Legislative Activity

Senate Commerce Committee Holds Hearing On Patent Demand Letters

Last Thursday, November 7, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing titled “Demand Letters and Consumer Protection: Examining Deceptive Practices by Patent Assertion Entities.” Committee members heard testimony from the attorney general of Nebraska and various stakeholders from the technology industry. During the hearing, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), chair of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, announced that she is considering “limited” legislation to improve transparency in the patent demand letter process, including provisions that would require demand letters to include “basic common sense disclosures” to reduce fraud. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) also is reportedly working on legislation to address this issue in the House.

Senate Commerce Committee Scheduled To Vote On FTC Nominee

The Senate Commerce Committee plans to vote this Tuesday, November 12, on the nomination of Terrell McSweeny to fill the open commissioner seat on the Federal Trade Commission. If approved by the committee, the nomination will advance for consideration by the full Senate.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, November 13: The House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing titled “Challenges and Opportunities in the 5 GHz Spectrum Band.”

Regulatory Activity

New FCC Chairman And Commissioner Sworn In

Last Monday, November 4, Tom Wheeler was sworn in as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Michael O’Rielly also was sworn in as the agency’s new Republican commissioner. With the addition of Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner O’Rielly, the FCC returns to operating with a full bench of five commissioners.

FCC Proposes Nearly $33 Million In Penalties For Lifeline Abuses

On November 1, the FCC proposed $32.6 million in fines against three providers of Lifeline service for apparent violations of program rules. The Lifeline program is designed to help ensure that low-income consumers can afford basic telephone service by providing monthly service discounts from the Universal Service Fund. The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau found that the companies apparently violated rules by improperly receiving duplicate support for consumers who were already obtaining Lifeline service from the same company. The Enforcement Bureau concluded that the carriers knew or should have known, based on internal data, that the consumers were ineligible.

FCC Circulates NPRM To End Sports Blackout Rules

The FCC currently is circulating a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes to end the agency’s sports blackout rules, which currently prevent cable and satellite television providers from airing National Football League or other professional games if they are blacked out on local broadcast stations because of low attendance. On her last day as the FCC’s acting chairwoman, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn questioned whether the blackout rules are still in the public interest and emphasized that elimination of the rules would not prevent sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain events.

Upcoming Deadlines And Meetings:

  • Tuesday, November 12: The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau will hold a forum and technology demonstrations on cybersecurity issues facing consumers, with a focus on safeguarding children on the Internet.
  • Thursday, November 14: The FCC will hold an open meeting to consider (1) a declaratory ruling under which the FCC would allow broadcasters to exceed the current 25 percent limit on foreign investment on a case-by-case basis; (2) an update on universal service reform implementation; and (3) a presentation on a new app that will be used to expand the Measuring Broadband America program from fixed to mobile broadband services.
  • Monday, November 18: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s public notice proposing a preliminary catalog of expenses for which broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors could be reimbursed following the planned broadcast spectrum incentive auction.
  • Monday, November 18: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s public notice seeking comment to refresh the record on cramming, the unlawful practice of placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ telephone bills.