Legislative Activity

Rep. Greg Walden to Chair House Energy & Commerce Committee in the 115th Congress

Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) has been selected by the House Republican Steering Committee (the body that assigns party members to House committees) to chair the House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) in the 115th Congress, which will begin in January 2017. Rep. Walden will replace the outgoing Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who, having served since 2011 as Chairman, is term-limited. Rep. Walden currently chairs the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee. In a statement, Rep. Walden, who succeeded in winning the chairmanship over Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), stated that he was “deeply honored” by the opportunity to chair the full committee and thanked the current chairman for his work. Among other tasks, Rep. Walden will next have to choose the subcommittee chairs for the next Congress.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, December 7: The Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy & Consumer Rights of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary will hold a hearing entitled “Examining the Competitive Impact of the AT&T-Time Warner Transaction.” Witnesses include Randall Stephenson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AT&T; Jeffrey Bewkes, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer, Time Warner; Mark Cuban, Chairman, AXS TV, Owner, Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres, and Magnolia Pictures; Gene Kimmelan, President & Chief Executive Officer, Public Knowledge; and Daphna Ziman, President, Cinémoi.

Regulatory Activity

FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Reaches “Preliminary Conclusion” That AT&T’s Zero-Rating Practices “Interfere” With an Open Internet and Expresses Concern About Zero-Rating Programs of AT&T and Verizon

In a letter sent to AT&T on December 1, Jon Wilkins, Chief of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), stated that the WTB had reached the “preliminary conclusion” that AT&T’s “wholesale Sponsored Data program” – which the FCC refers to as a “zero-rating” program – “inhibit[s] competition, harm[s] consumers, and interfere[s]’ with the ‘virtuous cycle’ needed to assure the continuing benefits of the Open Internet.” Zero-rating is a practice by which carriers do not charge end customers for data from certain services or applications through their network. WTB sent an initial inquiry to AT&T regarding the Sponsored Data program on November 9, to which AT&T responded on November 21. WTB states that AT&T’s response “tends to confirm [WTB’s] initial view that the Sponsored Data program strongly favors AT&T’s own video offerings while unreasonably discriminating against unaffiliated edge providers and limiting their ability to offer competing video services to AT&T’s broadband subscribers on a level playing field.” The letter also sets out a set of “detailed questions” regarding the Sponsored Data program and requests a response by December 15.

In a separate letter sent to Verizon, WTB expressed “concern” about the “potential impact of Verizon’s ‘FreeBee Data 360’ sponsored data program on competition for mobile video services.” WTB states that, based on public reports and information provided by Verizon to WTB, it “believes that the FreeBee Data 360 offering to edge providers unaffiliated with Verizon, combined with Verizon’s current practice of zero-rating its affiliated edge services for Verizon subscribers, has the potential to hinder competition and harm consumers.” WTB requested in the letter that Verizon “respond to address this concern” by December 15.

FCC Finds Broadband Internet Speeds Continue to Increase at “Rapid Pace” for Consumers

On December 1, the FCC released its sixth “Measuring Broadband America” report, which is a “nationwide performance study of consumers’ fixed broadband Internet access service” conducted by the FCC, according to a News Release. One purpose of the report is to “further[] the [FCC’s] efforts to provide greater transparency about network performance to help consumers make more informed choices about their Internet Service Provider,” per the News Release.

Notably, the report “shows that broadband speed offerings to the average consumer continue to increase at a rapid pace, and broadband service providers generally are delivering actual speeds that meet or exceed advertised speeds,” however, “results are not uniform across technologies” and the FCC has found a “growing disparity in advertised download speeds between many DSL-based broadband services and most cable- and fiber-based broadband services,” according to the News Release. Specifically, the FCC found that “the average annual increase in median download speeds” was “47% for cable, and 14% for fiber, while popular DSL speeds have remained largely the same.” The FCC also found that “[c]onsumers with access to faster services continue to migrate to higher service tiers.”

The FCC’s consumer guide to broadband Internet speeds is available here.