Legislative Activity

House Subcommittee to Examine Seven Communications Bills

The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology (Communications Subcommittee) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (House Commerce Committee) will hold a legislative hearing on April 13 during which it will review seven communications-related bills. The following legislation will be considered during the hearing:

  • H.R.2031, the Anti-Swatting Act of 2015: a bill authored by Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and previously discussed here that would enhance penalties for “swatting” which occurs when individuals use false or misleading caller identification information to trigger a response by law enforcement.
  • H.R.3998, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act (SANDy Act): legislation authored by House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and introduced in response to Hurricane Sandy that would require mobile service providers to ensure that consumers have access to networks during disasters and also require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to examine the resiliency of networks during such disasters.
  • H.R.4190, the Spectrum Challenge Prize of 2015: a bill authored by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) that proposes to create a prize competition through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) that could award up to $5 million to participants who develop innovative and cost-effective solutions to maximize spectrum efficiency.
  • H.R.4111, the Rural Healthcare Connectivity Act of 2015: a bill authored by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) that would allow skilled nursing facilities to apply for support from the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program (RHCP).
  • H.R.4167, Kari’s Law Act of 2015: legislation authored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and previously discussed here that would require multi-line telephone systems, such as those found in hotels, to maintain default configurations to allow users to directly initiate a 911 call without dialing any additional digits, codes, or prefixes.
  • H.R.4884, the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline (CURB) Act of 2016: a bill authored by Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) that would reform the FCC’s Lifeline program by capping the fund at $1.5 billion, prohibiting the use of the subsidy for devices, and phasing out the subsidy for voice only mobile service. This bill was introduced shortly before the FCC’s adoption of a new Lifeline modernization order at its March 31, 2016 Open Meeting.
  • H.R.4889, the Kelsey Smith Act of 2016: legislation authored by Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) that would require telecommunications carriers to share call location information with law enforcement in emergency situations.

Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) stated in a press release that consideration of these seven bills “will advance [the Subcommittee’s] efforts on . . . public safety and a more accountable FCC.” Witnesses have not yet been announced. The hearing will be webcast and available here.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, April 13: The Communications Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Legislative Hearing on Seven Communications Bills.”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for April 28 Open Meeting

The FCC has announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the FCC’s April 28 Open Meeting:

  • Transition from TTY to Real-Time Text Technology: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “seeks comment on proposals to support real-time text communications over Internet Protocol communications networks, to improve the accessibility of these networks for consumers who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and speech disabled.”
  • Business Data Services (Special Access Services): The FCC will consider a “Tariff Investigation Order and a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing a new regulatory framework for the provision of business data services.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted to the FCC Blog on April 8 discussing these items. The FCC’s Open Meeting is scheduled to commence on April 28 at 10:30 AM in the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C.

FCC Modernizes Lifeline Program to Make Broadband More Accessible for Low-Income Americans

On March 31, the FCC voted to modernize the Lifeline program to allow low-income consumers to use the $9.25 per month household subsidy to help with the cost of Internet access. Since 1985, Lifeline—one of several programs administered under the Universal Service Fund—has been used to subsidize telephone service for low income Americans, but as the Commission recently found, 43% of the country’s poorest households cannot afford to purchase broadband service. In an effort to “help close this digital divide,” and building on the reforms most recently adopted in 2012, the recent Order will “support stand-alone broadband service as well as bundled voice and data service packages,” according to a News Release. To help prevent the fraud, waste, and abuse that has previously plagued the Lifeline program, and to “remove the burden of eligibility screening,” the new rules establish an “independent National Eligibility Verifier to confirm subscriber eligibility.” The Order has yet to be released, but according to the News Release, among other things the Order “allows Lifeline support for stand-alone mobile or fixed broadband Internet access service, as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband; “[p]hases in mobile broadband requirement over five years;” “and “[s]ets [a] budget of $2.25 billion, indexed to inflation, sufficient to allow for increased participation generated by support for broadband service.” 

FCC Releases Proposed Privacy Protections for Broadband Customers

On April 1, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on a proposal to apply “the traditional privacy requirements of the Communications Act to the most significant communications technology of today: broadband Internet access service.” Specifically, in the NPRM, the FCC proposes a regulatory framework for the data security and privacy practices of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), stating that broadband consumers “must be able to protect their privacy” and that “ISPs are the most important and extensive conduits of consumer information.” More information and a more complete description of the NPRM can be found in this Squire Patton Boggs publication – FCC Says: Sign Up for Internet Service, Don’t Sign Away Your Privacy Rights.

FCC Issues $51 Million Fine to Total Call Mobile for Allegedly Enrolling Duplicate, Ineligible Customers in Lifeline Program

On April 7, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (NAL & O) alleging that between 2013 and 2016, Total Call Mobile, Inc. (TCM) “received millions of dollars in improper reimbursements form the Universal Service Fund . . . for duplicate and ineligible customers” in the Lifeline program. Lifeline is a government subsidy program that provides discounted phone service to low-income consumers. According to an FCC News Release, TCM requested and received an estimated $9.7 million in “improper payments” despite “repeated and explicit warnings from its own employees . . . that company sales agents were engaged in widespread enrollment fraud.” The FCC’s investigation found that TCM enrolled duplicate Lifeline consumers by enrolling a consumer more than once while “making slight changes to the consumer’s identifying information” in subsequent enrollments.” The investigation also found that TCM enrolled ineligible customers, “typically through the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” cards, which “on their face do not bear any identifying participant information.” The FCC proposes a forfeiture of $51 million for TCM in the NAL & O.

FCC Seeks Comment on Ways to Facilitate Earthquake-Related Emergency Alerts

On April 8, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on “all regulatory and statutory changes that would be necessary to ensure that earthquake-related emergency alerts using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System [(IPAWS)] and other associated alerting systems can be delivered to and received by the public in fewer than 3 seconds.” The FCC is required to submit a report to Congress on this issue by September 18 under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016, according to the Public Notice. IPAWS is “the nation’s federal alert and warning system,” and it “receives alerts from state, local, and territorial alerting agencies and aggregates them for dissemination over the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system and the Emergency Alert System (EAS),” according to the Public Notice. In particular, the FCC is seeking comment on “technical aspects of IPAWS and its associated alerting systems,” including “an analysis of signals, cell phone protocols, geographic targeting, and limitations on message length and content, as well as similar parameters associated with the dissemination of alerts by non-wireless providers.”