Legislative Activity

Bill to Establish Rural Telecommunications and Broadband Committee Introduced in Senate

On February 2, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced S.277, the Rural Telecommunications and Broadband Service Act. The bill, the text of which is not yet publicly available, would establish a Rural Telecommunications and Broadband Advisory Committee within the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). According to a press release from Sen. Manchin, the bill “would create a committee to develop policies and recommendations that promote deployment of broadband access in rural areas across West Virginia.” The press release went on to state that “[d]elivering affordable, reliable broadband access is both a critical and necessary step towards closing the broadband gap in rural and remote areas of the nation, like much of West Virginia.” Sen. Manchin indicated that the bill would ensure that the FCC and Congress “live up to the promise of universal service and help define what that means in today’s 21st century economy.” The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.

Legislation to Expand Access to Reliable Broadband Introduced in House

On February 2, Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), and Rick Nolan (D-MN) introduced H.R.800, the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017. The bill, the text of which is not yet publicly available, is designed to expand access to broadband Internet in rural communities across the country primarily “through increased investments in broadband infrastructure, improved programs to support tribal communities in broadband development, and the establishment of a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to better coordinate all Federal rural broadband deployment programs,” according to a press release. The proposed Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives would be housed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee for consideration.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for February 23 Open Commission Meeting

The FCC announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the agency’s February 23 Open Commission Meeting:

  • Universal Service Reform – Mobility Fund; Connect America Fund. The FCC will consider a Report and Order “adopting rules to provide ongoing support targeted to preserve and advance high-speed mobile broadband and voice service in high-cost areas that the marketplace does not otherwise serve.”
  • Connect America Fund, ETC Annual Reports and Certifications. The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration that “(1) resolves a number of issues raised in the Phase II Auction Order FNPRM, including the adoption of weights to compare bids among service performance and latency tiers, and (2) considers several petitions for reconsideration for decisions made in the Phase II Auction Order.”
  • Authorizing Permissive Use of the “Next Generation” Broadcast Television Standard. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “proposes to let television broadcasters use the ‘Next Generation’ broadcast television transmission standard associated with recent work of the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC 3.0) on a voluntary, market-driven basis.”
  • Revitalization of the AM Radio Service. The FCC will consider a Second Report and Order that “would relax the siting rule for an FM fill-in translator rebroadcasting an AM broadcast station.”
  • Small Business Exemption from Open Internet Enhanced Reporting Requirements. The FCC will consider an Order “granting a five-year waiver to broadband Internet access service providers with 250,000 or fewer broadband connections from the enhanced reporting requirements adopted in the 2015 Title II Order.”
  • Comprehensive Review of the Part 32 Uniform System of Accounts. The FCC will consider a Report and Order that “would streamline and eliminate outdated accounting rules no longer needed to fulfill the Commission’s statutory or regulatory duties.”

In an unprecedented step, on February 2, the FCC released draft copies of the “Authorizing Permissive Use of the ‘Next Generation’ Broadcast Television Standard” and “Revitalization of the AM Radio Service” items above – these items are not final actions of the FCC and are currently under consideration by the FCC Commissioners. In a statement, Chairman Pai explained that release of the drafts is a “pilot project” that is part of a “process of making the FCC more open and transparent,” and is intended to “give the public much more insight into the [FCC’s] activities.”

The FCC’s February Open Commission Meeting is scheduled to start at 10:30am on Thursday, February 23, in the Commission Meeting Room at the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Closes Investigation into “Free Data” Programs Marketed by AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Rescinds Zero-Rating Policy Report

In separate letters sent February 3 from Nese Guendelsberger, Acting Chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB), to AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, the WTB stated that it was closing its “inquiry” into, respectively: AT&T’s Sponsored Data and Data Perks programs, Verizon’s FreeBee Data 360 Offering, and T-Mobile’s Binge On Program. Each of the letters stated that “[a]ny conclusions, preliminary or otherwise, express during the course of the inquiry will have no legal or other meaning or effect going forward.” FCC Chairman Pai also released a statement: “[WTB] is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace.” WTB also released an Order that “sets aside and rescinds” WTB’s January 11 report, “Policy Review of Mobile Broadband Operators’ Sponsored Data Offerings for Zero Rated Content and Services.”

FCC Rescinds 5G Security Notice of Inquiry

On February 3, the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB) released an Order that “sets aside and rescinds” the PSHSB’s December 16, 2016 Notice of Inquiry (NOI) into “the security implications (e.g., as to [the Internet of Things)] that arise through the provision of a wide variety of services to various market sectors and users in the future 5G network environment.” The NOI stated that 5G or “fifth generation” refers to wireless technologies that “represent the next evolutionary step in wireless communications.” PSHSB’s Order provides that the NOI “will have no legal or other effect or meaning going forward and, as a result, there is no longer a comment cycle associated with that document and [PSHSB] hereby terminate[s] this docket.”