Legislative Activity

Federal Spectrum Reallocation and More Auctions Included in Budget Bill

Congress’ budget bill contains a number of important spectrum policy items, including a plan for reallocating and auctioning more federal wireless spectrum to commercial providers. Title X of the bill calls on the Secretary of Commerce and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to identify 30 MHz of federally-owned spectrum below 3 GHz for reallocation from federal use to non-federal use or shared federal and non-federal use by 2022 and to complete an auction of that spectrum by 2024. In addition, the bill authorizes additional uses of the Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF), which was established to streamline the process through which federal agencies could recover the costs associated with relocating their operations in spectrum bands that are authorized to be auctioned off. Finally, the bill would require the FCC to submit a report to Congress on plans to free up and auction off 50 MHz of spectrum below 6 GHz by the beginning of 2022 and another 50 MHz two years later.

In addition to the spectrum items, the bill also contains a provision that would amend the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which generally prohibits the making of telephone calls using an automatic telephone dialing system or artificial prerecorded voice, to allow such calls if made to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.

The budget bill was passed by the House of Representatives on October 28 and by the Senate on October 30. The bill has been signed by President Obama.

House Committee Leaders Request Audit of FCC’s Enforcement Bureau

On October 23, Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Bob Latta (R-OH) of the House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) wrote a letter to Gene Dodaro, the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking the GAO to take a comprehensive look at the management of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (EB). In 2008, the GAO issued a report concluding that the EB had not set viable enforcement goals, developed a cohesive enforcement strategy, or established performance measures designed to accomplish the EB’s enforcement goals. The report made specific recommendations as to how the FCC could improve the effectiveness of the EB, including improving how the FCC collects and analyzes data and developing and implementing certain performance management practices. In June 2014, the House Commerce Committee sought information from the FCC regarding its progress in implementing the GAO’s recommendations. According to the most recent letter to the GAO, the representatives argued that the information resulting from the June 2014 inquiry showed that “no consistent metrics – and at times, none whatsoever – were in place for the Enforcement Bureau.”

Citing the outward indices of the EB’s performance, which include a hefty backlog of consumer complaints alleging violations of the TCPA, the dwindling number of enforcement actions against pirate radio operators, and the recent decision to close a number of the EB’s 24 field offices, the representatives argued that management and process at the FCC are lagging. In light of these concerns, they asked the GAO to undertake an all-inclusive review of the management of the EB, paying special attention to how the FCC measures the effectiveness of its enforcement regime and suggesting ways in which the FCC can more accurately measure such effectiveness.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, November 3: The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade and the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a joint hearing entitled “Examining the EU Safe Harbor Decision and Impacts for Transatlantic Data Flows.” Committee members will review the decision of the European Court of Justice striking down the US-EU Safe Harbor framework and examine the administration’s work to finalize a new framework.
  • Tuesday, November 3: The Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing entitled “Data Brokers – Is Consumers’ Information Secure?”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Releases Tentative Agenda for November 19 Open Meeting

On October 29, the FCC announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the agency’s next Open Meeting scheduled for Thursday, November 19:

  • Wireless Emergency Alerts: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “improve the effectiveness of [Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA)] message content and the geographic targeting of WEA messages, and facilitate WEA testing and proficiency training,” according to the tentative agenda.
  • Hearing Aid Compatibility: The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “update the scope of the wireless hearing aid compatibility rules and seek comment on additional measures that would ensure greater deployment of hearing aid compatible wireless handsets,” according to the tentative agenda.
  • Accessibility of User Interfaces: The FCC will consider a Second Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “provide consumers with better information about the availability of accessible devices and features and create easier access to video programming and closed captioning on devices,” according to the tentative agenda.

On October 29, FCC Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC Blog discussing the three items. Marking his second anniversary at the Commission, the Chairman noted that the November 2015 open meeting agenda “reflects the very same priorities [he] spoke about on [his] first day,” including the Commission’s commitment to upholding “the core values that have historically defined our communications networks . . . access and public safety.” The Open Meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30 a.m. in Room TW-C305 of the FCC’s headquarters, and can be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Releases Order Addressing Technical and Interference Issues of Repurposed 600 MHz Band

On October 26, the FCC released a Third Report and Order and First Order on Reconsideration (Order) to “resolve the remaining technical issues affecting the operation of new 600 MHz wireless licensees and broadcast television stations” in areas where they operate on the same or adjacent channels in geographic proximity. Because the FCC adopted a market variable flexible band plan for the repurposed 600 MHz Band, inter-service interference (ISIX) may result where “broadcast televisions stations are assigned to channels within the 600 MHz Band, television and wireless services will be operating in close geographic proximity on the same and/or adjacent frequencies.”

In the Order, the FCC: (1) established a “zero percent threshold for allowable harmful interference from 600 MHz wireless services to televisions stations” in the 600 MHz Band; (2) adopted the method proposed in OET-74 for predicting interference from wireless base stations to television receivers; (3) required 600 MHz wireless licensees to use OET-74 to predict potential interference to television operations before deploying base stations; (4) prohibited the expansion of TV station contours that would result in additional impairment to wireless operations; (5) prohibited operation of wireless user equipment near TV station contours; and (6) addressed the applicability of the ISIX methodology in other interference contexts, such as between LPTV and TV translators and wireless operators, and in identifying impairments to wireless licenses along the borders with Canada and Mexico.

FCC Seeks Comment on Proposals for New and Amended Hearing Aid Compatibility Rules

On October 30, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on proposed new and amended hearing aid compatibility (HAC) rules, which the FCC notes in the NPRM have “helped enable the millions of Americans with hearing loss to have greater access to and more fully benefit from wireline and wireless communications services and emerging technologies.” Specifically, the FCC is proposing: (1) to amend the HAC rules for wireline handsets to incorporate the volume control standard developed by the Telecommunications Industry Association – ANSI/TIA-4965-2012 – and apply the FCC’s wireline telephone volume control and other HAC requirements to handsets used with VoIP services; (2) to establish a rule and standard for volume control for wireless handsets; (3) to require manufacturers to use the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) C63.19-2011 standard to certify future handsets as hearing aid compatible; and (4) that standards for assessing HAC compliance prior to FCC approval be developed by an ANSI-accredited organization in accordance with a public participation process and in consultation with consumer stakeholders, and the FCC is also seeking comment on a process to enable industry to use those standards.

Comments on the FCC’s proposals are due 60 days from the date of publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register (publication is pending), and reply comments are due 90 days from the date of publication in the Federal Register.

FCC And CU Boulder to Hold Cybersecurity Summit December 7

On October 27, the FCC announced that it will co-host with the University of Colorado, Boulder Interdisciplinary Telecommunications Program a summit “to explore cybersecurity issues facing the telecommunications sector and the public safety community” on December 7. The event will feature a series of moderated panels to facilitate “extended interaction with critical industry, academic and government personnel involved in securing our commercial networks, evolving the next generation of public safety networks, and planning for the future of those critical communications assets.” The summit is scheduled to commence at 9:00 a.m. in the DLC Bechtel Collaboratory in the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado.

FCC to Hold Incentive Auction Workshop on Reverse Auction Application Process on November 17

On October 28, the FCC announced that the agency’s Broadcast Incentive Auction Task Force, in conjunction with the Media and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus, will host a public workshop on the reverse auction application process on November 17. The reverse auction is the process by which the Commission will pay broadcasters to cease operations in the 600 MHz Band so that the spectrum can be repurposed for mobile broadband use. On October 15, the FCC released a Public Notice setting forth the procedures, instructions, and deadlines for filing applications for the reverse and forward auctions. The November 17 workshop will discuss “the pre-auction process and guidance on how to complete and submit the Form 177, including an overview of ownership requirements, channel sharing agreements, and the red light rule.”

The workshop will run from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on November 17 in Room TW-C305 of the FCC’s headquarters. The workshop is open to the public and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

CSRIC V to Hold Meeting on December 3, 2015

On December 3, 2015 the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) V will hold a meeting at the FCC headquarters from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.