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TODAY IN ONE PARAGRAPH: The FCC approved AT&T's purchase of Leap but is taking flak from Republicans over a public notice on TV station deals. The Senate Judiciary is moving toward a markup of patent-reform legislation in early April, as Dianne Feinstein and three other lawmakers introduced legislation that seeks to stabilize funding of the Patent and Trademark Office. The New America Foundation will hold a 9 a.m. event on civil rights and big data, with a particular focus on the impact on women and minorities.
FCC OKs AT&T/LEAP: The Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T's $1.2 billion purchase of Leap Wireless (and its brand Cricket) on Thursday. The deal will give AT&T access to more airwaves, infrastructure, and 4.6 million customers. But the agency is imposing a series of conditions aimed at preserving competition and preventing price hikes.
AT&T will have to offer an unlimited plan for $40 per month for at least 18 months and will have to sell off some spectrum, mostly in south Texas. The company will also have to upgrade its network in certain markets. John Bergmayer, an attorney for Public Knowledge, said the removal of Leap from the market is "troubling," particularly because the company is aimed at low-income consumers. But he said the FCC's conditions "ameliorated some of this deal's negative effects."
GOP UPSET WITH FCC ACTION ON TV DEALS: The FCC's Media Bureau issued a notice late Wednesday warning that it will closely scrutinize deals between TV stations to share facilities, services, or advertising. The notice is part of the agency's broader crackdown on TV consolidation, but the action did not involve any formal commission vote.
Reps. Fred Upton and Greg Walden, who pushed legislation through the House this week aimed at improving FCC transparency, said the action "raises questions about Chairman Wheeler's stated commitment to process reform."
"This end-run around the full commission is a step back for transparency and reform, and sadly, consumers are the ones who stand to lose the most," the Republican lawmakers said in a statement Thursday.
RUPPERSBERGER OUTLINES NSA BILL: Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is pushing a proposal that would require the NSA to end its bulk collection of phone data. The agency could still obtain records, with court approval, from the phone companies. Ruppersberger plans to include the proposal as part of an update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which he warned Congress may fail to reauthorize next year. He said he's negotiating with Rep. Mike Rogers on the legislation, but the Intelligence chairman isn't on board yet. (Sasso, NJ)
SENATE JUDICIARY INCHES CLOSER TO PATENT BILL MARKUP: In a statement, Chairman Patrick Leahy said he will list the bill for consideration at his committee's next executive business session on March 27. A markup is expected the following week, likely on April 3. Leahy again said he is "working closely" with other Judiciary members to cobble together a "bipartisan compromise."
SENATORS INTRODUCE PTO FUNDING BILL: Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Amy Klobuchar and Republicans Tom Coburn and Jeff Flake introduced their Patent Fee Integrity Act, which aims to stabilize funding of the Patent and Trademark Office by keeping collected user fees in a separate pot that couldn't be tapped for non-PTO purposes. The full seven-page bill is here.
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PCLOB TO HOLD NSA HEARING NEXT WEEK: The privacy group will reconvene for an all-day session on March 29 and turn its attention to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The board, which ruled 3-2 that the NSA's bulk phone data program should be discontinued, does not expect to have its 702 report ready before May or June.
BLUNT AND AYOTTE PUSH RURAL BROADBAND: The GOP senators want the FCC to implement a $100 million broadband fund for rural areas by the end of the year.
SENSENBRENNER: CIA HACKING IS 'ALMOST NIXONIAN': Suddenly the Wisconsin Republican is on the same side as Dianne Feinstein on the surveillance debate. Both are incensed by the CIA's alleged hacking of Senate Intelligence's computers. (Volz, NJ)
CIA GENERAL COUNSEL NOMINEE CONFIRMED BY SENATE: Despite the hacking scandal, Caroline Crass was approved by a vote of 95-4, which notably included backing from Democrat Mark Udall, who had been somewhat of a roadblock during her nomination. The four nays: Republicans Dean Heller, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Tim Scott.
USTELECOM HIRES GALEN ROEHL: The telecom analyst for the Senate Republican Policy Committee will start his new gig as vice president of government affairs on March 21.
ZUCKERBERG CALLED OBAMA TO TALK NSA SPYING: And he took to his own Facebook page to attack the government's surveillance apparatus for being a threat to the vitality of the Internet. (Volz, NJ)
BUT NSA DENIES IT SPOOFS OTHER WEBSITES: "Reports of indiscriminate computer exploitation operations are simply false." (Volz, NJ)
TARGET MISSED SIGNS OF DATA BREACH: Detection software found the credit card hack, but the company failed to respond. (Bloomberg Businessweek)
BILL GATES IS NOT IMPRESSED WITH EDWARD SNOWDEN: "I think he broke the law, so I certainly wouldn't characterize him as a hero.... You won't find much admiration from me." (Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone)
COMPANIES ARE LOANING TAX-SHELTERED MONEY TO THE GOVERNMENT: After avoiding paying taxes on overseas money, some companies are loaning it to Uncle Sam and earning interest. (Tim Fernholz, Quartz)
ALEXANDER CALLS FOR ELEVATED STATUS FOR CYBER COMMAND: The outgoing head of Pentagon cyber wants the military's cyberwarfare organization given full unified command status. (Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post)
WHY DOES AMAZON CARE ABOUT 3D PRINTING? Forget warehouses, one day the online retailer could simply sell design plans for products that consumers print. (Dominic Basulto, Washington Post)
BLAKE FARENTHOLD WANTS MUSIC WITH HIS CAT VIDEOS: Copyright law makes it to difficult to attach music to viral content, said the Texas Republican. (Brown, NJ)