Legislative Activity

FCC Commissioners Testify in Senate Appropriations Hearing on FCC’s Budget

On May 12, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai testified before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Appropriations in a hearing concerning the FCC’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2016 (FY16). The FCC has requested a total of $388 million for FY16, a 21% increase over current funding levels. One line item in the requested FY16 budget included $44 million for an office move, suggesting that the FCC will likely seek to move offices when its current lease ends in 2017. In addition, the budget requests an increase in the cap on spending of auction proceeds to $117 million to fund ongoing licensing via auctions, including administration of the upcoming 2016 broadcast television incentive auction.

Internet Freedom Act Introduced in House

On May 13, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) introduced H.R.2251, the Defending Internet Freedom Act of 2015. The Act would prohibit the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from relinquishing responsibilities with respect to Internet domain name functions unless it certifies that it has received a proposal for such relinquishment that meets criteria required under the Act, namely that control over the management of the Internet domain name system will not be exercised by a governmental or intergovernmental body. Rep. Kelly introduced a bill with the same title in November 2014 during the 113th Congress, but the bill saw no further action.

Senate Legislation Introduced Concerning Carriage of PEG Channels

On May 7, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced S.1244, the Community Access Preservation Act. The bill proposes an amendment to the Communications Act to establish signal quality and content requirements for the carriage of public, educational, and governmental (PEG) channels. Specifically, the act requires cable operators to deliver PEG channels to subscribers without additional charges and via channel placement with the same quality, accessibility, and functionality as provided to local television broadcast stations. In addition, the bill ensures that PEG fees can be used for any purpose, including paying employee salaries. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Regulatory Activity

FCC to Consider Two Accessibility Items May Open Meeting

On May 21, the FCC will hold an Open Meeting to consider the following two items to implement the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010:

  • Extend and Make Permanent the iCanConnect Program. The FCC will consider an Order to extend the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, which is also known as the iCanConnect Program, and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to permanently extend the program. The program provides up to $10 million annually from the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund to support programs that distribute communications equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind.
  • Accessible Emergency Information. The FCC will consider a Second Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to extend accessibility rules for emergency alerts to “second screens,” including tablets, smartphones, laptops, and similar devices. The proposal would take additional steps to make emergency information in video programming accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

FCC Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC Blog on April 30 to discuss the two items above. The FCC’s meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. in Room TW-C305 at the FCC’s headquarters, and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Seeks Comment on Supplement to Petition to Create Private Enterprise Broadband Allocation in 900 MHz Band

On May 13, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a supplement to a Petition for Rulemaking regarding realignment of the 900 MHz band. On November 17, 2014, the Enterprise Wireless Alliance and Pacific DataVision, Inc.(collectively, Petitioners) filed a Petition for Rulemaking (Petition) requesting that the FCC initiate a rulemaking to realign the Part 90 land mobile radio 900 MHz band to create a private enterprise broadband (PEBB) allocation. Petitioners assert that realignment will provide broadband capabilities to commercial users, particularly critical infrastructure industry (CII) entities such as utilities and transit systems, whose needs are not met by existing commercial broadband networks.

Currently, the 900 MHz band consists of narrowband channels in ten-channel blocks that alternate between geographically licensed Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) blocks and Business/Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT) blocks assigned on a site-by-site basis. Petitioners propose that the band be divided into a 3/3 MHz broadband segment (898-901/937-40 MHz) and a 2/2 MHz narrowband segment (896-98/935-37 MHz). The broadband segment would be assigned to the licensee that currently holds at least 15 of the 20 SMR licenses in each Major Trading Area (the “PEBB licensee”). The PEBB licensee would then be required to (1) fund the relocation of B/ILT incumbents located in the broadband segment and (2) after relocation, offer a build-to-suit broadband solution to any requesting B/ILT entity, with mandatory priority access for CII entities. Licensees above 898/937 MHz would be required to negotiate with the PEBB licensee; the proposed narrowband segment would continue to be used for narrowband operations and licensees below 898/937 MHz would be unaffected by the realignment. The FCC sought comment on the Petition in a November 26, 2014 Public Notice, and comments and reply comments were due in January.

On May 3, Petitioners submitted a supplement to the Petition providing draft rules for the proposed realignment as well as technical rules – such as emission mask and antenna height and power limits – for operation in the PEBB allocation. The draft rules also propose a relocation process similar to the procedures that the FCC adopted in the 800 MHz proceeding. The FCC is seeking comment on Petitioners’ proposed rules. Comments are due June 29, and reply comments are due July 14.

Media Bureau Reminds Full Power and Class A Broadcasters of May 29 Licensing Deadline

On May 13, the FCC’s Media Bureau issued a Public Notice reminding full power and Class A broadcasters that May 29 is the Pre-Auction Licensing Deadline by which those 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. The deadline, which the Media Bureau set in January in accordance with the Incentive Auction Report and Order, is discussed further in our blog post here.

Shortly after May 29, the Media Bureau will release the “Eligibility Public Notice” listing the facilities eligible for protection in the repacking process, following which licensees will have 30 days to file the Pre-Auction Technical Certification Form (FCC Form 2100, Schedule 381). That form requires full power and Class A licensees to certify that they have reviewed the authorization for each facility listed in the Eligibility Public Notice and that the technical database information for each facility is correct. The FCC is encouraging full power and Class A licensees to review Form 2100 and begin gathering the information necessary to complete it.

Comment Deadlines Set In Pole Attachment Cost Allocator Proceeding

On May 6, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking to refresh the record on a Petition for Reconsideration asking the FCC to clarify that the rule concerning the calculation of pole attachment rates charged to telecommunications providers is applied based on the actual number of attaching entities and not, as the petition asserts may be the case, applied only according to a presumed number of entities. The FCC announced the rule in an April 2011 Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration. By publication in the Federal Register, comment deadlines have now been set in this proceeding. Comments are due June 4, and reply comments are due June 15.