This Week: Gosar introduces bill to reform Section 230, Senate EPW Committee advances surface transportation reauthorization with AV amendment as NHTSA extends comment deadline for AV ANPRM, President Trump threatens “reciprocal action” as France implements digital services tax, FCC advances rural broadband rulemaking.
Week in Review
The House is in recess, set to return to Washington the second week of September. The Senate was in session this week and voted unsuccessfully on Monday to override the President’s vetoes of three congressional resolutions blocking emergency weapon sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Today, the Senate voted 67-28 to pass the Bipartisan Budget Act, sending it to the President for his signature. The President has indicated he intends to sign the two-year budget deal, which also suspends the debt limit until July 31, 2021. The Senate also confirmed David Norquist to be Deputy Secretary of Defense, Kelly Craft to be Ambassador to the United Nations, and a slew of district court nominees this week before wrapping its work and joining the House in recess.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology (SMART) Act this week, which aims to ban certain features from social media, including infinite scroll, autoplay, and other additive features that “exploit the science of addiction to make it difficult to leave a social media platform.”
A number of lawmakers have announced in recent days that they do not plan to seek reelection in 2020, including House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Michael Conway (R-TX) and Reps. Paul Mitchell (R-MI), Pete Olson (R-TX), and Martha Roby (R-AL). House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Rob Bishop (R-UT) also confirmed that he will retire.
President Trump announced on Sunday his intention to nominate Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) to succeed former Senator Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence. On Monday, the President signed the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund reauthorization into law during a White House ceremony with first responders and on Tuesday he traveled to Williamsburg, Virginia to mark the 400th anniversary of the First Representative Legislative Assembly. President Khaltmaagiin Battulga of Mongolia visited the White House on Wednesday for a bilateral meeting.
Elsewhere, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spent the week in Shanghai for bilateral US-China trade negotiations. The President also announced on Wednesday that he will nominate Jovita Carranza to be Administrator of the Small Business Administration.
On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a Federal Register notice announcing the comment period for its proposal to create a pilot program within the Universal Service Fund (USF) to support connected care for low-income Americans and veterans. Comments are due by August 29 and reply comments are due by September 30. For more on the Connected Care pilot program, click here.
The House and Senate will be in recess until the second week in September. Senate Appropriations Chairman Shelby (R-AL) will set FY20 spending allocations during the recess in anticipation of subcommittee markups beginning shortly after lawmakers return to Washington and the first full Committee markup set for September 12. Shelby has suggested that he will prioritize the Energy-Water, Labor-Health and Human Services, and Defense bills. The Senate can also be expected to move ahead with Gene Scalia’s nomination to succeed former Secretary Alex Acosta at the Department of Labor.
The President and First Lady will mark the 80th anniversary of the beginning of World War II on September 1 in Warsaw before traveling to Denmark for bilateral meetings. President Trump will also host Australian Prime Minister Morrison on September 20 for a state visit.
Gosar Introduces Bill to Reform Section 230
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) recently introduced legislation to amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Stop the Censorship Act would “revoke the unprecedented and unwarranted immunities given to Big Tech for the censorship of ‘objectionable’ content but retains immunities when acting in good faith to remove unlawful material or when providing users the option to filter.”
Gosar argues that the legislation is necessary because technology platforms “police political speech” and that the immunity provided by Section 230 should be limited to “good faith efforts to remove actual unlawful content.” Reps. Mark Meadows (R-NC), Steve King (R-IA), and Ralph Norman (R-SC) are original cosponsors with Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) signing on this week. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) introduced legislation to reform Section 230 in June, calling the safe harbor a “sweetheart deal.” Hawley’s Ending Support for Internet Censorship Act requires large technology companies to “submit to an external audit that proves by clear and convincing evidence that their algorithms and content-removal practices are politically neutral.”
Senate EPW Committee Advances Surface Transportation Reauthorization with AV Amendment as NHTSA Extends Comment Deadline for AV ANPRM
On Monday, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) unveiled a five-year, $287 billion surface transportation reauthorization bill, the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act, in anticipation of current authorities expiring in September 2020. For the first time, the bill includes a climate change title, which among other provisions, authorizes $1 billion for electric, hydrogen, and natural gas vehicle charging and fueling infrastructure. The bill also authorizes $12.5 million annually for a nationwide vehicle miles traveled (VMT) pilot program.
The Committee advanced the bill on Tuesday morning 21-0 after adopting several amendments, including an amendment offered by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) directing the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to conduct a study to better understand the impacts of autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies on existing and future transportation systems and assess the steps that should be taken to improve safety and mobility, alleviate congestion, and protect the environment. Carper voiced support for the amendment, noting that the Committee should play a leading role in AV deployment policy. It is now up to the Senate Finance Committee to propose mechanisms to pay for the underlying legislation, which President Trump tweeted support for ahead of the markup.
Meanwhile, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) extended the comment deadline this week for its Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Vehicles with Automated Driving Systems. Comments were originally due by July 29, but NHTSA will now accept feedback through August 28. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) similarly extended through August 28 the comment deadline for its ANPRM on Safe Integration of Automated Driving Systems-Equipped Commercial Motor Vehicles.
President Trump Threatens “Reciprocal Action” as France Implements Digital Services Tax
Shortly after French President Emmanuel Macron signed France’s new digital services tax into law on July 25, President Trump tweeted that the United States will “announce a substantial reciprocal action,” suggesting potential tariffs on French wine. French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said Tuesday that the digital services tax and a potential tariff on a foreign exchange of goods like wine are “completely different,” but that France would “try to negotiate” with the United States, echoing comments French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maine made over the weekend at G7 leaders prepare to meet in Biarritz, France at the end of the month. Negotiators are aiming to reach international consensus on digital services taxes through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) by the end of 2020, which would prompt France to withdraw its national tax.
The new French law levies a 3% tax on revenue collected in France by technology firms with more than €750 million in global revenue and €25 million in revenue in France. The Office of the US Trade Representative announced on July 10 that it has opened an investigation under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 into France’s digital services tax, which the United States argues disproportionately impacts American companies.
FCC Advances Rural Broadband Rulemaking
Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved during its July Open Commission Meeting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The proposal would allocate $20.4 billion to expand high-speed broadband in rural America over the next decade. The fund would build upon the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction launched in July 2018, under which 103 bidders were awarded over $1.4 billion in universal service support over ten years to build high-speed broadband service to over 700,000 households and small businesses in 45 states. Under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund proposed rulemaking, the FCC would conduct a multi-round auction under which internet providers would compete for subsidies, with priority given to faster services with lower latency. The proposal would increase the minimum broadband speed requirement from 10/1 megabits per second (Mbps) to 25/3 Mbps.
During the Open Meeting, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr voiced support for the rulemaking, lauding the proposal for advancing rural broadband deployment. While supporting the underlying mission of the rulemaking, Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks raised concerns with the proposed minimum broadband speed requirement, as well as the accuracy of the data and mapping used by the FCC to determine unserved and underserved communities. Rosenworcel argued that the new 25/3 Mbps minimum will not reflect increasing broadband speed capabilities when deployment efforts enabled through the auction are underway. Starks stated that by advancing the proposed rulemaking despite inaccuracies in broadband data and mapping, the FCC “is choosing speed to auction over accuracy."
The FCC considered a number of other proceedings during the meeting, including new improvements to broadband coverage data collection, changes to licensing procedures for small satellites, and reforms to the Rural Health Care Program.