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Bill to ban Internet taxes progresses; AT&T sole Fire Phone carrier

This week in telecom news, a bipartisan bill to permanently ban Internet taxes progresses in the House, while AT&T became the exclusive carrier of Amazon's Fire Phone.

In telecom news this week, a bipartisan bill that would permanently ban Internet taxes made progress in the House. The bill was approved by a House Committee and is off to the House floor for a vote. The current ban on Internet taxes is set to expire Nov. 1.

AT&T was named the exclusive carrier of Amazon's new Fire Phone. The Fire Phone ships in July and many will be watching to see whether AT&T benefits from this exclusive deal. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is threatening to crack down on providers that don't improve their cybersecurity measures. For now, the FCC is encouraging providers to adopt best practices, but it won't back down from taking regulatory action if providers fail to make improvements.

Ban on Internet taxes passes in House Committee

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would permanently ban Internet access taxes and multiple discriminatory online taxes. The bill will now be sent to the House floor for a vote. If it passes, it will go to the Senate for consideration.

The Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act passed 30 to 4. Some Democrat committee members argued the bill favored the broadband sector, that it was a violation of states' rights, and it did not give Congress the flexibility to review the ban periodically, according to Broadcasting & Cable. Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) argued for the bill, saying taxes would threaten the Internet's continued growth and prosperity.

The bipartisan bill (H.R. 3086 and S. 1431) was introduced in September 2013. The Internet Tax Freedom Act has been extended three times since it was passed in 1998 and is scheduled to expire on Nov. 1.Legislators in the House and Senate are calling on House Leadership to bring the bill to the floor for a vote quickly, according to Multichannel News.

"Failing to extend the current Internet tax moratorium by November risks driving up the cost of connectivity," said National Cable and Telecommunications Association President Michael Powell in a press release. "We urge the Congress to quickly pass this important legislation so American consumers and businesses will continue to be protected from any additional taxes and fees that could raise the price of Internet access and slow the rapid adoption of broadband services."

If the extension is not approved in both houses of Congress and signed into law by the president, states could start levying Internet taxes as soon as next year.

AT&T to be exclusive Amazon Fire Phone carrier

AT&T is the exclusive carrier for Amazon's new Fire Phone, and whether the carrier will benefit by getting new subscribers will become apparent over time.

The announcement has been criticized for being unusual in a market where most mobile devices are available from multiple carriers. Instead, limiting adoption to those willing to go with AT&T could be a limiting factor. But Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said AT&T and Amazon have been partners for the past five years through Amazon's Kindle tablets, according to The Verge. Apple had a similar partnership with AT&T when the iPhone first launched exclusively through AT&T in 2007.

Rumors abound that Amazon may also join AT&T's Sponsored Data program, which allows developers and brands to pay AT&T to deliver content to users' smartphones outside of their data plan caps. While Amazon did not announce any intentions to join the program in the Fire Phone release, the company said it is open to the idea, according to Android Authority. If it joins, Amazon would be the first to use the program since it was announced at CES in January.

The Fire Phone is Amazon's first branded phone and features 3-D technology that tracks a user's head with front-facing cameras to appropriately position 3-D effects.

The 32 GB model retails for $199 with a two-year contract, or $649 without a contract. The 64 GB model retails for $299 with a two-year contract, or $749 without a contract. Both models will begin shipping July 25.

FCC pushes carriers to improve cybersecurity

The FCC is encouraging providers to improve their cybersecurity efforts and is threatening to impose regulations if providers fail to do so.

"The FCC cannot abdicate its responsibilities simply because the threats to national security and life and safety have begun to arrive via new technologies," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. "If a call for help doesn't go through, if an emergency alert is hijacked, if our core network infrastructure goes down, are we really going to say, 'Well, that threat came through packet-switched IP-based networks, not circuit-switched telephony, so it's not our job?'"

The FCC will encourage providers to adopt cybersecurity best practices developed by the commission's advisory committee, the Communications, Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council, according to Computer World. The FCC will look at whether or not providers have implemented best practices, which include domain name security and Internet route hijacking measures, and complete an assessment of whether they were effective.

If providers fail to make improvements, the FCC is prepared to take regulatory action, Wheeler said.

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