Legislative Activity

Senate Approves Joint Resolution to Repeal the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules

On March 23, the U.S. Senate passed S.J. Res. 34, a joint resolution to repeal the broadband privacy rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2016. Introduced by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), the joint resolution, which states that “Congress disapproves” the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, provides for congressional review and repeal of the rules pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA is a 1996 law that gives Congress the authority to use a joint resolution of disapproval to repeal or prevent a regulation issued by a federal agency from going into effect. Generally, joint resolutions passed under the CRA cannot be filibustered and, with limited exceptions, a substantially similar rule cannot be imposed again. The Senate vote on the joint resolution was 50-48 along party lines.

Following the announcement, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn issued a joint statement with FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny criticizing the Senate’s vote to repeal the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, and stating that the vote was “the antithesis of putting #ConsumersFirst.” In particular, the Commissioners noted that the party-line Senate vote would “dismantle” the “FCC’s widely-supported broadband privacy framework, and eliminate the requirement that cable and broadband providers offer customers a choice before selling their sensitive, personal information.” Moreover, the Commissioners averred that the “legislation will frustrate the FCC’s future efforts to protect the privacy of voice and broadband customers” and “creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements.”

The joint resolution will now go to the U.S. House of Representatives, which must pass it before it can take effect.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, March 28: The Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations will hold a hearing titled “Budget Hearing – Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” The witnesses will include Patricia de Stacy Harrison, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Anne Brachman, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • Tuesday, March 28: The Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection of the House Energy and Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) will hold a hearing titled “Self-Driving Cars: Levels of Automation.” The witnesses will be announced.
  • Wednesday, March 29: The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Realizing Nationwide Next-Generation 911.” The witnesses will be announced.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Proposes Rules to Allow Blocking of Unwanted Robocalls and Seeks Information on Further Proposals

The FCC adopted on March 23 a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Notice of Inquiry (NOI) that “propose[s] rules that would allow [voice service] providers to – on their customers’ behalf – block the illegal robocalls that can bombard their phones at all hours of the day, in some cases luring consumers into scams . . . or leading to identity theft.” Specifically, the FCC proposes to “codify . . . that providers may block calls when the subscriber to a particular telephone number requests that calls originating from that number be blocked,” and proposes rules “authorizing providers to block calls from three categories of numbers: invalid numbers, valid numbers that are not allocated to a voice service provider, and valid numbers that are allocated but not assigned to a subscriber.”

The FCC also is seeking public input on whether there are “special rules [the FCC] should consider with respect to internationally originated calls,” and in the NOI in part “seek[s] information on explicitly authorizing providers to block calls that are reasonably likely to be illegal based upon objective criteria.” Comment deadlines on the FCC’s proposed rules and questions contained in the NPRM and NOI will be announced in the Federal Register.

FCC Adopts Order to Expand Channel Sharing Opportunities for Television Broadcasters

At its March 23 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (R&O) that “expands broadcast stations’ ability to share a single TV channel so viewers can continue to receive their broadcast programming,” according to an FCC news release. Specifically, the FCC “adopt[ed] rules to allow full power and Class A stations with auction-related channel sharing agreements (CSAs) to become sharees outside of the auction context so that they can continue to operate if their auction-related CSAs expire or otherwise terminate.” The FCC also adopted rules to “allow all secondary stations to share a channel with another secondary station or with a full power or Class A station.” According to the FCC, the rules adopted in the R&O will “enhance the benefits of channel sharing for broadcasters without imposing significant burdens on multichannel video programming distributors,” such as cable television companies.

FCC Adopts Rules and Proposes Additional Rules to Combat Contraband Wireless Devices in Correctional Facilities

The FCC adopted on March 23 a Report and Order (R&O) and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) in which it takes “important steps to help law enforcement combat the serious threats posed by the illegal use of contraband wireless devices by inmates” in correctional facilities. The FCC notes in the item that “[a]cross the country, inmates have used contraband devices to order hits, run drug operations, operate phone scams, and otherwise engage in criminal activity.” In the R&O, the FCC takes “immediate action to streamline the process of deploying contraband wireless device interdiction systems in correctional facilities.” Contraband wireless device interdiction systems are “systems in place in correctional facilities which use radio communication signals (requiring [FCC] authorization) to combat the contraband wireless device problem,” according to the R&O. In the FNPRM, the FCC seeks “additional comment on a broad range of steps the [FCC] can take to help eliminate this threat to public safety,” including in particular “a process for wireless providers to disable contraband wireless devices once they have been identified.”