Legislative Activity

House Commerce Subcommittees Will Hold Hearing ON 21st Century Technology for 21st Century Cures

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittees on Communications and Technology and Health will hold a joint hearing entitled “21st Century Technology for 21st Century Cures” on Thursday, July 17, 2014. The hearing will focus on the use of communications technologies in health care, such as telemedicine and mHealth solutions, and will discuss how to update laws to foster new technologies and use them for new cures and treatments. The Subcommittees will hear from experts from the health and technology fields regarding areas where the health care industry can utilize advances in technology to accelerate the discovery, development, and delivery of new cures and treatments.

E-LABEL Act Introduced

On Wednesday, July 10, Senator Debra Fischer (R-Nebraska) and Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV (D-West Virginia) introduced the Enhanced Labeling, Accessing, and Branding of Electronic Licenses Act of 2014 (E-LABEL Act). This bipartisan legislation would permit the use of electronic labeling – instead of physical labeling – of devices that require Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification, such as phones, computers and other electronic devices. Currently, the FCC requires these devices to have a permanently affixed label that displays regulatory information, such as the FCC Identifier. As devices become smaller, this requirement has become more expensive and challenging for manufacturers. The E-LABEL Act would give the FCC nine months to issue new rules allowing device makers the option to use electronic labeling. FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mike O’Rielly issued a statement commending the bill.

Regulatory Activity

Last Friday, July 11, the Commission adopted the following three items at its monthly open meeting:

Rural Broadband Expansion Experiments Report and Order

On Friday the Commission approved a Report and Order that would allow applicants across the nation to compete to deploy high-performing broadband to rural Americans at lower costs.  The Commission expects the experiments will provide guidance on the agency’s broader efforts to expand broadband to rural America through its Connect America Fund.  As the FCC’s press release explained, the FCC will allot $100 million for the experiments, divided into three categories:

  • $75 million to test construction of networks offering service plans providing 25 Mpbs downloads and 5 Mbps uploads – far in excess of the current Connect America Fund standard of 4/1 – for the same or lower amounts of support than will be offered to carriers in Phase II of Connect America
  • $15 million to test interest in delivering  service at 10/1 speeds in high cost areas
  • $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are extremely costly to serve.

Awards will be granted in a competitive bidding process based on cost effectiveness of the proposal, and are expected to be a precursor for 2015 allocation of monies from the Connect America Fund.  Final applications are due 90 days after release of the FCC’s order.  Commissioner O’Rielly concurred in the decision, and each Commissioner delivered a separate statement.

E-rate Modernization Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

In a 3-2 decision split along party lines (and with a concurrence from Commissioner Rosenworcel) the Commission voted to adopt reforms expected to expand Wi-Fi to 10 million more students and thousands of libraries across the country.  E-rate is the nation’s largest technology support program with a current budget of $2.4 billion; according to the agency’s website, the Commission’s action is expected to accomplish three major goals:

  • Significantly expand funding for Wi-Fi networks and distribute it fairly to all schools and libraries while recognizing the needs of the nation’s rural and poorest school districts
  • Maximize the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending through greater pricing transparency, encouraging consortia and bulk purchasing, and better enforcement of existing rules
  • Streamline and simplify the E-rate application process and overall program administration

While maintaining the program’s current budget, the Commission’s report and order promises another $5 billion to support Wi-Fi over the next five years, which is expected to provide a 75% increase in Wi-Fi funding for rural schools and a 60% increase for schools located in urban areas.

Closed Captioning of Internet Video Clips Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking

In furtherance of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, the Commission adopted an order that establishes new rules requiring closed captioning of online video clips beginning in 2016.  The new rules will allow people who are deaf and hard of hearing to enjoy video content online posted by video programming distributors that air programming on TV and then post clips of that programming on their websites or mobile apps, but does not require the same of third party websites or apps, nor do the new rules require video programming distributors to caption archived videos.  Deadlines for compliance depend on the type of video clip at issue.  As the Commission explained:

  • January 1, 2016, will apply to “straight lift” clips, which contain a single excerpt of a captioned television program with the same video and audio that was presented on television;
  • January 1, 2017, will apply to “montages,” which occur when a single file contains multiple straight lift clips; and
  • July 1, 2017, will apply to video clips of live and near-live television programming, such as news or sporting events.  Distributors will have a grace period of 12 hours after the associated live video programming was shown on television and eight hours after the associated near-live video programming was shown on television before the clip must be captioned online in order to give distributors flexibility to post time-sensitive clips online without delay.