Intrigue at the FCC: Clyburn compromise falls through – Politico

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With help from Margaret Harding McGill, Nancy Scola and Tim Starks

INTRIGUE AT THE FCC: CLYBURN COMPROMISE FALLS THROUGH FCC approval of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Lifeline modernization plan was delayed three-and-a-half hours Thursday as talk of a bipartisan compromise swirled and ultimately fizzled, much to the chagrin of Republicans who thought they’d struck a deal to cap the program’s budget at $2 billion. Central to the action was Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who floated a budget compromise to the agency’s two GOP commissioners Wednesday, but said Thursday afternoon that the three couldn’t agree on a final deal. “When I looked at it in total, I did go back to my colleagues and said ‘can we give it one more shot?’” she said. “Neither party was able to move any further.”

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REPUBLICANS: CLYBURN RENEGED: GOP Commissioners Ajit Pai and Mike O’Rielly, however, said the three had a deal but Clyburn backed out at the last minute. Her office signed off on the deal at 9:49 a.m., Pai told reporters, citing a Thursday morning email chain between offices. He alleged that she had a change of heart after Wheeler’s office, lawmakers and outside parties pressured her to change her mind. Clyburn says she wasn’t bullied, but did say that she “heard from a wide range of individuals” Thursday, which helped guide her final decision. (Sen. Cory Booker, a major Lifeline reform backer and Clyburn ally, called Clyburn on the issue Thursday morning, his office confirmed, and nine House Democrats made their stances known in a letter to commissioners as well.) Wheeler called allegations that he pressured Clyburn “balderdash.”

— ’NEVER COUNT ON A DEM’: Republicans have lodged plenty of complaints about what they say is an unwillingness from Wheeler’s office to listen to GOP proposals, but Thursday’s fiasco takes the cake, they say. Pai called the FCC’s actions “the worst of government,” while O’Rielly said he wouldn’t be able to trust Clyburn’s office from now on. “It reminds me of an old phrase on Capitol Hill,” O’Rielly said. “Never count on a Dem to hold their vote.”

WHAT THE ORDER DOES: Thursday’s drama aside, the order approved by FCC commissioners still reflected changes influenced by concerns from public interest advocates and industry groups. The FCC extended the timeline for the phase-out of support for voice-only service to five years and set a minimum requirement of 500 minutes for mobile voice service, a decrease from what Wheeler originally proposed. Providers and public interest groups suggested the unlimited minutes requirement could lead to out-of-pocket costs for subscribers and a three-year phase-out to fund voice-only mobile service was too speedy and could leave low-income consumers without service. The changes were supported by TracFone, CTIA and the Lifeline Connects Coalition, a group that includes telecom providers i-wireless and Telrite Corporation.

— BUDGET ISSUE NOT GOING AWAY: House Republicans will take up a bill next month to put a budget cap on Lifeline, an Energy and Commerce spokesman said.

GOOD FRIDAY MORNING and welcome to Morning Tech, where Thursday’s FCC meeting put some of our veteran FCC reporter colleagues in a time-warp. During the delay, former Chairman Kevin Martin dropped by the press table with several pepperoni pizzas — an homage to an infamous 2007 meeting which was delayed nearly 12 hours and prompted Martin’s staff to bring pizza for waiting reporters. If Martin’s new gig with Facebook doesn’t work out, we’ll recommend him for a job at Papa John’s — just reach out to and, Mr. Chairman. The rest of the team’s contact info is after the jump.

TELECOM INDUSTRY FRETS OVER GOOGLE’S RELATIONSHIP WITH FCC Telecom companies have been increasingly vocal in accusing Google of having too much influence at Chairman Tom Wheeler’s FCC, affecting policy debates ranging from net neutrality and set-top boxes to privacy, Alex writes this morning. “The complaints reflect a gloves-off mentality for incumbent communications firms itching for the end of Wheeler’s tenure after intensely fought battles over issues like net neutrality. But they also underscore the intensifying rivalry between the tech and telecom sectors as they encroach on each other’s turf in markets like high-speed Internet, video and advertising — and seek a regulatory advantage at the FCC.” The full story, for Pros, here.

FTC TO HOLD THINK SESSIONS ON SCARY TECH — The agency will host a series of three-hour seminars, here in D.C. this fall, focused on a trio of “new and evolving technologies that are raising critical consumer protection issues” — namely drones; smart TVs; and so-called ransomware, wherein hackers encrypt users’ data and demand money to switch it back. The events are open to all and meant to “bring together broad expertise to enhance public understanding of key issues,” the FTC says.

Meanwhile, some on the outside are trying to “enhance public understanding” of where the FTC’s headed. Keying off the recent resignation of Julie Brill, which leaves agency with two of five commissioner seats empty, the progressive group CREDO Action launched a petition calling on President Obama to prioritize remaking the FTC in his final ten months in office. It argues that “with tough, new leadership, the FTC could help fix an economy that has become rigged against working Americans.”

PENCILS DOWN ON COPYRIGHT “SAFE HARBOR” COMMENTS Responses are due today on the Copyright Office’s review of the 18-year-old Digital Millennium Copyright Act’s “safe harbor” provision, which gives online service providers some liability protection for copyright violations. Among the comments is one from a collection of music industry groups, including the RIAA, that argues the system’s broken in a way that favors the tech industry. The way the law has been interpreted, the music industry groups write, “forces creators to police the entire Internet for instances of theft.” Meanwhile, the Internet Association is arguing that safe harbor “is needed even more than during the Internet’s infancy” given the medium even bigger, broader, and more important than it in 1998.

ICYMI: PTO ISSUES NEW APPEALS RULES, ABANDONS JUDGE TRIALS The Patent and Trademark Office announced final changes to rules governing the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which evaluates requests to re-examine issued patents. The board will continue to use a stricter standard when re-examining most patents, but it will use the standard used by district courts when re-examining patents set to expire while the case is in front of the board. The rules will also let patent holders file new evidence when opposing challenges and require those presenting to the board to certify that they’re not abusing the system. The agency also announced that, “after receiving negative responses,” it won’t continue pilot programs that would have one judge — instead of three — decide on whether to take up each challenge.

NO JOKE FOR TRUMP TODAY — It might be an unpleasant April Fool’s day for the Republican frontrunner in cyberspace, POLITICO’s Darren Samuelsohn writes for The Agenda. “The Internet hacking collective Anonymous and its allies have promised April 1 will serve as their launching point for a ‘total war’ on the Republican front-runner that includes shutting down his websites and conducting other digital mischief to ‘dismantle his campaign and sabotage his brand.’” Samuelsohn spoke to a hacker going by the name Compiled, who boasted, “We have more than enough knowledge and power on our team to do almost whatever” — and even though Trump might have bolstered cyber defenses after a series of attacks in the past year, “There’s still vulnerability and we know how to take it down.” More here.


FBI TESTS REACH OF IPHONE UNLOCK TOOL: The Bureau is looking at whether its method of bypassing the device’s encryption will work on other versions of the phone, per the Wall Street Journal:

REDDIT HINTS IT GOT A NATIONAL SECURITY LETTER: The website’s so-called “warrant canary” disappeared from its transparency report, WIRED reports:

UBER PICKS UP INSURER: The ride-hailing service will use Progressive Insurance to provide coverage for drivers in Texas, the companies tell Reuters:

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Alex Byers (, @byersalex), Eric Engleman (,@ericengleman),Amy Schatz (,@amy_schatz),Tony Romm (,@tonyromm),Kate Tummarello (,@ktummarello),Nancy Scola (,@nancyscola) and Margaret Harding McGill (,@margarethmcgill)

Intrigue at the FCC: Clyburn compromise falls through – Politico