Legislative Activity

Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014 Introduced in the House and the Senate

Last Tuesday, June 17, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Representative Doris Matsui (D-California) introduced the Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014, bicameral legislation that will require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt regulations preventing a two-tiered Internet system—banning paid prioritization deals and ensuring that consumers can access all content equally. Specifically, the Act would prohibit paid prioritization agreements between Internet service providers and content providers and would prevent broadband providers from giving their affiliates preferential treatment. Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) originally cosponsored the legislation.

The legislation follows the May 15 NPRM issued by the FCC seeking to restore the Open Internet rules after they were struck down by the D.C. Circuit.

House Judiciary Committee Approves Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act

Last Wednesday, June 18, the House Judiciary Committee approved the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act by a 30-4 vote.

Introduced on September 12, 2013 by Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act would extend the Internet Tax Freedom Act, which has now been extended two times since it was originally enacted in 1998. The Internet Tax Freedom Act prohibits taxation of Internet connections and ‘grandfathers’ state taxes on Internet access existing prior to October 1, 1998, which will continue until November 2014.

Net Neutrality Hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee

On June 20, 2014 the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law held a hearing to examine whether anti-trust laws are preferable to a regulatory approach in encouraging innovation in the net neutrality context. Representatives from the Federal Trade Commission, Columbia University Law School (Professor Tim Wu), and the Hudson Institute (former FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell) testified at the hearing, titled Net Neutrality: Is Antitrust Law More Effective than Regulation in Protecting Consumers and Innovation? This comes on the heels of FCC Chairman Wheeler announcing last February that the Commission is choosing to refrain from taking further action to appeal the court decision that vacated the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

This Week’s Hearings:

  1. Tuesday, June 24:  The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law and the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the proposed merger of AT&T and DirecTV.
  2. Tuesday, June 24:  The House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “21st Century Cures Roundtable: Digital Health Care.”
  3. Wednesday, June 25:  The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing titled “Music Licensing Under Title 17 Part Two.”
  4. Thursday, June 26:  The House Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing titled “Technology for Patient Safety at Veterans Hospitals.

Judiciary Activity

DC Circuit Overturns IP Captioned Telephone Service Rules

Last Friday, June 20, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit released a decision in Sorenson Communications Inc., et al. v. FCC vacating the FCC’s January 2013 Order adopting IP Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) rules, and vacating two additional rules from an August 2013 Order. IP CTS allows deaf and hard of hearing consumers to communicate with others in a manner that is functionally equivalent to communications between consumers not experiencing hearing loss. Specifically, the Court found that the January 2013 order adopted rules without observing proper notice and comment procedures. The Court further found that two provisions of the August 2013 Order adopted permanent rules amending or replacing the interim rules adopted in the January 2013 Order. While Sorenson also challenged the rules based on the argument that they violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Court did not reach that aspect, basing its finding instead on the Commission’s apparent procedural missteps. The rules have been remanded back to the Commission for further proceedings.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for July 11 FCC Open Meeting

Last Friday, June 20, the FCC announced a tentative agenda for the upcoming Friday, July 11, open meeting.  Included on the list of three items is the Report and Order modernizing the E-Rate program, which is expected to focus support on WiFi connectivity for schools and libraries and closing the E-Rate gap, to name a few. Also included is the Connect America Fund Report and Order, which will establish a budget and methodology for selecting winning applications for the rural broadband experiments discussed in the January Order on technology transitions. Finally, the Commission is scheduled to vote on a Second Order on Reconsideration and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding the captioning of video clips delivered using IP protocol.

E-rate Modernization Order Circulated for Vote

As mentioned above, last Friday, June 20, Chairman Wheeler announced that he has circulated an E-rate modernization proposal to his fellow Commissioners that will modernize the E-rate program by focusing support for WiFi connectivity for schools and libraries.  Specifically, under the Chairman’s proposal, the Commission would, inter alia, commit at least $1 billion in WiFi support each year for the next two years; provide more predictability in funding to ensure widespread and equitable distribution of support, increase transparency, and make multiyear applications a more fast, simple process.

FCC Seeks Comment on the Healthcare Connect Fund

As part of the new Healthcare Connect Fund program, the FCC adopted performance goals in the December 2012 Report and Order, including increasing broadband access for healthcare providers, facilitating deployment of broadband healthcare networks, and ensuring that the Healthcare Connect Fund is cost effective. Last Thursday, June 19, the FCC requested comments on how to measure these performance goals. The Commission also waived the annual reporting requirements for Healthcare Connect Fund consortium lead entities for the 2013 funding year, and sought public comment on how to handle these reports going forward.