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Telecom policy news roundup: NSA, FCC make headlines

Issues affecting the telecommunications industry tend to have far-reaching effects, causing ripples across other sectors. Most notably, telecom developments can lead to significant changes in government operations. That is why it's important to take note of recent events that may impact both the public and private sector, particularly in regard to communications networks. Here's the latest news affecting telecom companies and government agencies:

Limits on NSA data storage considered
When Edward Snowden leaked documents implicating a covert NSA project aimed at collecting information from some of the telecom industry's biggest players, outcry over these practices erupted immediately. In the face of public scrutiny, President Obama recently announced that the federal government will make significant changes to the manner in which it gathers information from these sources. Politico reported that the president vowed to include private sector businesses in the process of determining how long user data will be retained before being discarded. The possibility that telecom businesses would be made responsible for the storage of sensitive customer information has caused some hand wringing among citizens and companies alike, as there are a number of liability and privacy issues that may arise.

FCC mulls landline changes
With enterprise communications and networking demands increasing at a significant clip, many industry members are concerned that the country's current infrastructure is not up to the task of meeting these needs. In particular, there is an ever-increasing subset of the populace urging officials to switch from traditional copper lines to high-quality fiber optics connections. As technology such as voice-over-Internet-Protocol matures, more organizations are finding that they can handle all of their voice and data needs through a single portal. Due to the slowing demand for traditional phone connections, the government is reportedly taking a step toward full-scale digital networking in the U.S. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to give the go-ahead on regional trials that would present phone companies with the opportunity to test switching from existing landlines to more high-tech connections. If approved, these trials could last up to six months as organizations evaluate the impact that digital networks have on local economies. The FCC is particularly interested in identifying how better connections could affect small businesses and consumer end users.

Telecoms rank high among government lobbyists
Lobbying remains a controversial practice in government operations. It's no secret that private businesses attempt to sway members of congress and other government officials to pass legislation and establish policies that would benefit their industries. According to figures recently released by the Office of the Clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives, telecoms figure prominently in current lobbying trends. IDG News Service reported that Comcast ranked fifth in lobbying activity among all organizations during the first three quarters of 2013. Over the course of the entire year, the company dedicated $20.7 million to these efforts, a significant increase over the $14.7 million it spent in the previous year.

Meanwhile, AT&T, Google and Verizon ranked 11th, 13th and 17th, respectively, during the first three quarters of 2013. While they have yet to crack the top ten, those companies continue to devote a significant amount of their operating budgets to their lobbying initiatives in order to gain more preferential treatment from lawmakers. Despite reducing spending on these endeavors 14.7 percent from the previous year, Google still allocated $14.1 million to lobbying.

"Policymaking in Washington is all about how much money you can throw around," John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project director, told the news outlet. "These tech guys are increasingly willing to spend whatever it takes to buy what they want."

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