The Switchboard: Five tech policy stories you need to read today


Nathan Myhrvold, head of the nation's largest patent troll, Intellectual Ventures. (Photo by Lisa Padilla)

FCC says TracFone and other wireless service providers defrauded U.S. program for the poor. "The Federal Communications Commission yesterday accused five wireless service providers of obtaining duplicate payments from a federal fund for low-income consumers," Ars Technica reports. "The FCC wants the companies to repay the extra money and, in addition, to pay $14.4 million in fines. The wireless providers allegedly violated rules of the Lifeline program, which has helped people afford basic telephone service since 1985."

‘Patent trolls’ launch a lobbying defense in D.C. "Long pilloried in Silicon Valley as a drain on innovation, such companies have seen their troubles mount with regulators and lawmakers," reports Politico. "As scrutiny increases, Intellectual Ventures, often derided as the world’s largest patent troll, has added lobbying help and sent its founder and chief executive, Nathan Myhrvold, to Capitol Hill to make the case that patents benefit inventors. There has been talk of creating an advocacy group of 'patent-assertion entities.' And some tech executives are warning against a troll crackdown, saying it could weaken overall patent rights."

Judiciary hearing on NSA reform on; Intel vote off. "The Senate Judiciary Committee will move ahead with its Wednesday morning hearing on the government's controversial surveillance programs, despite a government shutdown that has canceled many other Capitol Hill events," the Hill reports. "But the Intelligence Committee has postponed its planned Thursday markup of Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) bill to restore trust in the National Security Agency. The measure would largely preserve the NSA's power, while other lawmakers, including Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), plan to more aggressively rein in the agency."

The Washington Post closes sale to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. "Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos formally took over as the owner of The Washington Post on Tuesday, officially ending 80 years of local control of the newspaper by the Graham family," reports The Post's Paul Farhi. "Bezos, who founded the online shopping company in 1994 and became a billionaire in the process, has vowed to continue the newspaper’s long history of independent journalism."

Shutdown of U.S. government Web sites appears bafflingly arbitrary. Ars Technica conducted a systematic survey of which federal Web sites were taken down as a result of the government shutdown and which remain operational. "What emerges is a rather bizarre picture. Nearly all of the agencies we looked at are up, even those with a message about the shutdown," Ars reports. "Very few, in fact, have genuinely closed down entirely."

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Brian Fung · October 1, 2013

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