Legislative Activity

STELA Reauthorization Act Passes House and Senate

On November 19, the House approved H.R. 5728, the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014, which will ensure that 1.5 million satellite television subscribers continue to receive distant broadcast network television signals.  The Senate approved the legislation on November 20, 2014, and President Obama signed it into law on December 4.  The bill extends the expiring provisions of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act of 2010 (STELA) regarding the retransmission of signals of television broadcast stations for five years, through December 31, 2019.  The act also makes certain changes of interest to the cable, satellite, and broadcast television industries, including prohibiting joint retransmission consent negotiations by same-market broadcasters, and ending the set-top box “integration ban,” and providing broadcasters six additional months beyond the FCC’s deadline to unwind existing joint sales agreements before they would be in violation of the FCC’s ownership cap.

President Obama Signs E-LABEL Act

On November 26, President Obama signed the bipartisan Enhance Labeling, Accessing, and Branding of Electronic Licenses Act (E-LABEL Act) (S.2583) into law.  The Senate unanimously passed the bill on November 13, and the House of Representatives passed the bill on September 11.  The legislation removes the requirement that electronic devices contain a physical label bearing information mandated by the FCC.  It gives manufacturers the option of providing the information on the screen of the device.

Phone Scam Prevention Act Introduced in the Senate

On November 20, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced the Phone Scam Prevention Act of 2014 (S.2956).  Co-sponsored by Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), the bill aims to prevent caller ID spoofing.  Spoofing allows a caller to change the phone number that appears on the called party’s caller ID system either to scam the called party or trick law enforcement.  The bill would make it easier for called parties to know who is actually calling them and will give them tools to protect themselves against fraud.  The bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Regulatory Activity

Commission Announces Agenda for December Open Meeting

The FCC has released its agenda for the December open meeting.  The items to be discussed at the meeting are as follows:

  • Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries: The Commission will consider a Second Report and Order on Reconsideration to close the school and library connectivity gap by adjusting program rules and support levels in order to meet long-term program goals for high-speed connectivity to and within all eligible schools and libraries.
  •  Connect America Fund Report and Order: The Commission will consider a Report and Order finalizing decisions necessary to proceed to Phase II of the Connect America Fund‎.
  • Broadcast Incentive Auction Public Notice: The Commission will consider a Public Notice that asks for comment on the detailed procedures necessary to carry out the Broadcast Incentive Auction.  The Public Notice includes specific proposals on auction design issues such as determination of the initial clearing target, opening bid prices, and the final television channel assignment process

The meeting will be held on December 11, 2014 beginning at 10:30 a.m. in Room TC-C305 at the FCC.

FCC Releases NPRM to Modernize Broadcast Contest Rule for Online Access

On November 21, the FCC released a NPRM seeking to update the broadcast Contest Rule.  Under the current Contest Rule, broadcasters are required to disclose salient contest information fully and accurately and to conduct contests as they are announced.  The proposed change would allow broadcasters to meet their disclosure obligations by providing contest information over the air, as they currently do, or by posting the relevant information on an Internet website.  Other proposed changes include adoption of rules that define the disclosure requirements for those broadcasters choosing to satisfy their obligation by posting on the Internet.  The FCC is initiating this proceeding in response to the stark changes that have occurred in the way Americans obtain information since the Contest Rule was adopted.

FCC Acts to Preserve Reliable 911 Service with New NPRM

On November 21, the FCC proposed rules to preserve reliable 911 service with in a Policy Statement and NPRM.  In the face of evolving technologies that have complicated the nation’s 911 infrastructure and to respond to a recent trend of 911 outages due to software and database errors rather than storms or other disasters, the FCC made a number of proposals towards reversing these trends.  Among the proposed changes are requirements that 911 providers issue public notifications of significant changes to 911 services and requiring entities seeking to offer new 911 services to certify that they have reliable technical and operational capabilities.

Commissioner Pai Asks Netflix to Respond to Fast Lane Allegations

In a December 2 letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Commissioner Ajit Pai asked Mr. Hastings to respond to allegations that Netflix has been working to secure “fast lanes” for its content on Internet Service Providers’ (ISPs’) networks at the expense of its competitors.  Citing recent press articles, Commissioner Pai expressed surprise that Netflix has chosen not to participate in efforts to develop open standards for streaming video given Netflix’s prior advocacy in favor of subjecting ISPs to public utility regulation under Title II of the Communications Act.  Commissioner Pai also cited recent reports that Netflix has been involved in changing its streaming protocols where caching is used, thereby impeding caching software from properly caching Netflix traffic.  Given that Netflix constitutes “such a substantial percentage of streaming video traffic,” Commissioner Pai reasoned that any mutually agreed-upon open internet standards will be of little benefit to digital video consumers.  Commissioner Pai gave Netflix until Tuesday, December 16 to respond to his letter.

FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force Focuses on Rural Broadband and Telehealth in Mississippi

The FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force was in Mississippi for a two-day visit for a series of meetings, conferences, site visits, and FCC-hosted forums exploring information regarding broadband connectivity, health care access, and telehealth capabilities in rural parts of the state.  As part of the Task Force’s “Beyond the Beltway Series,” the visit to Mississippi included meetings with clinicians, state and local officials, industry groups, civic organizations, and consumers.  The FCC also hosted a forum at the Jackson Medical Mall about the power of broadband and public health, emphasizing the role of broadband in the delivery of healthcare services.  The task force was joined by FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Comcast Corporation Chosen by FCC to Chair CSRIC

On November 25, the FCC announced that Comcast Corporation will be the new chair of the Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC).  Associated with the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC, CSRIC provides recommendations regarding best practices and actions the FCC can take to ensure the continued security of communications systems and infrastructure.  John Schanz, Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer for Comcast Cable will be representing Comcast as the Chair of CSRIC.

D.C. Circuit Grants Stay, Preventing Public Disclosure of Carrier Business Documents in Comcast and AT&T Merger Proceedings

On November 21, the D.C. Circuit granted a stay of the FCC’s November 10 Order that would have made hundreds of thousands of pages of confidential programming distribution and negotiation strategy documents available for public inspection.  The stay will remain in effect until the D.C. Circuit considers the merits of the companies’ petition for review of the FCC order.  In the issuing order, the D.C. Circuit noted that the FCC already has access to the confidential documents and so may “continue to evaluate the proposed merger during the stay.”

In the wake of the stay, Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly issued a joint statement applauding the D.C. Circuit’s decision to grant the stay and hoped that during both the Commission and the content companies might reach a compromise.