STELA Reauthorization Passes House, Additional Reforms Included
Last Wednesday, July 23, the House of Representatives approved a bipartisan 5-year extension of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) (H.R. 4572), which would expire at the end of the year without new legislation. The primary function of the bill is to extend the satellite-carrier distant broadcast signal license which creates a statutory framework for satellite providers to transmit local broadcast signals to their customers. The House bill also includes a repeal of the integration ban on cable operator-owned set-top boxes that is intended to reduce the cost of these boxes for operators and consumers. The bill also includes provisions that prohibit unaffiliated broadcast stations, operating in a single market, from negotiating jointly with pay-TV providers. Along with these reforms, the bill lifts a prohibition on pay-TV providers dropping broadcast signals during Neilsen rating periods (sweeps weeks). The bill will still need to clear the Senate before it can become law, and the Senate Commerce Committee is expected to consider it in September. While some had hoped the STELA reauthorization bill would include broader reforms for communications law, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) believes that those changes are more appropriately reserved for a “comprehensive communication law overhaul,” which the Senate Commerce Committee continues to consider.
THIS WEEK’S HEARINGS:
- Wednesday, July 30: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a Full Committee hearing titled “Cramming on Wireless Phone Bills: A Review of Consumer Protection Practices and Gaps.”
- Wednesday, July 30: The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet will hold a hearing titled “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office: The America Invents Act and Beyond, Domestic and International Policy Goals.”
- Thursday, July 31: The House Subcommittee on Health and Technology will hold a hearing titled, “Telemedicine: A Prescription for Small Medical Practices?”
FCC Releases Enforcement Advisory on Open Internet Transparency Rule; Focus on Accuracy
On July 23, the FCC released an enforcement advisory that reminds broadband providers to provide accurate service information to consumers pursuant to the Open Internet Transparency Rule. The Transparency rule ensures that consumers have the information they need to make an informed choice about their broadband service provider. Specifically, the rule requires broadband service providers to disclose accurate information regarding network management practices, performance and commercial terms of broadband Internet access service, including information about price. A broadband service provider in violation of the Transparency rule is subject to FCC enforcement action, including possible monetary damages. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler commented in a statement, “We expect providers to be fully transparent about the details of their services, and we will hold them accountable if they fall down on this obligation to consumers.”
FCC Issues E-rate Order: Major Steps To Modernize the E-rate Program
On July 23, the FCC released the previously adopted Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the E-rate program, a program designed to enhance access to advanced telecommunications and information services for elementary schools, secondary schools, and libraries. It emphasizes the importance of access to high-speed Internet connections for improving educational experiences, and expanding opportunities in our nation’s schools and libraries. In light of these priorities, the Commission announced three broad goals: ensuring affordable access to high-speed broadband in schools, maximizing the cost-effectiveness of E-rate spending, and simplifying the E-rate application process.
FCC Announces Consumer Advisory Committee Meeting Agenda
The FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee met on July 25. The morning hours of the meeting covered an update on interagency lifeline program coordination and recertifications, a bureau update from FCC Bureau Chiefs, and included panels that considered “Economic and Advocacy Perspectives on Net Neutrality,” as well as the “Technology Policy Transition Update.” In the afternoon, an update on E-rate was given, followed by working group breakout sessions and recommendations. The day-long meeting closed with comments from the public and an announcement of the next meeting.
FCC Announces AWS-3 Auction Procedures
On July 23, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau of the FCC released a public notice outlining the procedures for the upcoming AWS-3 auction. This auction will include 1,614 licenses and will use the “standard simultaneous multiple-round (SMR)” auction format. In addition, the public notice creates uniform bidding procedures, limits information disclosure to discourage anti-competitive activity, aggregates reserve prices for each license, creates minimum opening and acceptable bids and outlines procedures for filing short and long forms related to the auction. The 65 megahertz of AWS-3 spectrum will be licensed on a geographic area basis. 880 of the 1,614 licenses will be Economic Area (EA) licenses and 734 will be Cellular Market Area (CMA) licenses. A mock auction is scheduled on November 10, 2014, three days before the start of the AWS-3 auction.