Legislative Activity

The Rebuild America Act Includes Funding for Broadband

On January 27, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) introduced a bill entitled The Rebuild America Act. The legislation envisions a five-year plan to rebuild the country’s network of roads, bridges, transit systems, and other major infrastructure projects. Included in the bill’s $1 trillion investment is $5 billion per year for five years to fund (1) broadband programs to expand access and quality of broadband service across rural parts of the country, and (2) additional Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grants to provide access and improve broadband service to underserved areas. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD).

Bill Introduced to Consolidate FCC Reporting

On January 26, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bill (S.253) to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to consolidate the reporting obligations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The bill’s aim is to improve Congressional oversight and reduce reporting burdens. Sen. Heller previously introduced similar legislation during the 113th Congress. In addition, the House of Representatives passed the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act of 2013, H.R. 2844, during the 113th Congress. Sen. Heller’s new bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) for consideration.

Senate Commerce Committee Announces Hearing on the “Internet of Things”

On January 26, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) announced a full committee hearing to take place on Wednesday, February 11 entitled “The Connected World: Examining the Internet of Things.” The hearing will focus on the way in which devices such as internet-connected cameras, home automation systems, or wearable devices that track physical activities with internet-based analytics will become increasingly sophisticated with emerging internet technologies. The announcement of the hearing follows the release of a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warning of the potential security risks posed by the Internet of Things. Sen. Thune hopes that by engaging in an early debate on the Internet of Things, Congress can fashion appropriate consumer protection laws and avoid regulatory overreach.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Finds U.S. Broadband Deployment Not Keeping Pace

Broadband deployment is failing to provide advanced broadband access to Americans in a timely way, according to the 2015 Broadband Progress Report adopted by the FCC at its January 29 Open Meeting.  The FCC raised its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads. The report found that 17 percent of all Americans and 53 percent of rural Americans lack access to service at those speeds. The FCC’s finding that broadband is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion has legal significance – by law, the FCC is required to undertake annual inquiries into whether “advanced telecommunications capability” is being provided to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion and, if it is not, to take immediate action to accelerate deployment. The FCC also adopted a Notice of Inquiry seeking suggestions on how to accelerate deployment by removing barriers to investment and by promoting competition.

FCC Adopts Rules to Ensure Location Accuracy for Emergency Calls

At its January 29 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted new rules designed to help emergency responders better locate wireless callers to 911. According to a January 29 News Release, the new rules update the FCC’s Enhanced 911 (E911) rules to establish timelines for wireless providers to meet indoor location accuracy requirements for wireless calls. The FCC emphasized the need to improve both horizontal and vertical location information in order to help responders locate 911 callers in challenging environments, such as multi-story buildings, but noted that the compliance timelines for wireless providers take into account the technological challenges involved and afford sufficient time to develop and implement effective location technology.

FCC Sets Filing Deadlines in Data Roaming Proceeding

On January 28, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) established filing deadlines for oppositions to Applications for Review of the WTB’s December18, 2014 Declaratory Ruling in the data roaming proceeding. AT&T and Verizon filed Applications for Review. Oppositions to the Applications for Review are due February 4, and replies to oppositions are due February 19. The WTB’s ruling created benchmarks for evaluating the commercial reasonableness of provider to provider roaming rates in response to a petition filed by T-Mobile that claimed benchmarks were needed to prevent “must have” roaming partners from exploiting uncertainties in FCC rules to deny roaming requests.  AT&T’s and Verizon’s Applications for Review ask the FCC to vacate the WTB’s Declaratory Ruling. They argue in part that, because the WTB’s ruling substantively changed the FCC’s rules, it unlawfully bypassed the requirement that substantive rule changes must be made through a notice-and-comment rulemaking and a vote of the full Commission. At the time the WTB issued its ruling, FCC Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly voiced similar procedural concerns.

FCC Sets May 29 as Pre-Incentive Auction Licensing Deadline

On January 28, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice establishing May 29 as the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline by which time full power and Class A facilities must be licensed or be the subject of a pending license in order to be eligible for protection from interference during the repacking process of the Broadcast Incentive Auction. In the Incentive Auction Report and Order, the FCC concluded that although the Spectrum Act mandated that it protect only those facilities in operation as of February 22, 2012, the FCC was not precluded from extending discretionary protection to facilities that were authorized by construction permits but not licensed by that date, which now have until May 29 to be eligible for protection.  The Public Notice noted also that, although analog Class A licensees have until the September 1, 2015 digital transition deadline to complete construction and license of their digital facilities, those that do not have their digital facilities licensed by May 29 would only be afforded protection based on the coverage area and population served of their analog facilities, consistent with the Incentive Auction Report and Order.

AWS-3 Auction Ends

On January 29, the FCC closed bidding in Auction 97 for licenses in the Advanced Wireless Services-3 (AWS-3) spectrum bands.   Total provisional proceeds for the auction tally $44.89 billion.