Commerce and Judiciary Committees Telecomm Perspectives at The Cable Show

We'll start this post with one of the last questions asked of judiciary committee staffers.  The question concerned the expiration of the Internet Tax Freedom Act in November 2014. Suprisingly there was clear disagreement between the staff perspectives for the offices of Representatives Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers. 
Rep. Goodlatte has championed a permanent ban on Internet taxes and rightly so.  The internet underpins our economy.  To tax access would be a tax on economic growth; I will reiterate that is the LAST thing we need!  At the very least, he would surely vote to  continue the moratorium upon its reevaluation, and we hope he fights for a permanent ban on access.  Not only for pure economic concerns but in order to pursue the goal of connecting all Americans to broadband. 
Surprisingly and unfortunately, John Conyers’ staffer indicated that he would not rule out an Internet access tax, as he is sensitive to the revenue needs of the states.  From Digital Liberty’s perspective taxing Internet access would be a horrendous mistake.  There is a constant call to increase access to broadband to bridge the “digital divide,” and taxing the internet would not fulfill this goal.  There is talk of expanding USF fees to Internet to help with broadband build out – taxing the thing that you want to grow will have the opposite effect.  This is horrible policy and we hope that Conyers will change his tune. We urge all Members of Congress to vote for an extended moratorium on Internet taxes so that Americans can continue to enjoy widespread broadband accessibility and freedom. 
On to general talk about the panels:
At the Cable Show conference in Washington, D.C. this Monday, two panels in a series entitled “Capitol Perspectives” addressed how both parties and houses in Congress are addressing telecommunications policy. There was not much overlap between the two; however, both were heavily impacted by the recent NSA scandal and showed a significant amount of bipartisanship on a number of consumer-focused issues.
House and the Senate Commerce Committee:
The first panel centered on the House and the Senate Commerce Committee, featuring eight staffers of committee members. Many of the issues at hand were echoed in last week’s “If I Were the FCC Chairman…” lunch seminar (read here), including spectrum availability and net neutrality. These hot topics gained a mostly unanimous response from the panelists, and most were greatly in favor of freeing up a significant amount of spectrum for cable companies to use. Digital Liberty supports the popular idea of utilizing federal incentives and auctioning available spectrum to fairly reallocate any spectrum the government may free up.
CISPA (Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act) was also a significant point of discussion amongst the Commerce Committee staffers, especially in light of the recent NSA privacy scandal. Partisanship showed more strongly when it came to CISPA, as Republicans voiced their aversion towards the information sharing act while Democrats acknowledged that the bill still needs much work, but that overall they believe the act is headed in the right direction. With the public’s new skepticism about the government’s invasive security measures, it was widely agreed that if anything regarding information sharing wants to move forward in Congress, it must balance the government’s security needs with the public’s demands for privacy. 
In regards to net neutrality and the 2010 regulations imposed by the FCC that are now being challenged in court by Comcast, the panel once again voiced mixed concerns, but agreed that the outcome of the case was not a primary concern. The majority of panelists saw the FCC’s net neutrality laws as wrong and, as one panelist said, “a solution in search of a problem” (an idea with which Digital Liberty wholeheartedly agrees). It seems that the only way Congress will take any significant action in response to the FCC’s position on net neutrality is if the FCC attempts to impose title II provisions on the Internet, threatening the current online freedom that broadband users enjoy.
House and Senate Judiciary Committee:
There was a little overlap with the next panel featuring four bicameral, bipartisan representatives of Judiciary Committee members Sen. Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Grassley (R-IA), Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA), and Rep. Conyers (D-MI). Once again, recent events shifted the focus of the panel to cyber security and consumer privacy. Efforts by the Department of Justice to update CALEA were noted, although the panelists admitted that it would be difficult to get constituents on board. When it came to cyber security, the panel admitted that there was much work to be done, but everyone emphasized the need for greater online protection.
There was widespread demand for revising outdated laws, from copyright laws to patent reform to the ECPA. Goodlatte’s representative voiced his confidence about developing a bicameral, bipartisan patent reform bill. Leahy’s primary concerns included the restrictive patent laws and patent trolls that hinder innovation rather than protect it. Conyers’ representative did not place as much emphasis on reform, but agreed that patent quality is key.