280 MHz of spectrum in the C-band, which is counter to the proposal by incumbent satellite licensees that had sought to conduct the auction themselves. In letters to members of Congress, Chairman Pai affirmed that his goal in reaching this determination was to make available a significant amount of C-band spectrum for 5G services and to make it available quickly. The next step will be for the full Commission to adopt an order, which is expected in early 2020.

Future Use of the 5.9 GHz Band.  On November 20, Chairman Pai announced that he has circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to his fellow commissioners that would permit unlicensed operations in the lower 45 MHz portion of the 5.9 GHz band, which is a portion of the spectrum currently reserved for automotive use. This new unlicensed spectrum would be paired with adjacent spectrum that is available already for unlicensed operations. In addition, the draft NPRM would authorize C-V2X operations, which is a vehicle to everything technology that is built on standard cellular protocols, in the upper 20 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band. Chairman Pai explained the record in the proceeding shows that the development timeline for C-V2X is faster and the technology is more spectrally efficient than the current technology authorized to operate in the band, Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC).  Even so, the NPRM proposes to allocate the remaining 10 MHz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for DSRC. Chairman Pai closed his announcement noting that “after four presidential administrations, eight FCC chairs, and 20 years, it’s long past time to turn the page” on the underutilization of this spectrum. 

White House Releases Progress Report on National Artificial Intelligence Strategy

On Wednesday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy released the 2016-2019 Progress Report on Advancing Artificial Intelligence Research and Development. The purpose of the report is to document America’s success in reaching the R&D goals outlined in the National Artificial Intelligence Research and Development Strategic Plan, which was created in 2016 and updated this June. The plan establishes eight strategies ranging from increasing investment in artificial intelligence research and enhancing cybersecurity to improving human integration with technology and expanding public-private partnerships.

Organized by each individual strategy, the body of the report highlights specific programs, such as DARPA, that have contributed to American advancement in AI technology. Based on these examples, the report outlines three important takeaways. First, the federal government is making sizable investments in a diverse set of AI projects. Second, American investment in AI benefits greatly when it is spread across a myriad of federal agencies. Finally, the report claims that these investments are revolutionizing and improving society. The report concludes with the statement that these improvements in AI R&D will lead to “increased prosperity, safety, security, and quality of life for the American people for decades to come.”