TLJ News from February 1-5, 2006

FCC to Host Event in Keller Texas

2/3. The four Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will host an event titled "Open Commission Meeting" on Friday, February 10, 2006, in Keller, Texas. See, FCC notice [PDF].

Keller is a fast growing suburb in the Dallas-Ft.Worth metropolitan area. It lies northeast of downtown Ft. Worth. The meeting will be at the Keller Pointe Community Center, at 405 Rufe Snowe Drive.

There are two items on the published agenda [PDF]. The Commissioners will comment on and vote on approval of the Media Bureau's 12th annual report to Congress on the status of competition in the market for the delivery of video programming. There will also be panel on video competition.

Verizon is installing fiber-optic cable to the premises of homes and businesses, also know as FTTP, in Keller, Texas. See, Verizon's May 19, 2004, release.

Directions from DFW Airport: Head north on the airport highway towards the north exit of the airport. This becomes TX 97 Spur. Take TX 114 west towards Ft. Worth and Keller (heading west for four miles). Take the Wall St. / E. Southlake Blvd. exit onto TX 114 (for 0.3 mile). Bear left on Southlake Blvd. (heading west for 6 miles). This turns into E. Price. Turn left at Rufe Snowe Drive (heading south for one half mile).

Bush Signs Bill Extending Sunset Date of PATRIOT Act Provisions

2/3. President Bush signed HR 4659, a bill to extend the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until March 10, 2006. See, White House release.

Without this bill, 16 sections of the PATRIOT Act, and one provision of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, would have expired on February 3.

See also, story titled "House Approves Further Extension of Expiring Sections of PATRIOT Act" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,302, February 2, 2006.

People and Appointments

2/3. Justin McCarthy was named head of the congressional affairs team at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). He has worked at the USTR for a few months as Assistant USTR for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison. Before that he worked for Pfizer. Before joining Pfizer in 2001, he was Legislative Director for Mayer Brown & Platt's international trade practice. And before that, he worked for former Rep. Thomas Ewing (R-IL).

2/3. President Bush named Scott Jennings to be Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Political Affairs. See, White House release.

2/3. President Bush named Jeffrey Kupfer to be Special Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. He is a lawyer, rather than an economist. See, White House release.

2/3. President Bush named Luis Reyes to be Special Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel. See, White House release.

2/3. Rose Romero was named District Administrator of the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Fort Worth District Office. See, SEC release.

2/3. Goldy Kamali was named National Government Procurement and Events Manager of the American Electronics Association's (AeA) Potomac Council. See, release.

US and Korea to Negotiate Free Trade Agreement

2/2. U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Portman announced that the U.S. intends to "negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) with Republic of Korea with the goal of removing tariffs and non-tariff barriers and expanding trade between the countries". See, USTR release.

Portman stated that "This is the most commercially significant free trade negotiation we have embarked on in 15 years ... Korea is the world's 10th largest economy with an annual GDP rapidly approaching $1 trillion and our 7th largest export market."

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (SFC), stated in a release that "In recent months Korea has taken concrete steps that demonstrate the seriousness with which it will approach these negotiations. Korea has addressed several of our bilateral trade concerns, including the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights" and "restrictions on movie screenings". However, he added that "we have a number of significant market access issues that remain".

Some of these issues are related to agricultural products and cars. Korea maintains high tariffs on, as well as non-tariff barriers to, these products. See also, Korean government release and release.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), the ranking Democrat on the SFC, stated in a release that "For too long, the United States has pursued politically-motivated trade agreements with very small countries of little economic significance that create few jobs at home. I applaud Ambassador Portman for re-energizing U.S. trade policy and focusing on markets like Korea that really matter to U.S. exporters."

President Bush stated in a release that "The United States and the Republic of Korea have a strong alliance and are bound together by common values and a deep desire to expand freedom, peace, and prosperity throughout Asia and the world. Today, we seek to deepen the ties between our nations by negotiating a comprehensive U.S.-Republic of Korea Free Trade Agreement. A Free Trade Agreement with the Republic of Korea will provide important economic, political, and strategic benefits to both countries and build on America's engagement in Asia. The Republic of Korea is our seventh largest trading partner and seventh largest export market, and this Free Trade Agreement advances our commitment to opening markets and expanding opportunities for America's farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses."

See also, story titled "Korea Relaxes Trade Barriers to Foreign Movies" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,298, January 27, 2006.

People and Appointments

2/2. House Republicans elected Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) to be House Majority Leader. He replaces Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX). He defeated Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO), who remains Republican Whip, and Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ).

2/2. Diego Ruiz was named Deputy Chief of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. He was previously VP and General Manager of KUVS-TV Univision Channel 19 and KTFK-TV TeleFutura Channel 64 in Sacramento, California. Before that, he was VP and General Manager of Univision's internet division, Univision Online. See, FCC release.

More News

2/2. The Business Software Alliance (BSA) released a document titled "2006 U.S. Public Policy Priorities". See also, BSA release.

Congress Enacts DTV Transition Legislation

2/1. On February 1, the House approved HRes 653 by a vote of 216-214. See, Roll Call No. 4. HRes 653 is a short resolution that provides as follows: "Resolved, That the House hereby concurs in the Senate amendment to the House amendment to the bill (S. 1932) to provide for reconciliation pursuant to section 202(a) of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2006 (H. Con. Res. 95)."

That is, it provides for approval of S 1932, the "Deficit Reduction Act of 2005", which was previously approved by the Senate. Title III of this bill is the "Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Act of 2005". Thus, the Congress has enacted a digital television (DTV) transition bill.

President Bush has not yet signed the bill.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the Chairman of the House Commerce Committee, stated in a release that "The DTV legislation brings needed certainty to allow consumers, broadcasters, cable and satellite operators, manufacturers, retailers, and government to prepare for the end of the transition ... It includes a strong consumer education measure. And it helps ensure that all consumers have continued access to broadcast programming, regardless of whether they use analog or digital televisions, or whether they watch television signals broadcast by a local station or subscribe to pay-TV."

"We now have three years to prepare for the transition ... That is more than enough time for manufacturers and retailers to move low-cost digital televisions and converter-boxes into the market, for the FCC to complete the channel allocation process, for broadcasters to finalize their digital facilities, and for government and industry to prepare consumers for the transition."

This bill contains a date of February 17, 2009 for television broadcasters to relinquish spectrum in the 700 MHz band that they are currently using for analog over the air broadcasting. After that date broadcasters will only broadcast using spectrum for digital over the air broadcasting.

108 MHz of spectrum will be recovered from analog broadcasting. 24 MHz is allocated for public safety uses. 84 MHz is allocated for advanced wireless services. 60 MHz of this has yet to be auctioned. The bill requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to commence its auction by January 28, 2006.

The FCC has adopted rules requiring that new television sets be manufactured with digital receivers. However, there remain television sets in use, with only analog reception capability, that are used for analog over the air television.

The bill establishes a government subsidy program, to be funded out of auction proceeds, that will pay for converter boxes for consumers with analog TV sets. That is, the bill provides for up to $1.5 Billion in funding of $40 vouchers for the purchase of digital to analog set top converter boxes. There is a limit of two vouchers per household. The bill provides that this subsidy program will be administered by the Department of Commerce's (DOC) National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The High Tech DTV Coalition is a Washington DC based interest group that has sought enactment of this legislation. It members include equipment manufacturers, software makers, telecommunications carriers, service providers, and groups involved in putting the recovered spectrum to use for advanced wireless services. Among the members are Alcatel, Aloha Partners, AT&T, Dell, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, T-Mobile, National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Business Software Alliance (BSA), Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), Rural Telecommunications Group, TechNet, and Organization for the Promotion and Advancement of Small Telecommunications Companies (OPASTCO).

Janice Obuchowski, head of the High Tech DTV Coalition, spoke at a luncheon on January 24, 2006. She stated there that the 700 MHz band has properties, such as permeation of walls, that make it ideally suited for mobile broadband services.

She also downplayed the likelihood that consumers might react negatively to the termination of analog over the air broadcasting. She said that over the air broadcasting will continue, digitally. She added that with recent FCC rules regarding the manufacturer of new televisions, the prevalence of cable, the converter box subsidies, and consumer education, few people will be adversely affected.

She also said that "this country is built around technology shifts".

House Approves Further Extension of Expiring Sections of PATRIOT Act

2/1. The House approved by voice vote HR 4659, a bill to extend the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until March 10, 2006.

The entire substantive language of this bill is as follows: "Section 224(a) of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT ACT) Act of 2001 (Public Law 107-56; 115 Stat. 295) is amended by striking `February 3, 2006' and inserting `March 10, 2006'."

That is, Section 224 of the original USA PATRIOT Act, enacted in 2001, provided that 16 sections sunset on December 31, 2005. In late December of 2005 the Congress enacted S 2167, a short untitled bill that extended the sunset date to February 3, 2006. HR 4659 would further extend the sunset date to March 10.

See also, stories titled "Senate Approves Six Month Extension of Sunsetted Provisions of the PATRIOT Act" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,278, December 22, 2005, and "House and Senate Approve Five Week Extension of Sunsetted Sections of PATRIOT Act" in TLJ Daily E-Mail Alert No. 1,279, December 23, 2005.

Late last year the House, but not the Senate, approved the conference report [PDF] on HR 3199, the "USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005". It permanently extends most of the sunsetted sections.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced HR 4659 on January 31, 2006.

He stated in the House on February 1 that "Unfortunately, we must pass another extension today because a minority of Members of the other body have blocked an up-or-down vote on the conference report for H.R. 3199, the ``USA PATRIOT and Terrorism Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2005, which the full House passed by a broad bipartisan vote of 257-171 on December 14." See, statement [PDF].

Rep. James SensenbrennerRep. Sensenbrenner (at right) said that "These opponents in the other body has repeatedly cited their concern for civil liberties as a justification for their obstruction. Ironically, the Conference Report that has been blocked contains dozens of vital civil liberties protections -- many included at their request."

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), one of the most active opponents of the conference report on HR 3199, spoke in the Senate on January 31. He stated that "I have continued meeting and talking with interested Republican and Democratic Senators. Senate staff has finally gotten together this week in a bipartisan meeting. I urge the Majority leader to bring together key interested Senators to work out a bipartisan compromise that improves the failed conference report." See, statement.

"Bush Administration and Republican congressional leaders", said Sen. Leahy, "hijacked the conference report, rewrote the bill in ways that fell short in protecting basic civil liberties and then tried to ram it through Congress as an all-or-nothing proposition."

He added that "Some of us are working hard to protect the security and liberty of Americans.  What is wrong is for the White House to manipulate this into a partisan fight for its partisan political advantage.  Instead of playing partisan politics, the Bush Administration and Republican congressional leadership should join in trying to improve the law."

Bush Discusses NSA Surveillance in Nashville Speech

2/1. President Bush gave a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, in which he repeated and reinforced many of the points that he made in his January 31 state of the union speech.

For example, he again defended electronic surveillance being conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). He said that "I've authorized NSA to listen to a phone call from outside the United States in, or inside the United States out. In other words, this is not a program where we're listening to phone calls inside the United States. One of the people making the call has to be al Qaeda, suspected al Qaeda, and/or affiliate."

He continued that "Federal courts have ruled that the President -- a President has constitutional authority to use foreign intelligence surveillance against enemies. Previous Presidents have used the same constitutional authority I have. I've got statutory authority, as well. The Congress passed the authorization to use military force against al Qaeda after September the 11th, and the Supreme Court, in a recent opinion, ruled that the President -- the Congress gave me the authority to use what's called the ``fundamental incidents of war."

"In other words, Congress authorized me to use force in the fundamental incidents of war, which means in this case, you can't defeat the enemy until you know when the enemy is going to hit. And therefore, using this surveillance to find out the intention of the enemy is a fundamental incident of war to protect the American people. Let me put it to you in Texan: If al Qaeda is calling into the United States, we want to know", said Bush.

He also touched again on trade. "Protectionism doesn't work". He added that "It's important for us to stay competitive to open up markets. The temptation is to shut markets down. I'm confident in our ability."

Go to News from January 26-31, 2006.