Legislative Activity

DOTCOM Act Approved by House Commerce Committee

On June 17, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved H.R.805, the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act of 2015 (DOTCOM Act) by voice vote. The DOTCOM Act, previously discussed here, prohibits the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from terminating its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) unless certain conditions are met. Under the current contract, NTIA oversees ICANN’s management of the domain name system, which converts alphabetic domain names (i.e. squirepattonboggs.com) into the numeric IP addresses required to access web sites, mail servers, and other Internet destinations. In March 2014, NTIA announced its intent to terminate the contract and turn ICANN oversight over to a “multi-stakeholder model” comprised of an international community of governments, civil society, and business. The DOTCOM Act now goes to the full House for consideration.

Spectrum Reallocation Bill Introduced in Senate

On June 18, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) introduced S.1618, the Wireless Innovation Act of 2015. The bill aims to reallocate federal government-held spectrum for commercial use and to promote wireless innovation. Specifically, the bill would require the NTIA to identify and reallocate 200 MHz of spectrum below 5 GHz that is currently allocated to the government and to reallocate it for commercial mobile use. Of the reallocated spectrum, 140 MHz would be for licensed use, 40 MHz would be for shared use and 20 MHz would be for unlicensed operations. The bill would also establish an auction pipeline to ensure that the 200 MHz of spectrum would be reallocated in a predictable manner. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.

Senate Bill Aims to Enhance Digital Learning Opportunities

On June 18, Sen. Angus King (I-ME) and Sen. Shelly Capito (R-WV) introduced S.1606, the Digital Learning Equity Act of 2015. The bill supports innovative ways to improve student access to the Internet and other digital learning resources when they are outside of the classroom. In addition, the bill directs the United States Department of Education to conduct a national study on what has been called the “Homework Gap” and provide for pilot programs aimed at closing that gap. The introduction of the bill attracted comment from Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), who issued a statement applauding the bill. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions for consideration.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Thursday, June 25:  The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Vehicle to Vehicle Communications and Connected Roadways of the Future.” Among other things, the subcommittee will review the status of federal work on the unlicensed spectrum needed to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Adopts Reforms to and Seeks Comment on Lifeline Program

On June 18, the FCC adopted a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Order on Reconsideration, Second Report and Order, and Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order) that, per a news release accompanying the vote, seeks comment on restructuring the Lifeline program “to better support 21st Century communications while building on existing reforms to continue strengthening protections against waste, fraud and abuse.” The Lifeline program was established in 1985 to provide discounts on phone service for qualifying low-income Americans.

The Order has yet to be issued, but according to the news release, the FCC has determined that the Lifeline program should be restructured “to meet today’s most pressing communications needs: access to broadband.” The item “proposes and seeks comment on maintaining” the current $9.25 subsidy offered under the Lifeline Program to low-income consumers and “seeks to use that money as efficiently and effectively as possible to provide modern communications services.” The Order also seeks comment on whether the FCC should adopt minimum service standards for voice and broadband service and require Lifeline providers to offer broadband, as well as how the FCC should encourage competition and state participation in the Lifeline program.

The FCC has also implemented reforms to the Lifeline program to “reduce waste, fraud and abuse” including requiring providers to retain documentation of consumer eligibility. In the item, the FCC seeks comment on other reforms such as whether to: (1) establish a third-party “national verifier” for consumer eligibility, (2) provide direct subsidies to consumers through vouchers, and (3) establish a budget for the program.

FCC Addresses Petitions Related to Telephone Consumer Protection Act Rules

On June 18, the FCC adopted a Declaratory Ruling and Order (Order) addressing “21 requests for clarification” of the FCC’s rules implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The TCPA, in part, requires callers using an autodialer or artificial or prerecorded voice to obtain prior express consent before making a nonemergency call to a wireless number. Although the text of the Order has not been released, a news release accompanying the FCC’s vote highlights that the FCC has: (1) authorized wireless service providers to offer robocall-blocking technologies and implement market-based solutions that consumers can use to stop unwanted robocalls; (2) provided consumers with “the right to revoke their consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time;” (3) established that if a phone number has been reassigned, companies must stop calling the number “after one call;” (4) clarified that a “consumer whose name is in the contacts list of an acquaintance’s phone does not consent to receive robocalls from third-party applications downloaded by the acquaintance;” (5) “[a]ffirm[ed]” the law’s definition of an autodialer as “any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers;” (6) “reaffirmed that consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls;” (7) established that equipment “used to send Internet-to-phone text messages is an autodialer, so the caller must have consumer consent before calling;” and (8) provided “very limited and specific” exemptions for “urgent circumstances” including certain types of financial alerts and healthcare messages. The actions highlighted in the news release are consistent with the summary of the Order provided in a Fact Sheet released March 27 by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

FCC Adopts Order to Provide Direct Access to Telephone Numbers to Interconnected VoIP Providers

On June 18, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (R&O) that will allow interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers – defined as VoIP providers “capable of placing and receiving calls to and from the traditional phone network” – to obtain telephone numbers directly from numbering administrators. Previously, VoIP providers had to obtain numbers from third-party carriers. The text of the R&O has not yet been released. Per a news release accompanying the vote, the FCC found that allowing direct access to numbers would “benefit consumers by reducing costs and promoting additional competition” from VoIP providers. The R&O also “imposes a number of conditions to protect and enhance the security and integrity of the numbering system” and “protect the system from running out of phone numbers.”

FCC Addresses Petitions Related to Incentive Auction Rules

On June 17, the FCC adopted a Second Order on Reconsideration (Second Recon Order) addressing petitions related to and also “largely affirm[ing]” the FCC’s Broadcast Incentive Auction rules adopted in the June 2, 2014 Incentive Auction Report and Order. Of note, the Second Recon Order states that the FCC intends to begin accepting applications to participate in the incentive auction in the fall of 2015, and begin the bidding process in “early 2016.”