Legislative Activity

House Commerce Committee Announces Process For Communications Act Update

Last Tuesday, December 3, the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s top two leaders on communications and technology issues announced the committee will begin a comprehensive process to update the Communications Act of 1934 between 2014 and 2015. Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Subcommittee on Communications and Technology Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) made the announcement through a Google+ “hangout” with participation by former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner Robert McDowell. During the announcement, the chairmen explained that the committee plans to hold a number of hearings in 2014 to identify the issues in need of reform, publish a series of white papers to further flesh out the issues, and produce legislation by 2015. The committee intends to invite significant public participation in the update process “utilizing all platforms of digital media,” as evidenced by the establishment of #CommActUpdate, which stakeholders and constituents can use to comment and keep up with the committee’s update activities.

House Votes To Approve The Innovation Act

Last Thursday, December 5, the House voted to approve the Innovation Act (H.R. 3309), patent reform legislation introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 325-91. The bill seeks to address what some consider to be flaws in the patent litigation process, which, according to Chairman Goodlatte, has permitted “an exponential increase in the use of weak or poorly-granted patents by so-called patent trolls to file patent infringement lawsuits . . . in the hopes of securing a quick payday.” To address this issue, the legislation seeks to increase transparency of patent ownership by requiring pre-litigation filing at the U.S. Patent and Trade Office, requires detailed pleading requirements that claimants must include in any patent infringement lawsuit, includes fee shifting provisions that require a losing party to pay the victor’s attorneys’ fees and costs – unless a court determines that the losing party was “substantially justified” – and includes detailed instructions to the U.S. Judicial Conference to reform the patent litigation discovery process in an effort to reduce costs. The Senate likely will address a less comprehensive but similar bill introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), the Patent Transparency and Improvements Act (S. 1720), in 2014.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, December 10: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade will hold a hearing to discuss the state of online gaming.
  • Tuesday, December 10: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to examine issues surrounding implementation of the voluntary incentive auction of broadcast television spectrum.
  • Wednesday, December 11: The Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness will hold a hearing to discuss digital trade.
  • Thursday, December 12: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold an FCC oversight hearing. The subcommittee is expected to receive testimony from all five FCC commissioners on issues including spectrum incentive auctions, the expansion of unlicensed spectrum, the UHF discount for television broadcasters, media ownership, and FCC process reform.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Open Meeting

The FCC will hold an open meeting this Thursday, December 12. The agenda for the meeting includes the following items:

  1. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to provide airlines with the ability to permit passengers to use mobile wireless services in-flight via onboard airborne access systems. In response to initial criticism from many consumers and industry stakeholders, the FCC has emphasized that the proposed rules would allow, but not require, airlines to permit their passengers to use data, text and/or voice services while airborne.
  2. A Report and Order to improve the reliability and resiliency of 911 networks nationwide.
  3. A status update on the work of the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force toward making near-term recommendations related to the FCC’s expectations and role in the IP transition.
  4. An update from the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau on FCC and industry efforts to promote mobile wireless device unlocking.

FCC Delays Broadcast Spectrum Incentive Auction Until Mid-2015

Last Friday, December 6, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the FCC plans to delay its broadcast spectrum incentive auction until the middle of 2015. Chairman Wheeler stated in a blog post that the FCC’s incentive auction task force will provide more details about the auction timeline at the agency’s open meeting in January 2014. The timeline includes presenting policy recommendations early next year in a proposed Report and Order on which the FCC would then vote in the spring of 2014. Also in the second half of 2014, the task force plans to release an Auction Comment Public Notice and a Procedures Public Notice that will provide additional details and seek comment on how specific parts of the auction will actually function.

This Week’s Deadlines:

  • Thursday, December 12: Reply comments are due in response to Sprint Corporation’s petition for reconsideration of the Commission’s Internet Protocol Relay rate order, adopted on July 1, 2013.
  • Friday, December 13: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on additional measures to reform rates for interstate inmate calling services.