Legislative Activity

House Commerce Committee Advances FCC Transparency Bill

On June 3, the House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) approved, by voice vote, H.R.2583, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2015. The bill was introduced to the House Commerce Committee on May 29 by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) after having been approved by the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology during a contentious markup on May 20. The bill, previously discussed here, is designed to provide increased transparency and efficiency in the procedures of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The version of the bill approved by the House Commerce Committee includes amendments added by Republicans during the subcommittee markup that require the online publication of a proposed order within twenty-four hours after it is circulated among the commissioners, the online publication of FCC rule changes, and the identification of items decided on delegated authority. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Senate Lifeline Bill Introduced in Advance of Lifeline Reform Hearing

On June 1, Sen. Christopher Murphy (D-CT) introduced S.1472, the Broadband Adoption Act of 2015. The bill aims to reform and modernize the Universal Service Fund’s (USF’s) Lifeline program, which subsidizes landline and mobile phone services for low-income Americans. The bill would expand the Lifeline program from phone service to broadband Internet service by making subsidies available for Internet services. The bill follows the FCC’s May 28 announcement of its plans to broaden the Lifeline program to include broadband subsidies. The bill was also introduced in advance of the June 2 hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, which considered whether to expand the Lifeline program to include subsidies for broadband access. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration. A companion bill with the same title, H.R.2638, has been introduced in the House and has been referred to the House Commerce Committee.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, June 11:  The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Oversight of FCC Field Offices.” The subcommittee will review FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to close 16 of the FCC’s 24 field offices.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Establishes “Effective Competition” Presumption in Cable TV Markets

On June 3, the FCC released a Report and Order (R&O) establishing a rebuttable presumption that cable TV operators are subject to “Effective Competition,” effectively prohibiting city, county, and other government organizations from regulating basic cable rates.

By law (47 U.S.C. § 543(a)(2)), franchising authorities, which are the city, county, or other government organizations that grant cable operators the right to provide cable service in a given community, are permitted to regulate basic cable rates only if the cable system is not subject to effective competition. Whether a cable TV operator is subject to effective competition depends on whether the cable TV operator’s competitors hold a statutorily-defined minimum market share in a particular community. Prior to the R&O, the FCC presumed that cable operators were not subject to effective competition. Cable operators could file a petition seeking a finding of effective competition, and as a practical matter the FCC granted “nearly all” such requests. In the R&O, the FCC altogether reversed its prior presumption, thereby prohibiting franchising authorities from regulating basic cable rates absent a finding that a cable TV operator is not subject to effective competition. The FCC’s decision was based on “changes in the marketplace” that have occurred since the prior presumption was established, notably the “ubiquitous” availability of satellite television.

The FCC also determined that its decision fulfills a statutory mandate under the STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR) to adopt a streamlined effective competition process for small cable operators. Under the new presumption, operators are no longer required to prepare a formal filing to the FCC to “avail[] themselves of effective competition relief,” which was previously cost prohibitive to some small operators. Therefore, in the FCC’s view, reversing the effective competition presumption removed a regulatory burden that previously disproportionately impacted small operators.

FCC Revises Emergency Alert System (EAS) Rules

On June 3, the FCC released a Sixth Report and Order (Sixth R&O) revising its Emergency Alert System rules according to “lessons learned” from the November 9, 2011 nationwide EAS test and to “maximize the overall effectiveness” of the EAS. The EAS is a national warning system that provides the President and other government entities with the ability to send critical alerts and warnings to the public over broadcast, cable, and other media facilities. The FCC’s Sixth R&O: (1) adopts “six zeroes” as the national location code for every state and county in the U.S., and requires EAS participants to use equipment capable of processing this code; (2) requires that EAS participants’ equipment be capable of processing a National Periodic Test (NPT) event code for future nationwide EAS tests to “bring consistency to the operation of EAS equipment in future national, regional, state and local activations;” (3) requires EAS participants to file EAS test data in an Electronic Test Report System (ETRS) for use in developing an FCC Mapbook that can “illustrate the manner in which an EAS alert is propagated throughout part or all of the United States;” and (4) requires EAS participants to comply with minimum accessibility rules to ensure that visual messages are “readable and accessible to all members of the public, including people with disabilities.” EAS participants must comply with the new rules within twelve months of the rules’ effective date.

NTIA to Hold Facial Recognition Technology Privacy Meeting on June 11

On June 11, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) will convene a meeting of a privacy multistakeholder process concerning the commercial use of facial recognition technology. The meeting is part of NTIA’s ongoing efforts taken at the directive of the White House Privacy Blueprint to “convene multistakeholder processes to develop legally enforceable codes of conduct” to protect consumers’ privacy. At the June 11 meeting, stakeholders will “engage in an open, transparent, consensus-driven process to develop a code of conduct regarding facial recognition technology.” The meeting will be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the American Institute of Architects, 1735 New York Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20006.