House Approves Major Overhaul of Telecommunications Laws
On June 8, the House of Representatives voted 321 to 101 to adopt legislation [H.R. 5522] making sweeping changes in U.S. telecommunications laws. Consumers could ultimately benefit from the provisions in the bill that spur head-to-head competition in the home video market between the cable industry and phone companies. In most communities today, the cable industry enjoys a virtual monopoly on video service, which has resulted in skyrocketing cable TV prices for consumers. However, other provisions in the bill could harm consumers by allowing cable and telephone companies to discriminate against Internet content that flows across their networks. Rep. Levin supported a "net neutrality" amendment offered by Rep. Markey of Massachusetts that would have required phone and cable companies to run their networks in a nondiscriminatory manner; however, the amendment was defeated on a vote of 152 to 269. As a result of this and other shortcomings in the bill, Rep. Levin voted against final passage of H.R. 5522. The legislation now moves to the Senate.
Lawmakers Express Outrage Over Handling of Lost Veterans' Data
On June 5, Rep. Levin and 35 other members of the House wrote to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to protest the Department's handling of the loss of millions of veterans' personal data. It was recently reported that the personal information of 26.5 million veterans, including their Social Security numbers, was stolen from the home of a VA employee who improperly took the information home. The Department of Veterans Affairs waited two weeks to notify the Department of Justice and FBI, costing them valuable time to commence recovery efforts. Veterans were not notified that their personal information was compromised until nearly 3 weeks after the theft had taken place. Rep. Levin blasted the VA's handling of the lost data: "The federal government is supposed to be leading the effort to prevent identity theft, not contributing to the problem." To read the letter to VA Secretary Nicholson, click here.
Trade Negotiations with South Korea Must Knock Down Barriers to U.S. Autos
On June 5, as formal negotiations for a U.S./South Korean Free Trade Agreement got underway, Rep. Levin warned that the agreement must meaningfully address persistent unfair trade practices by South Korea that virtually shut out American vehicles and auto parts from the South Korean market. Rep. Levin underscored that "as the world's fifth largest producer of autos and the third largest exporter, South Korea takes full advantage of open markets while keeping their own market closed. Korean trade must be a two way street before we allow more of their imported cars on the road." For more information, click here.
Congress Approves Bill to Boost Penalties for On-Air Indecency
The House and Senate approved legislation [S. 193, the "Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act"] to significantly increase fines for broadcasting indecent material on radio and television. For many years, the maximum fine for on-air indecency was set at $32,500. The legislation approved by Congress would boost the maximum fine to $325,000 per violation. The House approved the measure on June 6 by a vote of 379 to 35. Rep. Levin supported the bill.
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