Legislative Activity

House Lawmakers Question FCC Approach on Broadband Privacy

On June 1, Reps. Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Michael Burgess (R-TX) wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler requesting that the FCC reconsider its approach, outlined in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), to protecting the privacy of consumer information in the hands of broadband Internet access service (BIAS) providers through the application of the privacy requirements of the Communications Act to BIAS providers (previously discussed here and here). The lawmakers argued that by applying privacy requirements only to BIAS providers, while not regulating edge providers like Netflix or websites like Google or Facebook, the FCC “will create a disparate set of rules for some members of the Internet ecosystem” while leaving others out. The representatives contended that this was the wrong approach and bemoaned the FCC’s lack of evidence for the NPRM’s central premise that because BIAS providers have sweeping access to consumer information that, if disclosed, could be embarrassing or harmful, a rule explaining how BIAS providers must treat that data is required.

As an alternative to the FCC’s current approach, the representatives argued that an enforcement-based approach would lead to “a more consistent privacy experience for consumers.” They noted that the Federal Trade Commission, which has served as a primary protector and enforcer of consumer privacy, uses an “enforcement-oriented” approach with success. The representatives argued that the FCC’s BIAS-specific proposal will “create public confusion” rather than protect the public interest by “subjecting data to multiple and varying privacy regimes within a consumers’ single Internet experience.” The lawmakers urged a rethinking of the FCC’s current approach.

Telecommunications Network Resiliency Bill Introduced in Senate

On May 26, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced S.2997, the Resiliency of Critical Telecommunications Networks Act. The bill would require the FCC to commence proceedings related to the resiliency of telecommunications networks during times of emergency and expresses a sense of Congress that severe weather and other emergencies “can have devastating effects on communities large and small, including rural areas and urban centers.” The bill would also require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study regarding how federal agencies can better ensure that critical telecommunications networks stay operational during emergencies. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for June 24 Open Meeting

The FCC has announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the agency’s next Open Meeting on June 24:

  • Reforming Executive Branch Review Process of Certain FCC Applications and Petitions Involving Foreign Ownership: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on “changes to streamline and increase the transparency of the Executive Branch review of applications and petitions for national security, law enforcement, foreign policy and trade policy concerns.”
  • Adding Hurricane-Related Event Codes to the Emergency Alert System: “revise the Emergency Alert System rules by adding new event codes covering extreme high winds and storm surges caused by Category 3 (and greater) hurricanes.”
  • Improving Outage Reporting for Submarine Cables: “require submarine cable licensees to report communications network outages to the FCC.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler posted to the FCC blog on June 3 discussing these agenda items. The FCC’s Open Meeting is scheduled for June 24 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 streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Seeks to “Refresh the Record” on U-NII Devices in the 5 GHz Band

On June 1, the FCC released a Public Notice (PN) seeking to “refresh the record on the status of potential sharing solutions between proposed Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices and Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) operations in the 5.850-5.925 GHz (U-NII-4) band.” U-NII devices provide “short-range, high-speed unlicensed wireless connections . . . for, among other applications, Wi-Fi-enabled radio local networks [and] cordless telephones.” DSRC “uses short-range wireless communication links to facilitate information transfer” between vehicles and between vehicles and infrastructure for intelligent transportation systems.

In a 2013 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on the potential for shared U-NII and incumbent operations in the U-NII-4 band. The “automobile industry and [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] on behalf of [the Department of Transportation] raised potential interference concerns with respect to protecting DSRC,” according to the PN. In response, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) formed a “Tiger Team” that investigated “two proposed [spectrum] sharing techniques:” (1) the “detect and avoid” approach, which “involves detecting the presence of DSRC signals, and avoiding using the spectrum in this band when DSRC signals are present,” and (2) the “re-channelization” approach, which involves “moving all safety-related DSRC communications to the upper part of the band, and permitting unlicensed devices to share the lower part of the band with non-safety DSRC communications.”

The FCC is seeking comment on these and other possible approaches. The agency is also inviting parties to submit “5.9 GHz prototype unlicensed, interference-avoiding devices to the [FCC] for testing,” and seeking comment on a proposed FCC plan to test interference potential for DSRC operations. Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the PN in the Federal Register.

FCC Commissioner Pai Continues Inquiry into “Abuse” of Lifeline Fund

On May 31, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote to Chris Henderson, CEO of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) expressing concern about wireless resellers overriding federal safeguards on the Lifeline program and exposing the program to “waste, fraud and abuse.” Lifeline is a government subsidy program that provides discounted phone service to low-income consumers; the Lifeline program is administered by USAC and overseen by the FCC. Commissioner Pai’s letter, which follows an April 18 letter on the same issue, requested that USAC provide various information about USAC’s investigations into “13 wireless resellers that have frequently overridden federal safeguards” and USAC oversight processes.