Legislative Activity

Senate Will Hold Confirmation Hearing for FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel’s Second Term

On Wednesday, October 28, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) will hold a confirmation hearing for Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. As previously discussed here, President Obama announced the renomination of Commissioner Rosenworcel on May 20. Ms. Rosenworcel’s current term, which began in 2012, expired at the end of June. Her renomination would keep her on the FCC for another five year term. Should her confirmation be stalled for any reason, she is entitled to remain in her current role as commissioner until December 31, 2016 while awaiting Senate confirmation. The hearing announcement may be found here.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, October 27: The Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Common Carrier Regulation of the Internet: Investment Impacts.” The hearing will analyze the economic impacts of the FCC’s recent decision to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a communications service under Title II of the Communications Act. Witnesses include Frank V. Louthan of Raymond James Financial, Michael Mandel of the Progressive Policy Institute, Robert Shapiro of Sonecon LLC, and Nicholas Economides of New York University Stern School of Business.
  • Wednesday, October 28: The Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Breaking Down Barriers to Broadband Infrastructure Deployment.”
  • Wednesday, October 28: The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was nominated for a second five-year term as FCC commissioner.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Seeks Comment on Review of Foreign Ownership Rules

At its October 22 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on proposals to “simplify the foreign ownership approval process for broadcast licensees” and adopt a “standardized filing and review process for broadcast licensees’ requests to exceed the 25 percent foreign ownership benchmark” set forth in 47 U.S.C. § 310(b)(4). In the NPRM released on October 22, the FCC states that the proposals will “facilitate investment from new sources of capital at a time of growing need for capital investment in this important sector of our nation’s economy” and “provide the broadcast sector with greater transparency, more predictability, and will reduce regulatory burdens and costs.”

Specifically, the FCC requests comment on proposals to: (1) allow a broadcast licensee to request FCC approval for its U.S. controlling parent to have up to and including 100 percent foreign ownership; (2) allow any non-controlling named foreign investor to increase its interest in a U.S. parent up to and including a non-controlling interest of 49.99 percent at some time in the future. The FCC also seeks comment on whether and how to revise the methodology a licensee should use to assess its compliance with the 25 percent foreign ownership benchmark, and certain proposals to clarify existing policies and procedures for broadcast, common carrier, and aeronautical licensees.

Comments on the FCC’s proposals are due 45 days from the publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, which is pending. FCC Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC blog on October 1 discussing the foreign ownership rules.

Comments Due January 26 on FCC’s Proposed Flexible Service Rules for Spectrum Bands Above 24 GHz for Use for 5G Wireless Broadband

At its October 22 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Wireless NPRM) seeking comment on proposed new rules to “authorize mobile and other operations” in “specific spectrum bands above 24GHz” that the FCC has identified as potentially suitable for 5G mobile service. Specifically, the Wireless NPRM released on October 23 proposes new “flexible use” service rules in the 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 64-71 GHz bands, and proposes to make the bands available using a variety of authorization schemes, including traditional wide area licensing, unlicensed, and a shared approach. Additionally, in the Wireless NPRM, the FCC “provides a path for a variety of platforms and uses, including satellite uses, to coexist and expand through market-based mechanisms[,] . . . seeks extensive comment on the . . . rules for facilitating flexible use in these bands, [and] . . . seeks comment on other bands above 24 GHz that may be considered in the future,” according to a News Release accompanying the Wireless NPRM.

Comments on the FCC’s proposals are due January 26, 2016, and reply comments are due February 23, 2016.

FCC Releases AM Radio Revitalization Order

On October 23, the FCC released a First Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Notice of Inquiry adopting proposals “to assist AM broadcasters to better serve the public.” Notably, the FCC adopted a “two-pronged approach to enable more AM stations to acquire FM translators,” which are broadcast transmitters that rebroadcast AM signals on the FM band. The two stages of the FCC’s two pronged approach are: (1) in 2016, the FCC will administer a process by which an AM licensee “may acquire and relocate one . . . authorized non-reserved band FM translator station up to 250 miles, and specify any rule-compliant non-reserved band FM channel, as a minor modification application,” and (2) the FCC, in 2017, will “open new FM translator application auction windows . . . for AM stations that do not file a modification application in 2016.” The FCC also made modifications to its community coverage standards for existing AM stations (which specify the extent of coverage the broadcaster must provide inside its “community of license”) and eliminated the AM “ratchet rule” (which, according to the item, “effectively requires that . . . [an] AM broadcaster . . . demonstrate that [proposed] improvements [to its facilities] will result in an overall reduction” in skywave interference to other AM stations), among other reforms.

In the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking contained in the item, the FCC seeks comment on “further proposals . . . [to] enhance the viability of the AM broadcast service,” while the Notice of Inquiry in the item “pose[s] questions regarding further utilization of the AM Expanded Band.”

FCC Determines 600 MHz Band Wireless Licensees “Commence Operations” When Licensees Conduct Site Commissioning Tests

In the June 2, 2014 Incentive Auction Report and Order, the FCC adopted rules permitting low power TV stations, fixed broadcast auxiliary service operations, and unlicensed white space devices (collectively, “secondary and unlicensed users”) to continue operating in the 600 MHz band until such time as the wireless licensee that acquired the license in that area “commences operations” there. In a Report and Order released on October 22, the FCC concluded that a wireless licensee is deemed to “commence operations” – requiring secondary and unlicensed users to “cease operations and vacate the 600 MHz Band in those areas” – when the wireless licensee “conducts site commissioning tests.” Site commissioning testing occurs when a wireless base station is first put into operational use in that area. The FCC also created a limited exception by which licensees could conduct first field application testing in advance of site commissioning testing in some circumstances.

FCC Adopts Inmate Calling Rates Order

At its October 22 Open Meeting, the FCC voted to adopt a Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would, according to an FCC News Release, reduce inmate calling rates. The text of the Order has not yet been released. As discussed in our blog post here, in the Order, the FCC capped rates for local and long-distance inmate calling and reduced the existing cap for interstate long-distance calls by up to 50 percent, in addition to “closing loopholes by barring most add-on fees,” among other reforms, according to the News Release.