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Get Ready for Another Net Neutrality Rumble

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah // Susan Walsh/AP

At least one of the recent biggest issues on the Hill sunset: President Donald Trump on Friday signed the omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded through September.

But another is brewing. This week, a group of senators jumped into Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai’s mission to roll back net neutrality rules.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, which would get rid of FCC’s Open Internet Order from 2015 and block similar future rules. The order prevents internet service providers from blocking, slowing down or speeding up content for pay. Critics say the regulation is “heavy-handed” and inhibits innovation and investment.

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"Two and a half years ago, I said that net neutrality was 'Obamacare for the internet,’” said co-sponsor Sen. Ted Cruz, and if the senator means there will be a high-profile, headline-grabbing fight, he’s right. 

House Energy and Commerce Democrats pledged to fight the repeal.

“Under Chairman Pai’s plan, nothing stops political powers from pushing broadband companies to choke off dissenting views or big companies from gaining unfair advantages over small businesses online,” said Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J, in a statement.

Last time, FCC’s site struggled under the weight of the more than 4 million public comments from technology corporations, telecom companies, consumer groups and comedian John Oliver's audience.

FCC is just kicking off the rule-making process; it votes on the public notice May 18.

Modernizing—So Hot Right Now

A bill allowing employees to get reimbursed for ride-sharing apps like Lyft or Uber is heading for the president’s desk. The Modernizing Government Travel Act also includes bike-riding programs like D.C.’s Capital BikeShare. The rides have to be for official business, not just part of a daily commute.

The other MGT Act, the Modernizing Government Technology Act, passed through committee Tuesday with unanimous consent and no amendments. The bill creates working funds and a pool of money to upgrade aging IT systems. Next up is a floor vote, but the House will be in recess.

To Audit, NIST Needs Big Bucks

A House Science Committee-passed bill directing the government’s cyber standards outfit to audit the cybersecurity of federal agencies would cost $48 million to implement over four years, according to a Congressional Budget Office score released Monday. The bill faces a steep climb because many lawmakers believe the Homeland Security Department should be responsible for vetting agencies’ cybersecurity.

A Major Cyber Week in the Senate

The Senate calendar will be chock-full of cybersecurity and technology hearings next week.

First off Monday, the Judiciary Committee’s crime and terrorism panel will question former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The Armed Services Committee will conduct an oversight hearing of U.S. Cyber Command on Tuesday with its chief Adm. Michael Rogers. On Wednesday, the Homeland Security Committee will receive an overview of cyber threats facing the nation, while the Judiciary Committee will dig into the legal limbo for U.S. data stored in servers abroad. Finally, on Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold its annual worldwide threats hearing with leaders of the top intelligence agencies plus Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats.

Oversight Frets Over FAFSA Security

House oversight committee lawmakers Wednesday grilled Internal Revenue Service and Education Department officials about a vulnerability that could allow hackers to use an online Federal Application for Financial Student Aid tool to steal students’ tax information and file fraudulent returns. Federal officials turned off the tool, which automatically transfers tax information into the FAFSA form, until the next tax season.

One big question from lawmakers: Why did officials wait for evidence hackers might be exploiting the vulnerability to take the tool offline rather than pulling it as soon as they discovered the flaw? Education officials said they were balancing security with the benefits of student convenience. One big figure: 100,000 students might have been victims of the vulnerability, but there are zero confirmed cases of stolen data.

Judiciary Chairman Outlines Innovation Agenda

Tech and cybersecurity issues will be top priorities for the House Judiciary Committee this Congress, including pushing for a compromise between tech companies and law enforcement on cop-proof encryption systems and hammering out when law enforcement can and cannot access U.S. data stored in servers abroad, according to an innovation agenda unveiled Tuesday by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.

Other priorities include renewing controversial surveillance authorities under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, reforming patent litigation to cut down on patent trolling, updating U.S. copyright law, which could benefit some software writers, and balancing high-skilled immigration, a major tech sector priority, with promoting jobs for American citizens.

Are They Pokemon Go Fans?

A new congressional caucus will focus on virtual, augmented and mixed reality technologies. The co-chairs are Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y., Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., Bill Flores, R-Texas, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Heather Kuldell and Joseph Marks contributed to this report.

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