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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.

While lawmakers can be expected to continue to make noise about the FCC's action in 2012, it is really the decision of the court that will go a long way toward determining the next stage of the net neutrality debate. Should the agency prevail, its rules prohibiting all service providers from blocking legitimate websites and mandating disclosures about their network management practices will remain in effect. The order also bars fixed wireline providers from unreasonably discriminating against specific sites, though wireless carriers are exempt from that provision.

If Verizon carries the day and the court vacates the FCC's order, the agency will effectively be back to square one, as it was after the Comcast decision. That will inevitably revive talk about reclassifying broadband as a so-called Title II telecommunication service, a move that would put the FCC on more certain jurisdictional ground, but would provoke howls of protest from ISPs, GOP lawmakers and some Democrats. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski floated that proposal in 2010, and came under intense political fire for doing so. If the FCC loses in court, it remains an open question whether he would choose to go that route again, devise a novel legal argument for a new set of rules, or table the net neutrality issue altogether.


5. Cybersecurity -- Who Will Take Charge?

Ominous stories about massive breaches of digital systems continue to permeate the news, but enacting legislation to strengthen the nation's cybersecurity posture has been tough political sledding. In this congress, as in previous terms, several competing proposals are on the table in both chambers. The fault lines of the debate include which government agency should properly assume oversight authority for protecting critical infrastructure, the extent to which the executive branch should be empowered to intervene in the event of a major cyber attack, and the impact a new framework to share information about potential threats more effectively across the public and private sectors might have on consumer privacy.

The legislative proposals also vary in their scope. While some lawmakers have drafted bills that would establish a comprehensive blueprint for cybersecurity policy, others have taken a more limited approach, focusing on the information-sharing aspect of the issue.

In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has signaled that he plans to allot floor time for a debate on cybersecurity legislation in the first working period of 2012. It remains unclear, however, what the proposal to be considered will contain. Cybersecurity spans more committee jurisdictions than perhaps any other tech policy issue, ranging from commerce and homeland security to judiciary and foreign relations. Reid noted in a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that cross-committee working groups had been convening to produce a comprehensive bill that could garner bipartisan support.


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