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5 hot technology policy agenda items you need to watch

Kenneth Corbin | Jan. 6, 2012
From providing more spectrum space for wireless providers to battling online piracy to creating cybersecurity policy to protecting intellectual property, expect things to heat up in Washington this year.

"Although we didn't get this done within today's agreement, I intend to push hard in the coming weeks to work out a suitable compromise with the House," he said in a statement at the time. "Build-out of a public safety communications network is in our national interest. We cannot afford further inaction."

Meanwhile, wireless players have been moving on their own to beef up their spectrum holdings. Verizon, for instance, recently announced a $3.6 billion deal to purchase chunks of spectrum from cable heavyweights Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks in a complex arrangement that would include a marketing alliance among the participants. That alliance among entrenched rivals has raised eyebrows among regulators and consumer advocates, and the Justice Department is already probing the deal. Two weeks after unveiling the proposed cable partnership, Verizon announced plans to purchase a series of spectrum licenses from Cox Communications for $315 million.

Then there is AT&T, fresh off of its failed attempt to acquire T-Mobile. After regulators scuttled that deal, the nation's second-largest wireless provider can be expected to turn to other sources to pad its own stock of spectrum. Analysts with Stifel Nicolaus speculated that the "moderately desperate" AT&T could next turn to satellite provider Dish Network, either in an outright acquisition bid or a more limited deal to purchase spectrum. They also noted that with the T-Mobile deal off the table, AT&T is likely to press lawmakers even harder to enact legislation authorizing new spectrum auctions.


2. Piracy - SOPA and Protect IP Act Take Center Stage

Perhaps the most controversial issue set to take the stage early in 2012, efforts to crack down on websites that trade in the flow of pirated content will again be the subject of heated debate.

Under the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, which is currently in the middle of a markup in the House Judiciary Committee, the Department of Justice would be authorized to seek a court order against a so-called rogue foreign website, one "primarily dedicated" to trafficking in stolen intellectual property, such as pirated movies, music or software, or knock-off pharmaceuticals. With that order in hand, Justice could direct Web players such as search engines, Internet service providers, ad networks and payment processors, to sever ties with the overseas site, removing visibility and access while choking off financial support.

Members of the Judiciary Committee spent two full days in December marking up SOPA, considering some 24 amendments. About 60 amendments had been filed ahead of the markup, according to Kim Smith, a spokeswoman for the committee majority. Smith confirmed that the markup will resume "when we return from recess."

A similar but somewhat more limited bill is awaiting consideration before the full Senate. The Protect IP Act cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, and is scheduled next to come up for consideration Jan. 24.


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