Legislative Activity

Senate Passes Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act

On Tuesday, July 15, 2014, the Senate passed a bill that allows consumers to unlock their cell phones so they can be used with different service providers. The “Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act” (S.517) restores an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that allowed consumers to unlock their phones. The DMCA originally gave the Library of Congress authority to determine which devices are allowed to circumvent digital rights management schemes and cellular devices were originally included. That changed in 2012 following an edict from the Library of Congress that did not include new cell phones on the exemptions list. The Act will allow consumers to bring their phones with them as they enter new cellular service contracts. The House of Representatives passed a companion bill (H.R.1123) on February 25, 2014, and the bills will go to a conference committee to reconcile the Senate and House versions.

Senate Commerce Committe Hearing on Consumer Choice, Consolidation, and the Future Video Marketplace

A hearing on Wednesday, July 16, 2014 before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation considered the future of online video transmission, consumer choice, consolidation of media, and the future of broadband services. Representatives from Comcast, AT&T, DISH Network, Public Knowledge, the Writers Guild of America, and the University of Nebraska College of Law testified at the hearing entitled “At a Tipping Point: Consumer Choice, Consolidation and the Future Video Marketplace.” The hearing examined the impact of online video and consolidation among pay TV and broadband providers on the future of the video marketplace. It also explored whether online video can bring more quality content and more choice to consumers.

This Week’s Hearings:

1. Thursday, July 24: The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a legislative hearing on the Anti-Spoofing Act of 2013 (H.R. 3670), the Low Power Television (LPTV) and Translator Act of 2014, and the E-LABEL Act.

2. Thursday, July 24: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing titled “Copyright Remedies.”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for August Open Meeting

The FCC announced the agenda for its open meeting on August 8, 2014. It will consider a Report and Order to update rules governing construction, marking, and lighting of antenna structures to improve efficiency and reduce regulatory burdens, all while ensuring the safety of pilots and aircraft passengers. The FCC will also consider a Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in the Enabling Nationwide Text-to-911 Service for the 21st Century proceeding. It plans to establish deadlines for covered text providers to be able to deliver texts to appropriate 911 public safety answering points. The FCC will seek further comment on potential improvements to current text-to-911 technology.

FCC Proposes More Than $10M in Penalties for Apparent Cramming Violations

The Federal Communications Commission issued three enforcement actions targeted at alleged “cramming” violations this past week.  Totaling more than $10M in penalties, these actions (a consent decree with Assist 123, LLC ($1.3M) and Notices of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture against Optic Internet ($7.62M) and Net One International ($1.6M)), in addition to other recent Commission actions—such as the recent $7.5M Sprint Do-Not-Call consent decree—show that the FCC remains focused on large-scale consumer-related violations.  While last week’s releases are consistent with the Enforcement Bureau’s practice of issuing several similar actions within close proximity, less common is the press release issued by the Bureau highlighting its cramming investigation of T-Mobile.  Put together, these actions signal that Travis LeBlanc, the recently appointed Acting Chief of the Enforcement Bureau, carries on the consumer-driven agenda set for the Bureau by the Commission.

“Cramming” is the practice of adding unauthorized charges to consumers’ bills.  According to the FCC’s actions, the companies billed wireless telephone consumers for services such as  “Concierge/Directory Assistance” subscription text messaging—something many of the complainants claimed to neither want nor authorize.  In addition, where customers were notified they had subscribed to the service, they were unable to opt out via SMS messaging.

“Carriers must not be allowed to deceive customers into unwittingly opening their wallets for services that they don’t want,” Mr. LeBlanc commented in a statement released by the Bureau.  At a Federal Communications Bar Association event last Friday, Mr. LeBlanc remarked that the Bureau would continue to address problems confronted by consumers in the 21st century, and would focus less on issues like junk faxes.

Reply Comments Deadline Extended:  FCC to Collect $339.8M in Regulatory Fees for FY 2014; Considers Additional Reforms

A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order released last June 13 requested comments on the collection of regulatory fees in FY 2014 totaling nearly $340,000,000.  The fees would recover the costs associated with enforcement, policy, and rulemaking activities, user information, and international activities.  The Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comments on ways to improve the regulatory fee process, including eleven proposed reforms covering a range of issues from allocation of work hours among Bureaus to adding new regulatory fee categories.

The reply comment deadline has been extended to Monday, July 21, 2014.

Reply Comment Deadlines Extended:  NANC’s Recommendation to Select TelCordia as Next Local Number Portability Administrator

The North American Numbering Council (NANC) has recommended that Telcordia Technologies, Inc.  (Telcordia) serve as the next LNPA in response to the Wireline Competition Bureau’s request for recommendations for an independent non-governmental entity to take over beginning in July of 2015, when the current LPN’s contract expires.  The FCC has announced it is accepting reply comments until July 25.

The LNPA is responsible for maintaining the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC), which manages the porting of local telephone numbers from one service provider to another.  NANC’s recommendation suggests guidance on picking future LNPAs, including procedures to select the next LNPA, the cost differential between vendor proposals, and transition risks.