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Democrats Introduce Bills to Improve Connectivity

Apr 5, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – House Democrats, including members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced four bills and a discussion draft to improve Americans’ access to communications networks and the tools necessary to ensure accountability of their government. 

The Connected Government Act, released by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL) yesterday as a discussion draft, would help the many low-income Americans that rely on a mobile phone to get access to the internet by ensuring they can access federal websites on their phones.

“In 2017, Americans rely more and more on their mobile devices to access the Internet.  This is especially true for low-income and younger families.  Yet, access to government websites and resources are trapped in the last century and can be difficult or impossible to access from mobile devices.  The Connected Government Act is an important step toward government transparency, accountability and modernization,” said Kelly, the Ranking Member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Information Technology subcommittee.

The Protecting Dissenting Viewpoints and Voices Act, introduced by Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), would prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—or any other government agency—from taking action against broadcasters or anyone else on the basis of their viewpoint.

“I am troubled by President Trump’s recent assertion that a free and independent press are America’s enemies.  I am also troubled that when asked if he believed mainstream journalistic institutions are ‘fake news,’ Chairman Pai has declined to take a position,” said Luján.  “The FCC is an agency that plays a pivotal role in the licensing of entities that provide news and information—an agency that was established to be independent of White House control.  Our legislation is essential to ensure American media outlets are protected from government reprisals based on their points of view.”

The Keeping Our Campaigns Honest (KOCH) Act, introduced yesterday by Budget Committee Ranking Member John Yarmuth (D-KY), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), would direct the FCC to revise its sponsorship identification rules to require that the true identity of individuals behind anonymous campaign ads be disclosed.

“The KOCH Act will help ensure that the American people receive some level of honesty when it comes to identifying the individuals and groups that are trying to influence their vote,” said Yarmuth, Welch, and Luján.  “If special interests are allowed to continue spending hundreds of millions of dollars to impact our elections and our democracy, they should at least be required to let voters know who they are.”

The Family Telephone Connection Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), would require the FCC to regulate exorbitant, interstate calling rates for prison phone calls between parents, spouses, and families with children.

“Communication, along with the ability to express love toward family, is a fundamental need, and one’s humanity does not perish when they enter the prison system,” said Rush.  “This bill helps prisoners maintain their humanity and, in turn, reduces recidivism.”

The Expanding Broadcast Ownership Opportunities Act, introduced yesterday by Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), would help to increase diversity of ownership in the broadcasting industry by strengthening data and reporting requirements at the FCC, re-establishing the tax certificate program, and creating a pilot incubator program at the FCC to assist new minority- or women-owned broadcast stations.

“In today’s omnipresent media environment, the need to increase diverse voices that can contribute to the dialogue has never been more important.  My bill that bolsters the FCC’s reporting requirements, revives a tax certificate program, and empowers the FCC to assist historically disadvantaged groups is an important step forward in encouraging new entrants into the broadcast industry,” said Butterfield.  “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Energy and Commerce Committee who share my goal of creating ways to increase diversity of ownership in broadcast.”

In January, Pallone wrote in an opinion piece that it is time for Washington to rethink tech policy by focusing on improving security, increasing opportunities, and providing more access for Americans.  Last month, Democratic Committee members introduced three bills that would improve cybersecurity for consumer devices and introduced five bills to ensure American workers have the resources they need to thrive in the 21st century economy.

“The nation's networks are becoming one of the most critical ways in which we connect.  Broadcast, broadband, and even voice telephone calls bring us closer to businesses, government, the world around us, and to each other.  The bills that House Democrats unveil today recognize that important fact and work to make these connections stronger and more transparent,” said Pallone.

Text of the bills and discussion draft can be found below: