Legislative Activity

60 Members of Congress Address FCC’s Set-Top Box Proposal

On May 5, 60 members of Congress from both sides of the aisle wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing concern about the FCC’s recent proposal to change the FCC’s set-top box rules (previously discussed here). The letter stated that the FCC’s proposed rules will “jeopardize the incredible evolution of video distribution services enabled by generally reasonable regulation.” The group was particularly concerned about the effect of the FCC’s proposal on small pay-TV providers that already face regulatory burdens that threaten their continued existence in the video marketplace. Though the group acknowledged the FCC’s efforts to support a competitive market for video competition they questioned the need to promulgate new rules in an “era of unprecedented consumer choice.” The members of Congress concluded by urging the FCC to “press pause” on the proceeding and to reconsider the proposed rules and the impacts they would have on all constituencies including small businesses and consumers.

House Commerce Committee Advances Nine Communications Bills

On April 28, the House Energy and Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) approved nine communications bills. Three of the bills relate to ongoing efforts to reform processes and procedures at the FCC. The nine bills are as follows:

  • H.R.2031, the Anti-Swatting Act of 2015, which enhances penalties for those who use false or misleading caller identification (caller ID) information;
  • H.R.3998, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act (SANDy Act), which 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 that creates a prize program through the National Telecommunications & Information Administration to 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, which 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, which would require multi-line telephone systems, usually found in schools, offices, hotels, or hospitals to connect directly to 911 when dialed even in situations where the phone requires the user to dial another number to get an outside line;
  • H.R.4884, the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline (CURB) Act of 2016, which 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;
  • H.R.4889, the Kelsey Smith Act of 2016 that would require telecommunications carriers to share call location information with law enforcement in emergency situations;
  • H.R.2589, a bill that would require the FCC to publish changes to the FCC’s rules on its website no later than 24 hours after adoption;
  • H.R.2592, a bill that would require the FCC to publish items to be voted on by the FCC on the FCC’s website; and
  • H.R.2593, a bill that would require the FCC to identify and describe items to be decided on delegated authority on the FCC’s website.

The bills now go to the full House of Representatives (House) for consideration.

Internet of Things Legislation Introduced in House

On April 28, Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN) introduced H.R.5117, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act. The bill aims to facilitate planning and coordination among the government and private entities to support the expanded use of the Internet of Things (IoT), which is generally understood to mean to be a network of physical objects that are connected to the Internet. The legislation creates a working group consisting of businesses, nongovernmental stakeholders, and federal agencies to issue guidance on potential regulatory barriers and spectrum needs, among other issues. A companion, and substantively parallel, Senate bill, S.2607, was approved by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) on April 27. The House bill has been referred to the House Commerce Committee for consideration.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, May 11: The Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law of the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Examining the Proposed FCC Privacy Rules.” Witnesses include FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez, and FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for May 25 Open Meeting

The FCC has announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the FCC’s May 25 Open Meeting:

  • Updating the Public Inspection File Requirements. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “seeks comment on proposals to eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public in their public inspection file and the requirement that cable operators reveal the location of the cable system’s principal headend.”
  • Enhancing Public Safety and Network Reliability Through Communications Outage Reporting. The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “update its Part 4 communications network outage reporting requirements.”
  • Connect America Phase II Auction. The FCC will consider a Report and Order “adopting rules to implement a competitive bidding process for high-cost universal service support from Phase II of the Connect American Fund.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted to the FCC blog on May 4 discussing the items above. The FCC’s Open Meeting is scheduled to commence on May 25 at 10:30 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be available online at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Approves Charter, Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks Merger With Conditions

The FCC announced in a May 6 Public Notice that it had “approved . . . with conditions” the proposed merger of Charter Communications, Inc., Time Warner Cable, Inc., and Advance/Newhouse Partnership’s Bright House Networks. The combined entity is poised to become the third-largest multichannel video programming distributor and would own or manage systems serving approximately 19.4 million broadband customers, 17.3 million video customers, and 9.4 million voice customers, according to statements of the companies set forth in a July 27, 2015 FCC Public Notice. What “conditions” the FCC has attached to the merger are unclear; an Order “detailing the [FCC’s] reasoning and the conditions will be issued in the coming days,” according to the May 6 Public Notice.

FCC Seeks Comment on New Regulatory Framework for Business Data Services

On May 2, the FCC released a Tariff Investigation Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) that seeks comment on a “new regulatory framework” for “the provision of so-called ‘special access’ – the business data service(s) (BDS) firms use to fulfill their enterprise-level broadband requirements.” The FCC states in the FNPRM that it has previously “tried a variety of regulatory approaches” – including “traditional tariff regulation” – with “little success.” The FCC proposes in the FNPRM to “end the traditional use of tariffs and discard[] the traditional classification of ‘dominant’ and ‘nondominant’ carriers,” and instead implement “tailored rules where competition does not exist.” The proposed rules are “built on four fundamental principles,” according to the FCC:(1) “competition is best;” (2) the new rules “should be technology-neutral;” (3) the FCC “should remove barriers that may be inhibiting the technology transitions;” and (4) the FCC “should construct regulation to meet not only today’s marketplace, but tomorrow’s as well.” Comments on the FCC’s proposals are due June 28, and reply comments are due July 26.

FCC Seeks Comment on Draft Rules to Implement TCPA Exception for Federal Debt Collection Calls

On May 6, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on draft rules to “implement a provision of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that excepts from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s consent requirement robocalls ‘made solely to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.’” The FCC notes in the NPRM that the Bipartisan Budget Act required the FCC to prescribe rules implementing the exception by August 2, and authorized the FCC to “adopt rules to ‘restrict or limit the number and duration’ of these covered calls.’” The proposals on which the FCC is seeking comment include: (1) to “interpret ‘solely to collect a debt’ to mean only those calls made to obtain payment after the borrower is delinquent on a payment;” (2) that debt “servicing calls should be included in covered calls;” (3) to limit calls covered under the exception to calls made “to the person or persons obligated to pay the debt;” (4) to limit calls covered under the exception to calls made “by creditors and those calling on their behalf;” (5) to limit the number of calls covered under the exception to “three calls per month;” and (6) that “consumers should have a right to stop such calls at any point the consumer wishes.” The FCC is also seeking comment on “the meaning of the phrase ‘a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.’” Comments are due June 6, and reply comments are due June 21.