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The US Week Ahead: House to assess bill with $40B for broadband infrastructure


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The US Week Ahead: House to assess bill with $40B for broadband infrastructure

Congress will have a busy week of hearings before a week of recess after Memorial Day.

On May 22, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on an infrastructure bill titled, "LIFT America: Modernizing Our Infrastructure for the Future."

The bill was introduced by all 31 Democratic members of the committee on May 15.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the committee, said that it will include $40 billion for broadband infrastructure for unserved and underserved areas, $12 billion for improving the 9-1-1 service infrastructure and $5 billion for financing new infrastructure projects.

"This legislation will strengthen our economy for the future by creating good paying jobs, making critical investments in our nation's broadband network, and bringing critical improvements to our drinking water and healthcare infrastructure," added Pallone in a May 15 statement.

In 2017, Pallone introduced a bill under the same name that also included $40 billion for broadband deployment. That bill, which only had Democratic co-sponsors, did not advance in the previous Congress.

While no Republicans supported the bill in the previous Congress, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has also been supportive of expanding broadband infrastructure in the past. Specifically, he has stressed the need to prioritize unserved areas when expanding broadband infrastructure. One way in which Walden believes this can be done is by improving the accuracy of broadband coverage maps, an issue that has consistently drawn bipartisan support.

Also taking place in the House will be a hearing on facial recognition technology. On May 22, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will host a hearing on the way the technology impacts civil rights and liberties.

Governments across the country are increasingly having a conversation about their role in the technology and its development. In 2019 alone, states, municipalities and Congress have all considered legislation related to facial recognition.

The American Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns that the technology "can be used in a passive way that doesn't require the knowledge, consent or participation of the subject." On May 14, San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to block use of the technology by the police and additional government agencies.

One bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate would prohibit commercial users of facial recognition technology from collecting and re-sharing data that can identify or track consumers without their consent. The bill, which is known as the Commercial Facial Recognition Privacy Act of 2019, has not yet been taken up for consideration by the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith has praised the legislation. In a statement accompanying the bill's announcement, Smith said the technology "needs to be regulated to protect against acts of bias and discrimination, preserve consumer privacy, and uphold our basic democratic freedoms."

Microsoft is not alone among prominent technology companies calling for Congress to act on facial recognition technology. In February, Michael Punke, vice president of global public policy for Amazon Web Services Inc. wrote in a blog post that Inc. supports calls for "an appropriate national legislative framework that protects individual civil rights and ensures that governments are transparent in their use of facial recognition technology."

Alphabet Inc.'s Google LLC is also thinking about the ways in which it develops the technology. In March, the company formed an external advisory council to help guide responsible development of the technology, though it had to close the council shortly after its formation due to backlash both from and about council members.

Witnesses have not yet been announced for the House hearing.

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Federal government
May 21 The Senate Committee on the Judiciary will host a hearing titled "Understanding the Digital Advertising Ecosystem and the Impact of Data Privacy and Competition Policy."
May 21 The House Committee on Homeland Security will host a hearing titled "Growing and Diversifying the Cyber Talent Pipeline."
May 22 The House Committee on Oversight and Reform will host a hearing titled "Facial Recognition Technology (Part 1): Its Impact on our Civil Rights and Liberties."
May 22 The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will host a hearing titled "LIFT America: Modernizing Our Infrastructure for the Future."
Industry, legal and think tank events
May 20-23 The Wireless Infrastructure Association will host an event titled "Connectivity Expo" in Orlando, Fla.
May 21-22 The Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International will host an event on public safety broadband in Arlington, Va.
May 22 The Brookings Institution will host an event titled "Algorithmic bias: New research on best practices and policies to reduce consumer harms" in Washington, D.C.
May 23 The Computer & Communications Industry Association will host an event titled "Transatlantic Digital Economy Dialogue" in Washington, D.C.

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