Legislative Activity

House Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Communications Act Update

On January 15, the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology heard testimony from four former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), each of whom addressed a number of high-level legal and policy issues that Congress could consider as part of a review of the Communications Act of 1934. The hearing was held one day after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia released its decision in Verizon v. FCC, vacating two key provisions of the FCC’s net neutrality rules while affirming the commission’s authority to regulate broadband Internet service under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Subcommittee members from both parties addressed the court’s decision differently. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the full House Energy and Commerce Committee, noted the decision “illustrates the uncertainty flowing from the current statutory scheme” and the need to revamp the Communications Act. In contrast, Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-CA) stressed that the court’s decision “affirmed what never should have been in question … that the FCC has broad, flexible authority to regulate in the broadband and digital age.”

Bill Introduced To Expand Spectrum-Based Services To Underserved Areas

On January 16, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) introduced H.R. 3916, a bill intended to promote the expansion of spectrum-based services to exceptionally hard-to-serve populations in unserved and underserved geographic locations. Rep. Kilmer’s proposal follows Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) introduction last November of the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act (S. 1776), which would direct the FCC to establish a program under which wireless carriers could partition or disaggregate their licenses in order to make unused spectrum available for use by small and rural carriers.

Senate Communications Subcommittee Holds Hearing On 911 Location Accuracy

On January 16, the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet held a hearing titled “Locating 911 Callers in a Wireless World.” The hearing focused on location accuracy issues associated with calling 911 from wireless phones. The hearing included witness testimony urging the FCC to initiate a proceeding to assess technologies designed to provide more accurate location data for wireless 911 calls. Subcommittee Chairman Mark Pryor (D-AR) agreed, stating that “it’s time for the FCC to take concrete to make sure that all wireless callers can be located by 911 centers, and I call on the FCC today to initiate a proceeding to make that happen.”

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, January 28: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet will hold a hearing on the scope of fair use protections in current copyright law.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Open Meeting

This Thursday, January 30, the FCC is scheduled to consider the following items at its open meeting:

  1. A Report and Order, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), and Notice of Inquiry inviting experiments to examine how to best accelerate technology transitions to an all-IP network while preserving and enhancing the values consumers expect from communications networks.
  2. A policy statement and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that set forth the agency’s policy goals for text-to-911 service and request comment on proposals for the implementation of these goals.
  3. An update on the timeline and project plan for the broadcast television incentive auction.
  4. A presentation from the staff working group on FCC process reform.

FCC Seeks Comment On TCPA Petition For Declaratory Ruling

Last Wednesday, January 22, the FCC released a public notice seeking comment on a petition for declaratory ruling filed by the Retail Industry Leaders Association. The petition asks the FCC to clarify that “on-demand text services” that provide one-time replies to consumer requests for offers via text message are not subject to the prior written consent rules of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which became effective on October 14, 2013. Comments are due February 21; reply comments are due March 10.

Auction Of H Block Spectrum Begins

Last Wednesday, January 22, the FCC began its auction of the 1900 MHz H Block spectrum. A portion of the auction proceeds is expected to help fund the First Responder Network Authority’s (FirstNet) development of a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network. Revenue from the auction could help lessen the pressure on the FCC’s upcoming broadcast spectrum incentive auction to generate funding for FirstNet. The FCC set a reserve price of $1.56 billion for the H Block auction.

This Week’s Deadlines:

  • Thursday, January 30: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s NPRM proposing to amend the agency’s rules to allow the licensing and operation of vehicular repeater systems by public safety licensees on certain VHF frequencies.
  • Friday, January 31: Comments are due in response to Modernizing the Communications Act, the white paper released by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) regarding an update of the Communications Act.