Legislative Activity

Net Neutrality Legislation Introduced

Last Monday, February 3, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the Open Internet Preservation Act of 2014 (S. 1981 and H.R. 3982). The legislation would restore the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) “net neutrality” rules, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned in a decision released January 14. If approved, the legislation would restore the regulations, adopted in the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, until the FCC takes new, final action in the proceeding. In support of the legislation, Rep. Waxman stated: “Our bill very simply ensures that consumers can continue to access the content and applications of their choosing online. The FCC can and must quickly exercise the authorities the D.C. Circuit recognized to reinstate the Open Internet rules.” Passage of the legislation is unlikely, however, in the face of stiff Republican opposition. Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), chairman of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, stated: “This proposal will certainly be a part of the discussion as we work toward a #CommActUpdate. However, we remain vigorously opposed to any attempt to install the FCC as the traffic cop of the Internet. Innovation, job creation, and consumer choice have all flourished without so-called Net Neutrality rules, and a departure from that framework would certainly put American leadership in communications and technology in jeopardy.”

Senator Schumer Introduces Quiet Act

Last Wednesday, February 5, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced his introduction of legislation to significantly raise fines and impose harsher punishments on telemarketing companies that violate current federal laws on telemarketing calls. The Quell Unnecessary, Intentional, and Encroaching Telephone Calls Act of 2014, or the QUIET ACT (S. 1959), would impose harsher fines of up to $20,000 for pre-recorded telemarketing calls that violate federal “Do Not Call” rules. Repeat offenders also could face felony charges and up to 10 years in jail. Senator Schumer introduced the bill in response to a spike in unwanted telemarketing calls in recent years.

Senator Heller Introduces FCC Process Reform Legislation

Last Tuesday, February 4, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2014. The bill is intended to make processes at the FCC more transparent and efficient by requiring the FCC to take certain steps, including: surveying the state of the marketplace through a Notice of Inquiry before initiating rulemakings; preventing regulatory overreach by requiring any conditions imposed on transactions to be within the FCC’s existing authority and be tailored to transaction-specific harms; and establishing “shot clocks” so that parties know how quickly they can expect action in certain proceedings. The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved similar legislation earlier this year.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, February 11: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing titled “Lessons Learned from the Broadband Stimulus.”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Chairman Pushes E-rate Reforms

Last Wednesday, February 5, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that he plans to push the agency to issue an order this spring that will implement fundamental structural and administrative changes to the E-rate program. The goal of the order will be to reprioritize E-rate funding to focus on provide high-capacity broadband connections for schools and libraries. Chairman Wheeler said that the intent is “not to tear down the existing program and start over. Nor is the plan to just provide more money without restructuring the program so that it is designed to best meet the goals we all share.” Rather, he intends to “restructure the program in a way that results in a process that effectively targets high capacity connections to all libraries and schools and to provide resources to make sure high-speed WiFi delivers that connectivity within the classroom and library.” Chairman Wheeler said that the FCC will release a public notice in coming weeks seeking comment on a targeted set of issues. While he did not provide specific details, he said that “it is safe to assume there will be emphasis on how to appropriately phase out legacy services, including low-bandwidth connections, and reprioritize on broadband.”

Chairman Wheeler’s comments follow the FCC’s announcement last Monday, February 3, that it will invest $2 billion – double the current level of funding – over the next two years to support broadband networks in schools and libraries. According to the FCC, the two-year increase will not be funded through an increase in Universal Service Fund charges but instead through unused E-rate funds from past years and by shifting away money dedicated to outdated services such as dial-up Internet.

This Week’s Deadlines:

  • Friday, February 14: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to expand access to mobile wireless services onboard aircraft.