Legislative Activity

House Commerce Committee Holds Spectrum Policy Hearing

On March 26 the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) held a hearing entitled “Next Steps for Spectrum Policy.” The hearing focused on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) preparations for the broadcast incentive auction, set to begin in 2016 as well as the FCC’s initiative to expand the use of the 5GHz band for unlicensed services. The hearing also emphasized future plans to enlarge spectrum resources in light of the ever-increasing demand for connectivity, which subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) noted would only continue to grow.

Two Telehealth Bills to Return to Congress

Two telehealth bills, H.R. 3306 and H.R. 5380, proposed in 2013 and 2014 respectively, are to be reintroduced in Congress. HR 3306, the Telehealth Enhancement Act of 2013, was introduced by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS). The bill requires Medicare home health payments to account for patient monitoring done remotely and expands Medicate coverage to all critical access and community hospitals. HR 5380, the Medicare Telehealth Parity Act of 2014, was introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA). The bill proposes to expand telehealth sites and increase the number of providers able to offer telehealth services. The bills had previously been stalled due to work being done by the House Commerce Committee on other telehealth initiatives but sources say that they will soon be brought back for consideration by Congress.

Freedom from Internet Tax Act Introduced in House

On March 26, Rep. Alexander Mooney (R-WV) introduced H.R.1712, the Freedom from Internet Tax Act. The bill would exempt providers of broadband Internet access (BIAS) service from contributions to universal service support mechanisms under Section 254(d) of the Communications Act. The bill cites the FCC’s Open Internet Order, adopted by the FCC on February 26, 2015, which reclassified BIAS as a telecommunications service subject to certain Title II regulatory obligations. Though the FCC chose to forbear from requiring BIAS providers from making universal service contributions currently, the FCC indicated that it would address the universal service contribution obligations of BIAS providers in an ongoing proceeding, signaling uncertainty about the future of universal service contributions for BIAS providers.

Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act Introduced

On March 26, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) introduced the Digital Goods and Services Tax Fairness Act of 2015 (H.R.1643), which would prevent discriminatory and duplicative taxes on digital goods and services, including online downloads of music, literature, movies, mobile apps, and cloud computing services. The legislation would provide “rules of the road” for taxing digital goods and services and would establish a framework across multiple tax jurisdictions. Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced a companion bill in the Senate (S.851) with the same purpose.

Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2015 Introduced in House

On March 26, Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) introduced the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act of 2015 (H.R.1641). The bill would amend the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Organization Act to provide financial incentives for the reallocation of federal spectrum for commercial and innovation purposes. Agencies that relinquished their spectrum would be paid from a Federal Spectrum Incentive Fund in the Treasury and could use the funds paid to them to accommodate relocation costs or to offset sequestered funds.

Regulatory Activity

Agenda for FCC Open Meeting April 17

On Friday, April 17, the FCC will hold its next Open Meeting. The FCC will consider the following two items:

  • Amendment of the Commission’s Rules with Regard to Commercial Operations. The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would “leverage innovative spectrum sharing technologies to make 150 megahertz of contiguous spectrum available in the 3550-3700 MHz band for wireless broadband and other uses.” On March 27, 2015, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted to the FCC’s official blog to discuss the item.
  • Request for Further Comment on Issues Related to Competitive Bidding Proceeding Updating Part 1 Competitive Bidding Rules. The FCC will consider a Public Notice requesting additional comment on how to ensure that small businesses, rural telephone companies, and businesses owned by minority groups and women have an opportunity to participate in the provision of spectrum-based services, while ensuring that there are adequate safeguards to protect against unjust enrichment to ineligible entities.

The FCC’s Open Meeting will be held at 10:30 AM in Room TW-C305 at the FCC Headquarters. It will be available to stream live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Seeks Comment on E-rate Petitions for Reconsideration

On April 8, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on four petitions for reconsideration of the FCC’s December 19, 2014 E-rate Modernization Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (“E-Rate Modernization R&O”). The E-rate Modernization R&O took various steps to: (1) ensure high-speed broadband connectivity to schools and libraries, particularly those in rural areas through the E-rate universal service program; (2) maximize the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-rate supported purchases; and (3) make the E-rate application process and other E-rate processes fast, simple and efficient.

The petitions were submitted by AdTec, T-Mobile, Cox Communications, and WTA. AdTec’s petition asks the FCC to limit the phasedown of local and long distance telephone service and cellular voice service as these are essential to education, public health, and public safety. T-Mobile’s petition requests clarification of the requirements regarding cost-effectiveness showings that E-rate applicants wishing to order mobile broadband services must make. Cox Communications’ petition asks the FCC to establish additional safeguards to ensure that expanded E-rate support for new broadband projects does not undercut available funding for rural schools and libraries and reconsider its decision to provide additional E-rate support to match state support, which Cox Communications states has the “effect of potentially eliminating any applicant contribution for special construction costs.” Lastly, WTA’s petition asks the FCC to reconsider the obligation on high-cost support recipients to bid to provide fixed broadband at yet-to-be-determined national reasonable comparability benchmarks and to certify that they have done so as a condition of receiving support.

FCC Seeks Comment on Use of N11 Code for Nationwide Suicide Prevention

On April 9, 2015, the FCC released a Public Notice requesting comment on a petition for rulemaking by Care2, Inc. asking the FCC to create a three-digit phone number for suicide and crisis hotlines. Care2, Inc.’s petition states that implementing a short N11 code is an “easy solution” to assist in suicide prevention that will make support more accessible for individuals during crisis moments.

Comments Are Due May 13 for STELAR Rulemaking

On March 26, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on rules to implement Section 102 of the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR), which granted the FCC new authority to modify a commercial television broadcast station’s local television market for purposes of satellite carriage rights. Federal law requires satellite television carriers to use the Nielsen Company’s Designated Market Area (DMA) assignments to determine which TV broadcast stations to carry and include in their local programming packages. Because DMAs are defined across state lines, subscribers in out-of-state counties within a DMA (so called “orphan counties”) sometimes lack access to in-state, local programming including news and emergency information. Section 102 of the STELAR allows the FCC to modify a station’s local television market to enable satellite carriers to better serve the interests of local communities, which, prior to the STELAR, the FCC only had the authority to do in the cable carriage context. Accordingly, in the NPRM, the FCC proposes to apply the existing cable market modification rule to satellite carriage, and add certain provisions to address the unique nature of satellite television service, such as an exception to the modification where the carriage is not technically and economically feasible.

Comments on the FCC’s proposals are due May 13, and reply comments are due May 28.