Along with health care and energy issues, House members testifying at the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s “Member Day” hearing today repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of rural broadband service, inaccurate mapping of broadband availability, and the scourge of robocalling.
Committee Member Day hearings, at which House members who are not members of a given committee can address the committee about issues under its jurisdiction, are required under the House rules package adopted for the 116th Congress, “and I think it’s a good idea,” Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.) said at the beginning of the lengthy hearing.
Committee ranking minority member Greg Walden (R., Ore.) said that his “only regret is we didn’t do this in January or February.”
Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D., N.Y.) said he has heard from “countless constituents” in his “largely rural” district that “their bills go up every month.”
Rep. Brindisi said that there are “three areas where Congress can do the most good”: getting better data on service availability “so we know exactly where federal investment is needed most”; expanding federal support, including maintaining the FCC’s Universal Service Fund programs and ensuring that “each program receives the support it needs; and ensuring “accountability” because “these behemoth cable companies “operate without oversight.”
He said that the Transparency for Cable Consumers Act (HR 1555) that he introduced in March “would force companies to disclose business practices.”
Communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.) said that there is “no business case” for companies to deploy rural broadband service, so government financial support is needed.
“We have an opportunity to pay for it with C-band. There’s going to be an auction. It’s almost unimaginable that we would have a private auction and allow foreign satellite companies to keep the money,” said Chairman Doyle, implicitly reiterating his opposition to the C-Band Alliances’s proposed secondary market auction of spectrum in the 3.7–4.2 gigahertz band for 5G terrestrial services.
Rep. Rob Wittman (R., Va.) spoke of the disparity in broadband availability between more and less rural areas of his district.
Rep. Troy Balderson (R., Ohio) also spoke of the importance of rural broadband and the need for an improved broadband map.
Committee member Scott Peters (D., Calif.) responded, “I have not seen any piece of infrastructure legislation that didn’t include broadband.”
Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D., Mich.) used her time to discuss robocalls, noting that she was a co-sponsor of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act passed by the House yesterday (TR Daily, July 24). “I’m really hoping the Senate takes it up, and I would urge your help in making sure that some of these things that are really bipartisan get through,” she said.
Chairman Pallone promised, “We will keep our foot on the gas. There is a Senate equivalent. It’s not exactly the same, but we think we can get this done.”
Rep. Kevin Hern (R., Okla.) also raised concerns about robocalls, and joked with committee member Michael Burgess (R., Texas) about making robocalls to senators “to irritate them to take action.”
Rep. Ed Case (D., Hawaii) urged changes to safe harbors for Internet intermediaries in section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, saying that the immunity from liability for third-party content allows online platforms “to knowingly facilitate law-breaking behavior by hiding behind section 230.” Specifically, he expressed concern about ads on the platforms for Illegal short-term vacation rentals that don’t pay hotel taxes and “completely distort our already sky-high housing market.”
“My request of this committee is to examine abuse of section 230,” he said.
Rep. Mark Takano (D., Calif.) said that the Unsubscribe Act (HR 2683) that he introduced in May would “give shoppers the tools they need” and help ensure consumers are “caught up by negative option agreements.” It would require a “straight-forward cancellation process … that mirrors the enrollment process. … If you sign up on line, you should be able to cancel online,” he said. It would also require affirmative consent at the end of a trial period to convert to a regular subscription, he said.
Chairman Doyle said that “that sounds like an issue for the Federal Trade Commission [and] probably Congresswoman [Janice] Schakowsky’s subcommittee.”
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D., N.J.) urged committee action to address the secondary ticket market, which largely is conducted online. “This is a monopoly. … You have to have a wheelbarrow full of money” to buy tickets for concerts and other events, he said in testimony peppered with titles of Metallica songs.
Rep. Walden remarked, “You learn a lot at Member Day. Knowing that Mr. Pascrell is a fan of Metallica is a thing I’ve learned today.”
Chairman Pallone said, “We promise to look into it.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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