Pryor to Assume Chairmanship of Senate Communications Subcommittee, Aide Says

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Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) is in line to take the gavel of the Senate Commerce Communications, Technology, and Internet Subcommittee, a Senate aide told BNA Feb. 11.

If voted through during a Feb. 13 executive session of the committee, Pryor would have to immediately vacate his chairmanship of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, which will set in motion a reshuffling of leadership positions.

Pryor would succeed former Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who was recently confirmed as secretary of state.

For the Arkansas senator, the new job could be a powerful one.

In recent years, full committee Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) has taken the lead on communications policy issues. With his retirement looming, the chair of the Communications Subcommittee could take a more expansive role in both oversight and legislation in the 113th Congress.

Among the most pressing business for Pryor is reauthorizing the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010, which will expire at the end of 2014; overseeing the Federal Communications Commission's “incentive auctions” of spectrum; and reviewing changes to the video services marketplace since the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act.

The issue of net neutrality also is expected to factor heavily in President Obama's second-term agenda and that of the subcommittee's. As early as this spring, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could rule on whether the FCC has the authority to prohibit internet service providers from blocking and degrading websites or treating their own web content better than that of rivals. A ruling against the FCC would put pressure on Obama and Senate Democrats to quickly craft a legislative response.

Pryor also is likely to devote time to cybersecurity and online privacy.

Pryor was one of the champions in the Senate for reauthorizing the U.S. SAFE WEB Act, a 2006 law that strengthened the Federal Trade Commission's ability to fight cross-border spam, spyware, and internet fraud.

He also sponsored successful legislation to make the internet and mobile phones more accessible to people with disabilities.

Pryor's office did not respond to requests for comment.

By Paul Barbagallo