The new year may have just started, but we already have a good idea of where the big stories in tech politics and policy are heading. Below we take a look at the debates that could dominate 2015. And if you missed it earlier, check out our review of 2014’s most important tech stories.
1) FCC Expected to Finalize Net Neutrality Rules
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he hopes to announce the agency’s decision on net neutrality early next year. After an FCC meeting on Dec. 11, Wheeler said the goal was to make a decision “quickly, right, sustainable” as it will likely be met with a lawsuit from internet service providers if the FCC decides to classify them as utility companies under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. There is no statutory or judicial deadline compelling the commission to announce the new rules.
The FCC could take a variety of approaches to tackling net neutrality, but most experts say the two most likely scenarios are a Title II approach or one that invokes Section 706 of the 1996 telecom law which would regulate the broadband infrastructure rather than individual ISPs.
2) Telecom Merger Decisions
The FCC is expected to decide if two blockbuster mergers announced in 2014 are allowed to move forward. After several delays, the FCC is now scheduled to announce its decision for the Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal before April, around the same time as its decision about whether AT&T can acquire DirecTV.
The FCC was supposed to decide on both potential mergers by the end of 2014 but paused its review in October to examine information from content providers about contract terms that could be affected by the deals. In December, the FCC once again delayed consideration of the Comcast-TWC deal after Time Warner did not provide necessary documents in a timely manner, pushing back the previously deadline by three weeks.
The Wall Street Journal: Comcast-TWC Merger Review Delayed for Documents
3) NSA Provisions Sunsetting
Despite a failed congressional effort to make changes to the National Security Agency’s data-collection programs, changes are on the horizon as three provisions within the Patriot Act are set to expire on June 1, including the NSA’s bulk record collection practices that Senate Democrats tried to curtail in November.
With Republicans taking control of Congress, passing legislation pertaining to the NSA is likely, but there are different schools of thought on how to make changes to the agency’s legal reach. Some are of the opinion that Congress should let the NSA’s surveillance provisions sunset in June, while others say the programs are necessary to combat new threats like the Islamist militant group known as ISIS.
National Journal: Patriot Act Deadline Threatens to Splinter NSA Reformers
4) Patent Overhaul
The White House and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives rarely see eye to eye on anything. However, a House-passed patent bill that had some White House support failed to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate this past year. With Republicans taking control of both chambers for the 114th Congress, patent-reform legislation of some kind appears all but certain in the year to come.
What will be interesting to watch is the extent to which House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Intellectual Property Subcommittee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) collaborate in crafting patent legislation and other copyright issues over the next two years. Goodlatte sponsored the House-passed patent reform bill during the 113th Congress and has signaled a similar version will be a priority for his committee in the new term.
Politico: Goodlatte, Issa jostle over tech turf
5) Piecemeal or Comprehensive Immigration Legislation
President Barack Obama announced executive actions on immigration in November following the midterm elections, and congressional Republicans are looking to block implementation of the new policies. While Obama’s move likely compromised any chance of passing comprehensive reform in the GOP-led Congress, lawmakers may take a piecemeal approach to getting the job done.
One immigration issue that has bipartisan support is improved access to work visas for high-skilled workers. Even with Republicans saying they’ll combat what they consider executive overreach by the White House, movement on getting a bill passed to raise the visa cap on high-skilled foreign workers is still possible, and something the tech community very much wants.
Morning Consult: Lawmakers Show Support for More High-Skilled Immigrant Visas