Overnight Technology

Overnight Tech: Data plans, phone regs dominate FCC meeting

LEDE: The Federal Communications Commission held its final open meeting of the year on Thursday, where commissioners signed off on two items.

They agreed not to enforce certain old phone regulations at the request of lobby group U.S. Telecom. Those include regulations for long-distance service and other requirements the commission agreed are outdated. Other regulations that U.S. Telecom mentioned in its petition to the agency will continue to be enforced.

{mosads}”On the one hand, we want to eliminate outdated, unnecessary rules to let the marketplace work,” Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “On the other, we have an obligation to preserve core values like competition, consumer protection, and universal service. Balanced properly, the commitments can promote innovation and investment, paving the way for the deployment of the new networks and services that consumers demand. This Order gets that balance right.”

They also signed off on an item to make the process for approving satellite licenses easier and heard a presentation on this year’s World Radiocommunications Conference.

AGENCY IS LOOKING AT ZERO-RATING: But the biggest news of the meeting came when Wheeler announced that the agency had sent letters to AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile asking for more information on services that don’t charge customers for data usage or count it against caps. That includes T-Mobile’s Binge On, Comcast’s Stream TV and AT&T’s Data Perks and Sponsored Data programs. The letters went out yesterday.

The commission’s Republicans have looked to paint the letters as the opening of an investigation into whether the services have violated the agency’s net neutrality rules. Wheeler insists it is nothing of the sort.

WHEELER ON THE OMNIBUS: The chairman said he was happy to see that the agency’s funding in the omnibus bill moving through Congress was higher than it could have been. “I think that the fact that the Congress is at least keeping us at current funding levels is a vast improvement over where we were when we came out of the appropriations committees,” he said.

BUT WAIT: Concerns seem to be rising that House Dems can’t muster the numbers needed to pass the package. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, asked by reporters whether she was confident the bill would pass said, “No. We’re talking it through.” Meanwhile, the White House is putting pressure on House Democrats to get the bill to move. The Hill’s Mike Lillis has more here.

WIRELESS TAX BILL IS BACK: Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) re-introduced their Wireless Tax Fairness Act, which would put a freeze on new state and local taxes on wireless service. They noted local taxes on wireless service can hit about 18 percent, with that number topping out at 36 percent in Chicago. Their bill would not remove any of those taxes. Instead it would prevent states and local governments from imposing new wireless taxes in the next five years.

HIGHWAY WATCHDOG CALLS FOR ‘NIMBLE’ AUTONOMOUS CAR REGS: The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration isn’t pleased with the idea that self-driving car regulations could vary state-to-state. “We need to figure out how to make sure this is not a patchwork (of state regulations),” Mark Rosekind told Reuters. Two years is like ancient now. That’s being reviewed,” he added of the 2013 guidance the agency issued on the vehicles.

MEANWHILE, IN CALIFORNIA: Google’s Chris Urmson says on Medium that California’s draft regulation requiring a licensed driver behind the wheel of every self-driving car “maintains the same old status quo and falls short on allowing this technology to reach its full potential, while excluding those who need to get around but cannot drive.” The company tests many of its vehicles in the state, where it is also headquartered.

MORE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED IN GOVERNMENT GOOGLE DATA REQUESTS: Google announced Thursday it had updated its information on how many governmental data requests it gets each year. Compared to this time last year, there’s been a 45 percent increase in the number of individual users named in U.S. requests. Overall requests are down 4 percent, however.

PRIVACY GROUP SAYS WHATSAPP RULING IS ‘TROUBLING’: The digital rights group Access Now warned of a possible backslide in online rights after a judge suspended use of WhatsApp in Brazil, although the decision was quickly overturned.

“Even though it was temporarily overturned, the São Paulo court order is a troubling setback for Brazil since the country passed legislation known as the Marco Civil da Internet, a civil framework for the internet that gives legal status to a set of fundamental principles for digital rights for all Brazilians,” the group said in as statement. “One little-known clause in the Marco Civil — article 12 — permits penalties for companies that fail to respond to requests for data. Among the possible penalties, judges can apply warnings, temporary suspension of services or even the prohibition to operate the service in the country. Judges can impose these penalties individually or jointly. We believe that article 12 is overbroad and disproportionate…”

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Officials at the Federal Communications Commission are examining services offered by T-Mobile, AT&T and Comcast that let customers access mobile services without paying or using up the data allocated under their plans.

A former top aide to Hillary Clinton appeared to joke with reporters that he wanted to avoid open records laws, years before his and other Clinton aides’ use of private email accounts became an issue for her presidential campaign.

A Brazilian court dealt a legal victory Thursday to the popular app WhatsApp, hours after another judge suspended the messaging tool.

Department of Homeland Security officials are insisting that they do sometimes look at the social media accounts of immigrants and travelers headed to the United States after several reports have suggested otherwise.

A federal board raised the rates that Pandora and similar services pay to license music for many customers Wednesday, potentially increasing costs for the music streaming service but still falling short of the rate suggested by the music industry.

 

Please send tips and comments to David McCabe, dmccabe@digital-stage.thehill.com and Mario Trujillo, mtrujillo@digital-stage.thehill.com Follow us on Twitter: @HilliconValley, @dmccabe, @_mariotrujillo

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