Legislative Activity

Senate Holds First Oversight Hearing on FirstNet

On March 11, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) held its first ever oversight hearing on the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet) titled “Three Years Later: Are We Any Closer to A Nationwide Public Safety Wireless Broadband Network?” Created by the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, FirstNet was mandated to establish the first nationwide broadband network for emergency responders and was designed to serve as an independent, self-funded authority in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Testifying were representatives of the Department of Commerce, the Government Accountability Office, FirstNet, and the International Association of Fire Chiefs. During the hearing, FirstNet was questioned on a variety of matters including incorporation of rural areas into its broadband network, personnel and procurement issues, and its future as a self-funding entity.

Universal Service Fund Legislation Introduced in Senate

On March 12, Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the USF Equitable Distribution Act 0f 2015, S.734. The bill aims to provide for equitable distribution of Universal Service funds to rural states. In 2013, Sen. Ayotte introduced a similar bill, S.1766, which saw no further action in the Senate. The current bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee.

Global Free Internet Act Introduced in House

On March 4, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Global Free Internet Act of 2015, H.R.1307. The bill proposes to create a task force that would identify, prioritize, and formulate responses to policies of the United States, foreign governments, and other international bodies that either deny market access to Internet goods and services or threaten the free flow of communications over the Internet. The task force would hold public hearings, issue periodic reports to Congress and the President, and coordinate responses to known threats to Internet freedom.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, March 18:  The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.” All five commissioners of the Federal Communications (FCC) will serve as witnesses.
  • Thursday, March 19: The House Committee on Energy and Commerce will hold a hearing titled “FCC Reauthorization: Oversight of the Commission.” All five FCC commissioners will serve was witnesses.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Releases Tentative Agenda for March Open Meeting

On March 6, the FCC announced its tentative agenda for its March 26 Open Meeting. The agenda includes the following two items:

  • Market Modification:The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement Section 102 of the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014, which directs the Commission to adopt rules that permit the modification of a commercial television broadcast station’s local television market for purposes of satellite carriage rights, including the promotion of consumers’ access to television broadcast station signals that originate in their State of residence.
  • Local Number Portability Administration:  The FCC will consider an Order addressing the recommendation of the North American Numbering Council regarding what company should serve as the next local number portability administrator.

The Open Meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. in room TW-C305 at the FCC.

FCC Releases Open Internet Rules

On Thursday, March 12, the FCC released a Report and Order on Remand, Declaratory Ruling, and Order containing the text of its revised Open Internet rules that were adopted at its February 26 Open Meeting. Our overview of the major provisions can be found here. In brief, the revised rules reclassify retail broadband service under Title II of the Communications Act, thereby granting the FCC the authority to regulate “unjust and unreasonable practices” of broadband providers. The revised rules also establish three bright line rules for broadband providers that ban specific practices that harm the Open Internet, including prohibitions on blocking access to legal content (no blocking), impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic (no throttling), and favoring certain traffic in exchange for consideration (no paid prioritization). The rules are expected to be challenged in court.

FCC Releases Order Preempting State Restrictions on Community Broadband

On Thursday, March 12, the FCC released its Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order) granting two petitions to preempt portions of state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that limited the service areas of municipal broadband providers. The FCC adopted the Order at its February 26 Open Meeting. In the Order, the FCC determined that the states’ laws improperly prevented municipal broadband providers from expanding service in communities neighboring their current service territories. Tennessee’s law imposed a “flat limitation on municipal electric service providers providing broadband and video services outside their electric service territory.” The community broadband provider in Tennessee was also a provider of municipal electric services. North Carolina’s law comprised “a series of costly hoops” through which a service provider “must jump” to expand service.

The FCC determined that the state laws at issue were improper barriers to broadband infrastructure investment and competition. It noted, for example, that Tennessee’s restriction applied only to broadband and video outside the municipal electric service territory, not telecommunications services, even though the services likely would be provided over the same infrastructure. North Carolina’s law effectively raised the providers’ cost of expanding service so high as to de facto block entry into the market and protect the private providers that advocated for the laws. The FCC concluded that removing these statutory barriers would promote competition and spur broadband investment. It further determined that preemption of the state restrictions was authorized by and consistent with its directive under Section 70 of the Telecommunications Act, which directs the FCC to take action to remove barriers to broadband investment, deployment, and competition.

FCC Seeks Comment on Petition for Waiver of Sponsorship ID Rules

In a March 13 Public Notice, the FCC requested comment on the Radio Broadcasters Coalition’s (Coalition’s) November 26, 2014 petition seeking a class waiver of the FCC’s requirements that broadcasters air sponsorship identification announcements at the time sponsored material is broadcast. Instead, the Coalition requested that radio broadcasters be permitted to provide information about sponsored material through a combination of less-frequent on-air announcements together with enhanced online disclosures. The requested waiver would apply only to music and sports programming on radio stations with websites, and not to sponsored content appearing within news, informational, or political programming, regardless of station format. Comments are due on April 13, and reply comments are due on May 12.