US Capitol
Feb 7, 2019

Emerging Technologies Washington Update

Week in Review

Congress convened a joint session on Tuesday evening for the President to deliver his State of the Union address, themed “choosing greatness.” The President focused on five policy areas: immigration, trade, infrastructure, healthcare, and national security. Of note, Trump called on Congress to pass legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug prices and to produce an infrastructure package. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is holding its first in a series of infrastructure-focused hearings today with the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee following suit next Wednesday.

Today, the Senate Judiciary advanced Bill Barr’s nomination to serve as Attorney General on a 12-10 party-line vote. Earlier this week, the Committee held a hearing to receive testimony from the President’s two nominees to sit on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Aditya Bamzai and Travis LeBlanc. On the floor, the Senate voted 77-23 to pass a Middle East policy bill before moving to a lands package. The House moved a number of non-controversial Transportation and Infrastructure Committee bills this week on suspension.

Looking Ahead

The deadline to avert another partial government shutdown is midnight next Friday, February 15. It remains to be seen whether the conference committee tasked with striking a compromise will produce a product that the President will sign. Negotiations are ongoing.

In the meantime, Senate leadership will move to bring the Barr Attorney General nomination and Andrew Wheeler’s nomination to serve as EPA Administrator to the floor now that they have cleared their respective committees.

Energy and Commerce Committee Holds Net Neutrality Hearing 

This morning, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology kicked off its first hearing on net neutrality. Witnesses for the hearing, entitled “Preserving an Open Internet for Consumers, Small Businesses, and Free Speech,” included former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairmen Wheeler and Powell, who led the FCC during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, respectively. Committee members questioned the witnesses on the effects of the 2017 FCC Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which repealed net neutrality regulations championed by Wheeler during the Obama administration.

In conjunction with the hearing, Representatives Walden (R-OR), Latta (R-OH), and McMorris Rogers (R-WA) indicated their intent to introduce three separate bills that would codify the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules but would not reclassify the service as telecommunications service.  The texts of the proposed bills are not currently available. 

Earlier this week, Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) and Subcommittee Chairman Doyle (D-PA) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Pai regarding the Commission’s management of responsibilities. The lawmakers also requested information related to the FCC’s approach to consumer complaints and Freedom of Information Act requests. “Not only have you have failed on numerous occasions to provide Democratic members of this Committee with responses to their inquiries, you have also repeatedly denied or delayed responding to legitimate information requests from the public about agency operations. These actions have denied the public of a full and fair understanding of how the FCC under your leadership has arrived at public policy decisions that impact Americans every day in communities across the country,” Pallone and Doyle wrote. To date, Chairman Pai has not responded to the lawmakers’ inquiry. 

Senator Graham Looks to Form Task Force on Social Media Platforms

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Graham (R-SC) expressed interest this week in developing a joint task force of Senate Judiciary Committee and Commerce Committee members to address the business practices of dominant social media platforms. He noted the group would examine issues related to data privacy and content filtering practices. “We’re working on it. I think there’s a lot of bipartisan concern about social media, how that’s being unregulated,” Graham noted. He added that freshman Senators Blackburn (R-TN) and Hawley (R-MO) have emphasized the need for the Committee to discuss oversight of the technology industry. The new members amplify calls from Democratic colleagues, who have issued similar remarks during the past months. Members of the Senate Commerce Committee share concerns as well, as Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker (R-MS) indicated earlier this year that he will prioritize issues related to consumer privacy and data security. While lawmakers continue to discuss and introduce privacy legislation this Congress, it remains to be seen whether the two parties will reach consensus on the components of a federal law.

Senate Commerce Convenes 5G Hearing as White House Prepares to Weigh In

On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing entitled “Winning the Race to 5G and the Next Era of Technology Innovation in the United States” featuring testimony from representatives of CTIA, the Competitive Carriers Association, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, the U.S.-China Economic & Security Review Commission, and Urbanova. Panelists and lawmakers discussed a wide range of topics, including key steps to maintain U.S. global leadership in next-generation communications technology, spectrum needs to accelerate deployment, and new applications and services consumers can expect with 5G deployments. Further, lawmakers asked panelists to comment on current efforts to modernize infrastructure siting policies and the security of 5G networks.

In opening remarks, Chairman Wicker (R-MS) underscored the importance of maintaining U.S. leadership on 5G development, stating that in order “to realize all of [the benefits of this technology] fully, the United States must win the global race to 5G. China and others have seen the benefits America gained from leading the world in 4G, so they are challenging the U.S. for dominance in 5G.” In contrast, Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) highlighted the need to safeguard national security amid 5G rollout, adding that “5G networks must be secure, and that starts with having a 5G strategy that focuses on shoring up our defense against hackers and state-sponsored actors.” In opening remarks, Sen. Cantwell outlined next steps needed to implement a comprehensive 5G cybersecurity strategy and maintain global leadership, including urging the Trump Administration to generate a “real, quantifiable” 5G security threat assessment, securing a supply chain backing up 5G networks, and considering a ban on foreign actors from the 5G supply chain.

The White House is slated to release in the coming weeks a plan to expand the government’s role in the development and deployment of next-generation technologies, including 5G. The forthcoming plan “will ensure … that the American innovation ecosystem remains the envy of the world for generations to come,” White House technology policy advisor Michael Kratsios said this week. Next-generation 5G technology will enable faster speeds and greater capacity for wireless networks necessary to power cutting-edge technologies like autonomous vehicles.