Emerging Technologies Washington Update

December 5, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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This Week: Cantwell and Wicker privacy bills under scrutiny in Senate Commerce hearing, Pelosi takes on big tech in USMCA, FCC invests in rural broadband, autonomous vehicles get a big push on Capitol Hill.

Week in Review

The Department of Transportation is seeking comments on “projects, issues or topics” that it should consider through the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council, which was created in April of 2019 to address regulatory gaps associated with the industry. Comments will be accepted until January 10.

Julius Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology at the FCC announced his retirement last week effective January 3, 2020. Knapp, an over 45-year veteran of the agency, led the Office of Engineering and Technology for more than a dozen years. Previously, he led the Policy and Rules division and the FCC laboratory. In a statement, Chairman Pai wrote: “Julie Knapp is an FCC institution, and I will miss him for his expertise, his leadership, and his friendship.”

On Tuesday, Stephen Hahn, President Trump’s pick to lead the FDA, advanced through the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on a bipartisan basis with a vote of 18-5. Senator Alexander anticipates a full senate vote will occur by the end of the year.

The Small UAV Coalition, Drone Alliance Europe, Global UTM Association, and UAV DACH released a joint statement on Thursday regarding U-Space. The statement says the group “fully endorses the EASA objectives set forth in its U-Space services draft opinion,” and a full copy of the release can be found here.

Looking Ahead

Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, comes to the White House

On January 7th, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of the Hellenic Republic, will come to Washington, DC to meet with President Trump. In a statement, the White House said the visit will “celebrate the strong economic, security, and cultural ties between the United States and Greece” and that “President Trump will also emphasize the importance of telecommunications security, especially related to 5G.”

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing on Data Privacy Bills

On Wednesday, The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on legislative proposals regarding consumer data privacy. The hearing comes on the heels of a congressional report suggesting the need for increased technological expertise on congressional committees and also follows the release on November 26th of ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) privacy bill. Cantwell’s bill, titled the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA), offers many of the same consumer protections as Chairman Roger Wicker’s (R-MS) draft legislation but differs in a few key areas. The biggest differences surround a private right to action and state preemption. The Democrats’ proposal would provide individuals with the right to sue entities they feel have violated the act, while Wicker’s would prohibit such action. In addition, Wicker’s bill would preempt all state laws, regardless of their strength, while Cantwell’s would allow state regulations to remain in place if they provide stronger protections to individuals than federal law.

Five data experts spanning academia and business testified before the committee. They agreed that consumers should have more control over their personal data but differed on issues regarding third-party access to data and whether to permit private rights of action. The witnesses agreed the FTC is the right agency for enforcement of any new privacy law but all recognized it does not have sufficient resources currently. They therefore recommended that the Commission hire hundreds of new employees to work on privacy and urged Congress to give it rule-making authority and first-time violation fining authority. They also all agreed that empowering states attorneys general would enhance the FTC enforcement gap.

Speaker Pelosi Moves to Have Legal Protection for Online Content Taken Out of USMCA

As Congress continues to negotiate the final language of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the Trump Administration’s proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is reportedly pushing to cut protections to large technology companies. The issue relates to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which gives online platforms legal protection regarding harmful content that may be published on their websites. Similar language was to be included in USMCA.

Technology companies wanted to keep the language in the agreement, as doing so would expand their protections across the continent. However, Democrats are wary of including it out of fear doing so may prevent them from making changes in the future. Section 230 has become increasingly controversial in recent years, as Democrats and Republicans heighten their scrutiny of technology and social media companies. In August, Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman and Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee respectively, sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer calling the inclusion of language similar to that of Section 230 in trade agreements “inappropriate.” It is unlikely though that Pelosi will receive widespread support from Republicans on the issue, given the president’s desire to fast track approval of the agreement.

FCC Makes Rural High-Speed Internet a Priority

In a study released in December of 2018, Microsoft researchers suggested that high-speed internet access has been significantly overstated. While the FCC claimed that broadband was unavailable to almost 25 million Americans, the Microsoft study suggested the number was closer to 163 million. These findings caused the FCC to reconsider the issue, conducting speed tests across the country. Their and Microsoft’s findings are in part what is driving the Commission to take action to ensure not only that their data is more accurate, but that more Americans have access to broadband internet speeds. In order to make this happen, the Commission has announced the creation of a new nine billion dollar 5G fund that will help carriers invest in rural areas with limited or slow internet access. The fund replaces the existing 4G LTE fund and will disburse its resources over the next ten years.

Autonomous Vehicles Get Big Push from Diverse Coalition

A coalition made of disability rights advocates, senior citizens, environmental groups, and automotive and technology companies is calling for federal action on autonomous vehicles. At the moment, the issue has been left to the states, which has been problematic for the industry as it tries to test and build software designed to revolutionize the transportation industry. The group, named the Coalition for Future Mobility, is lobbying congress to build a national strategy that will not stymie innovation but rather provide a cohesive regulatory framework that assures passengers’ safety and creates a clear path to the mass deployment of autonomous vehicles.