Legislative Activity

House Passes Bill Concerning Broadband Access for Veterans

On December 6, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.6394, the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016. The bill— introduced on November 29, 2016 by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA)—requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to submit a one-time report to Congress “on promoting broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular low-income veterans and veterans residing in rural areas” within one year after the date of enactment of the bill. The FCC’s report must examine, among other things, how to promote broadband access to veterans. In addition, the FCC must provide findings and make recommendations to Congress regarding veterans’ access to broadband. The bill, which requires notice and comment, is headed to the Senate.

Inmate Video Visitation Legislation Introduced in House

On December 6, Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) introduced H.R.6441, the Video Visitation in Prisons Act of 2016. The bill would provide for regulation by the FCC of inmate video visitation services and would require the FCC to establish the criteria for the provision of such services by the Bureau of Prisons. The bill has its roots the FCC’s November 2015 Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Third FNPRM), which adopted various reforms to the FCC’s rules regulating intrastate, interstate, and international inmate calling services (ICS) to ensure just, reasonable, and fair ICS rates. In the Third FNPRM, the FCC sought comment on a number of proposals, including video visitation services, “to gain a better understanding of their use, the costs to providers and rates to consumers, and to identify any trend of moving away from more traditional ICS technologies.” The bill has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee).

Reps. Walden and Yarmuth Introduce Media Cross-Ownership Bill in House

On December 7, Reps. Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) introduced H.R.6476, a bill that would repeal the FCC’s newspaper and broadcast cross-ownership ban. Enacted in 1975, the cross-ownership ban prohibits ownership of a broadcast station and a daily newspaper in the same market. In its 2002 Biennial Regulatory Review, released on July 2, 2003, the FCC determined that the cross-ownership ban was no longer in the public interest, but the rule has gone largely unchanged since that time. The text of the bill states that the media cross-ownership ban currently enshrined in Section 73.3555 of the FCC’s rules “shall have no force or effect” after the date of the enactment of the bill. The bill has been referred to the House Commerce Committee.

Regulatory Activity

FCC to Consider Real-Time Text, Emergency Alerting Items at December 15 Open Meeting

The FCC has announced that the following items are on the agenda for its December 15 Open Meeting:

  • Transition from Text Telephony (TTY) to Real-Time Text Technology. The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “help achieve the transition from TTY technology to a reliable and interoperable means of providing real-time text communication over wireless Internet protocol enabled networks and services.”
  • Improving the Nation’s Public Alert and Warning Systems. The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “enhance the Emergency Alert System (EAS) as a tool for community emergency preparedness. The Report and Order improves alerting organization at the state and local levels, builds stronger community-based alerting exercise programs, and protects the EAS against accidental misuse and malicious intrusion. The Further Notice seeks comment on proposals to leverage technological advances to improve alerting and additional measures to preserve EAS security.”
  • Update to Parts 2 and 25 Concerning Non-geostationary, Fixed-Satellite Service Systems and Related Matters. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to “update, clarify, and streamline the [FCC’s] rules to facilitate the deployment of recently proposed non-geostationary-satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service satellite systems.”
  • Amendment of Part 0 of the FCC’s Rules Regarding Public information, the Inspection of Records, and Implementing the Freedom of Information Act. The FCC will consider an Order that “updates its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations consistent with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.”
  • Maritime Communications/Land Mobile, LLC, Order on Reconsideration and Memorandum Opinion and Order. The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration and Memorandum Opinion and Order “regarding the assignment of licenses held by Maritime Communications/Land Mobile, LLC.”
  • Improving the Resiliency of Mobile Wireless Communications Networks; Reliability and Continuity of Communications Networks, Including Broadband Technologies. The FCC will consider an Order that “evaluates the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework submitted by members of the wireless industry.”
  • Preferred Long Distance, Inc., Memorandum Opinion and Order. The FCC will consider a Memorandum Opinion and Order that “addresses a Petition for Reconsideration of a Forfeiture Order issued by the [FCC] for slamming and deceptive marketing.”

FCC Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC Blog on November 22 discussing the real-time text and EAS items above. The FCC will also consider a five-item consent agenda at its Open Meeting.

The FCC’s December 15 Open Meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street S.W., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC to Host December 14 Webinar Addressing How Consumers Can Prevent Robocalls

On December 14 from 1 to 2 p.m., the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) will host a webinar providing information about “consumers’ rights and the steps they can take to prevent robocalls,” according to the webinar agenda released December 8. Topics covered in the webinar will include “Robocalls: How We Got Here and How We’re Fighting Back” and “TCPA: Federal Debt, School, and Utility Robocalls,” and the webinar will feature speakers from CGB, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, and Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. The webinar will explain the FCC’s role in “helping consumers stop unwanted calls, text messages and faxes,” as well as “the steps consumers can take to protect themselves from and/or decrease the amount of unwanted robocalls they receive.” The webinar is open to the public, and information about how to participate by WebEx (audio and video) or by conference call can be found here.

FCC Negotiates Protocol with the Mexican Government To Share Spectrum In the 220-222 MHz Band Along the U.S.-Mexico Border

On December 8, the FCC announced that it successfully negotiated a spectrum sharing protocol with the Mexican government (Protocol between the Department of State of the United States of America and the Ministry of Communications and Transportation of the United Mexican States Concerning the Allotment and Use of the Channels in the 220-222 MHz Band for Land Mobile Services Along the Common Border) that “will facilitate U.S. railroads’ deployment and operation of Positive Train Control [PTC] systems in the U.S.-Mexico border area” in the 220-222 MHz band. Under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, freight, commuter, and passenger railroads are required to implement “interoperable PTC systems by December 31, 2018 on all U.S. main line track where passenger and commuter railroads operate, as well as on lines carrying certain hazardous materials.”  PTC automatically slows or stops a train in the event of a possible “train-to-train collision or derailment.” According to the FCC’s press release, a similar agreement was signed last year between the FCC and the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development of Canada covering the U.S./Canada border region.”