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Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory


Christine M. Matthews
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory is a radio and radar telescope located in Barrio Esperanza, Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, operated by Cornell University under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF). In 2005-2006, NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) conducted a Senior Review of its portfolio of facilities. Among other things, the Senior Review was to identify potential reinvestment in the highest priority existing programs in AST and restructure the operational efficiency of the existing facilities. The Review reported that the scientific value of the Arecibo was modest when compared to other existing and proposed projects and recommended decreasing the telescope’s annual $12.0 million budget to $9.0 million in FY2009, and securing partnerships for the remaining necessary funding. If alternate funding sources or partnerships could not be obtained by 2011, the Review recommended dismantling the facility.

In February 2011, a report of the Senior Review estimated that closure of the Arecibo could approach $88.0 million, approximately eight times its current operating cost. The Review determined that AST should carefully examine the priorities of continuing to operate older facilities while simultaneously transitioning to newer facilities. The issue before the 112
th Congress is whether the Arecibo is more cost-effective than replacing it with newer, available technology.

In June 2011, NSF announced that it awarded a $42.0 million, five-year contract to SRI international to manage, operate, and maintain the Arecibo. SRI International will partner with the Universities Research Association, the Universidad Metropolitana, San Juan, and the University of Puerto Rico. Currently the Arecibo is operating on a $10.7 million budget. It is anticipated that the FY2012 budget will approximate $8.7 million. The Arecibo will, among other things, expand its research on the study of the ionosphere, the remains of imploded stars, and also search within and beyond the Milky Way for asteroids and pulsars. The funding is scheduled to being October 1, 2011.



Date of Report: July 20, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: R40437
Price: $29.95

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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Regulation of Broadcast Indecency: Background and Legal Analysis


Kathleen Ann Ruane
Legislative Attorney

Two prominent television events placed increased attention on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the broadcast indecency statute that it enforces. The airing of an expletive by Bono during the 2003 Golden Globe Awards, as well as the “wardrobe malfunction” that occurred during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, gave broadcast indecency prominence in the 109th and 110th Congresses, and resulted in the enactment of P.L. 109-235 (2006), which increased the penalties for broadcast indecency by tenfold.

Federal law makes it a crime to utter “any obscene, indecent, or profane language by means of radio communication” (18 U.S.C. §1464). Violators of this statute are subject to fines and imprisonment of up to two years, and the FCC may enforce this provision by forfeiture or revocation of a broadcaster’s license. The FCC has found that, for material to be “indecent,” it “must describe or depict sexual or excretory organs or activities,” and “must be patently offensive as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.” The federal government’s authority to regulate material that is “indecent” but not obscene was upheld by the Supreme Court in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, which found that prohibiting such material during certain times of the day does not violate the First Amendment.

In 1992, Congress enacted P.L. 102-356 (47 U.S.C. §303 note), section 16(a) of which, as interpreted by the courts, requires the FCC to prohibit “indecent” material on broadcast radio and broadcast television from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Under P.L. 109-235, “indecent” broadcasts are now subject to a fine of up to “$325,000 for each violation or each day of continuing violation, except that the amount assessed for any continuing violation shall not exceed a total of $3,000,000 for any single act or failure to act.” Fines may be levied against broadcast stations, but not against broadcast networks. The FCC appears to have the statutory authority to fine performers as well (up to $32,500 per incident), but has taken the position that “[c]ompliance with federal broadcast decency restrictions is the responsibility of the station that chooses to air the programming, not the performers.”

The federal restriction on “indecent” material applies only to broadcast media, and this stems from the fact that there are a limited number of broadcast frequencies available and that the Supreme Court, therefore, allows the government to regulate broadcast media more than other media. This report discusses the legal evolution of the FCC’s indecency regulations, and provides an overview of how the current regulations have been applied. The final section of the report considers whether prohibiting the broadcast of “indecent” words regardless of context would violate the First Amendment. This question arises because the Supreme Court in Pacifica left open the question whether broadcasting an occasional expletive, as in the Bono case, would justify a sanction.



Date of Report: July 13, 2011
Number of Pages: 33
Order Number: RL32222
Price: $29.95

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Critical Infrastructures: Background, Policy, and Implementation


John D. Moteff
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The nation’s health, wealth, and security rely on the production and distribution of certain goods and services. The array of physical assets, functions, and systems across which these goods and services move are called critical infrastructures (e.g., electricity, the power plants that generate it, and the electric grid upon which it is distributed).

The national security community has been concerned for some time about the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to both physical and cyber attack. In May 1998, President Clinton released Presidential Decision Directive No. 63. The Directive set up groups within the federal government to develop and implement plans that would protect government-operated infrastructures and called for a dialogue between government and the private sector to develop a National Infrastructure Assurance Plan that would protect all of the nation’s critical infrastructures by the year 2003. While the Directive called for both physical and cyber protection from both man-made and natural events, implementation focused on cyber protection against man-made cyber events (i.e., computer hackers). However, given the physical damage caused by the September 11 attacks, physical protection of critical infrastructures has received increased attention.

Following the events of September 11, the Bush Administration released Executive Order 13228, signed October 8, 2001, establishing the Office of Homeland Security and the Homeland Security Council. In November 2002, Congress passed legislation creating a Department of Homeland Security. Among its responsibilities is overall coordination of critical infrastructure protection activities. In December 2003, the Bush Administration released Homeland Security Presidential Directive 7, reiterating and expanding upon infrastructure protection policy and responsibilities. In June 2006, the Bush Administration released a National Infrastructure Protection Plan. This Plan presents the process by which the Department of Homeland Security intends to identify those specific assets most critical to the United States, across all sectors, based on the risk associated with their loss to attack or natural disaster, and then to prioritize activities aimed at maximizing the reduction of those risks for a given investment. In 2009, the Obama Administration released an updated version of the Plan. For the most part, the Obama Administration continues to follow the basic organizational structures and strategy of prior adminstrations.

This report discusses in more detail the evolution of a national critical infrastructure policy and the institutional structures established to implement it. The report highlights five issues of Congressional concern: identifying critical assets; assessing vulnerabilities and risks; allocating resources; information sharing; and regulation.



Date of Report: July 11, 2011
Number of Pages: 42
Order Number: RL30153
Price: $29.95

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Monday, July 25, 2011

Patent Reform in the 112th Congress: Innovation Issues


Wendy H. Schacht
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

John R. Thomas
Visiting Scholar


Congressional interest in patent reform has increased as the patent system becomes more significant to U.S. industry. Patent ownership is perceived as an incentive to the technological advancement that leads to economic growth. Yet, this augmented attention to patents has been accompanied by persistent concerns about the fairness and effectiveness of the current system. Several studies, including those by the National Academy of Sciences and the Federal Trade Commission, recommended reform of the patent system to address perceived deficiencies in the operation of the patent regime. Other experts maintain that major alterations in existing law are unnecessary and that the patent process can adapt, and is adapting, to technological progress.

Two omnibus patent reform bills introduced in the 112
th Congress, S. 23, the America Invents Act, and H.R. 1249, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, would make significant changes to the patent system. Both bills would adopt a first-inventor-to-file priority system, allow assignee filing, establish USPTO fee-setting authority, provide for post-issuance review proceedings at the USPTO, and introduce other reforms. Several of these proposals have been the subject of discussion within the patent community for many years, but others present more novel propositions.

Although S. 23 and H.R. 1249 have many similarities, the two bills differ in some respects. For example, S. 23 would address the residency requirement of judges serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, while H.R. 1249 would not. Unlike S. 23, H.R. 1249 would significantly broaden patent law’s first inventor defense. Other distinctions with respect to funding for the USPTO and other topics exist as well.

While the provisions of the proposed legislation would arguably institute the most sweeping reforms to the U.S. patent system since the 19
th century, many of these proposals, such as preissuance publication and prior user rights, have already been implemented in U.S. law to a more limited extent. These and other reforms, such as the first-inventor-to-file priority system and postgrant review proceedings, also reflect the decades-old patent practices of Europe, Japan, and our other leading trading partners.

Some observers are nonetheless concerned that certain of these provisions would weaken patent rights, thereby diminishing incentives for innovation. Other experts believe that changes of this magnitude, occurring at the same time, do not present the most prudent course for the patent system. Patent reform therefore confronts Congress with difficult legal, practical, and policy issues, but also with apparent possibilities for altering and possibly improving the legal regime that has long been recognized as an engine of innovation within the U.S. economy.



Date of Report: June 30, 2011
Number of Pages: 38
Order Number: R41638
Price: $29.95

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Access to Broadband Networks: The Net Neutrality Debate


Angele A. Gilroy
Specialist in Telecommunications Policy

As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major point of contention is the question of whether action is needed to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and non-discriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” While there is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality,” most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.

A major focus in the debate is concern over whether it is necessary for policymakers to take steps to ensure access to the Internet for content, services, and applications providers, as well as consumers, and if so, what these steps should be. Some policymakers contend that more specific regulatory guidelines may be necessary to protect the marketplace from potential abuses which could threaten the net neutrality concept. Others contend that existing laws and policies are sufficient to deal with potential anti-competitive behavior and that additional regulations would have negative effects on the expansion and future development of the Internet. The December 21, 2010, adoption by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of its Open Internet Order has focused attention on the issue. Although most concede that networks have always needed and will continue to need some management, the use of prioritization tools, such as deep packet inspection, as well as the initiation of metered/usage-based billing practices have further fueled the debate.

A consensus on the net neutrality issue has remained elusive and support for the FCC’s Open Internet Order has been mixed. While some Members of Congress support the action, and in some cases would have supported an even stronger approach, others feel that the FCC has overstepped its authority and that the regulation of the Internet is not only unnecessary, but harmful. Internet regulation and the FCC’s authority to implement such regulations has been a topic of legislation (H.R. 96, H.R. 166, S. 74, H.R. 1, H.J.Res. 37, and S.J.Res. 6 ) and hearings in the 112
th Congress. The House, on April 8, 2011, passed (240-179) H.J.Res. 37, to state disapproval of and remove the force and effect of the FCC’s Open Internet Order. The FY2012 Financial Services and General appropriations bill, which includes FCC funding, contains a provision barring the FCC from using funds to implement the Open Internet Order. It is anticipated that the issue of Internet access will be of continued interest to policymakers.

The net neutrality issue has also been narrowly addressed within the context of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA, P.L. 111-5). Provisions required the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in consultation with the FCC, to establish “nondiscrimination and network interconnection obligations” as a requirement for grant participants in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). These obligations were released, July 1, 2009, in conjunction with the issuance of a notice of funds availability soliciting applications. Recipients of these awards have been selected and congressional oversight is expected.

The ARRA also required the FCC to submit a report, containing a national broadband plan, to both the House and Senate Commerce Committees; it was released on March 16, 2010.



Date of Report: June 30, 2011
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40616
Price: $29.95

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