Legislative Activity

Privacy Working Group Holds Closed Door Meeting

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Privacy Working Group held a closed-door roundtable meeting last Thursday, September 26. The working group is co-chaired by Committee Vice Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and provides a forum to evaluate privacy policy issues so committee members can “come to an agreement on principles.” Representatives from Google, Wal-Mart and BlueKai provided testimony during the meeting.

Chairman Goodlatte Circulates Second Patent Reform Discussion Draft

Last Monday, September 23, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) released and circulated an updated discussion draft to reform elements of the America Invents Act, enacted in 2011. Among other provisions, the draft legislation would (1) add a series of detailed pleading requirements for patent infringement actions; (2) award “reasonable fees and expenses” to a prevailing party in a patent infringement action so long as the non-prevailing party was not substantially justified or “special circumstances make an award unjust;” (3) limit discovery in a patent infringement action; and (4) amend the review process for a “covered business method.”

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, October 1: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing titled “Challenges and Opportunities in the 5 GHz Spectrum Band.”

Regulatory Activity

Bloomberg v. Comcast

Last Thursday, September 26, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) affirmed an order requiring Comcast to place Bloomberg Television in news neighborhoods in its channel lineups. In particular, the FCC rejected Comcast’s argument that such a requirement violated its First Amendment rights and clarified that standard definition (SD) and high definition (HD) feeds of an independent news network are considered different channels and are separately entitled to carriage in SD or HD news neighborhoods. The FCC, however, disagreed with Bloomberg’s argument that if Comcast’s channel lineup has more than one news neighborhood, Comcast must carry independent news and business channels in all of those neighborhoods.

FCC Open Meeting

The FCC adopted the following items at its September 26 open meeting:

  1. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to accelerate deployment of wireless infrastructure by improving wireless facilities siting policies;
  2. NPRM to consider elimination of the UHF discount for broadcast stations under the national television multiple ownership rule; and
  3. NPRM to facilitate improvements to the resiliency of mobile wireless networks during emergencies.

The FCC’s Media Bureau also presented an update on progress towards the upcoming open filing window for Low Power FM radio station applicants.

Debt Collectors Pay $1 Million to Settle FTC Charges for Unlawful Text Messages

In the first Federal Trade Commission (FTC) action targeting unlawful debt collection text messages, the FTC made clear that debt collectors cannot circumvent their legal obligations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the FTC Act by simply communicating with consumers about their debts via text messages. In addition to a $1 million civil penalty and other obligations, the settlement requires the Glendale, California-based debt collectors to stop sending text messages that do not include the disclosures required by law, and to obtain consumers’ express consent before contacting them by text message.

Inmate Calling

Last Thursday, September 26, the FCC released an order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) to reduce interstate inmate calling service rates. In particular, the FCC requires inmate phone providers to charge cost-based interstate rates to inmates and their families, and establishes “safe-harbor” rates at or below which rates will be treated as lawful unless and until the FCC issues a finding to the contrary. The FNPRM seeks comment on additional proposed reforms, including reforming intrastate inmate calling services rates and practices. Comments on the FNPRM are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register; replies are due 15 days later.

This Week’s Meetings and Deadlines:

  • Monday, September 30: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s Speech-to-Speech Telecommunications Relay Service FNPRM.
  • Monday, September 30: The FCC will hold a workshop on the reassignment of broadcast television stations after the planned spectrum incentive auctions.
  • Tuesday, October 1: The FCC will host a forum titled “Cybersecurity: Safeguarding Children on the Internet.”
  • Wednesday, October 2: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s Public Notice on video description on television and the Internet.
  • Monday, October 7: The National Telecommunications and Information Administration will host a stakeholder workshop to discuss the ConnectED program’s goal of connecting K-12 students to next-generation broadband.