Legislative Activity

House Approves Joint Resolution to Repeal the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules, Sending the Measure to the President

On March 28, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Congressional Review Act (CRA) joint resolution (S.J. Res. 34) passed by the Senate last week to repeal the broadband privacy rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October 2016. As discussed previously, a CRA joint resolution allows Congress to repeal or prevent a regulation issued by a federal agency from going into effect and cannot generally be filibustered. With limited exceptions, joint resolutions passed under the CRA prevent a substantially similar rule from being imposed again. The House vote on the joint resolution was 215-205. All Democrats who voted opposed the joint resolution and 15 Republicans who voted also opposed the joint resolution. Having passed both houses of Congress, the joint resolution now goes to President Trump for his signature or veto. The White House has indicated that President Trump is likely to sign the joint resolution.

Following passage of the joint resolution by the House, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement in which he claimed that the FCC had “pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies” and that the joint resolution was the result of “the FCC’s own overreach.” Chairman Pai continued that Congress had acted “appropriately” in passing “a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect.” Chairman Pai also stated that until the passage of the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, “the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] was protecting consumers very effectively, policing every online company’s privacy practices consistently and initiating numerous enforcement actions.” However, with the passage of the FCC’s rules, Chairman Pai stated that “the FCC stripped the FTC of its authority over Internet service providers.” Noting “the FCC’s struggles to address the privacy issue over the past couple of years,” Chairman Pai emphasized that, going forward, “the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework.” Chairman Pai suggested that the best way to achieve this would be to “return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in this area.”

Legislation Expanding Rural Wireless Coverage Introduced

On March 30, Reps. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) and Dave Loebsack (D-IA) introduced H.R.1814, the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act. The bill is designed to “expand wireless coverage in rural communities” according to a press release on Rep. Kinzinger’s website. Specifically, the legislation would “direct the FCC to establish a program that would provide a 3-year extension of the spectrum license to wireless carriers that lease unused spectrum to rural and smaller carriers, encouraging collaboration between companies to bridge service gaps in rural areas.” As a result, the bill would incentivize certain wireless carriers to make unused spectrum available for use in rural areas by smaller carriers. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (House Commerce Committee).

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, April 5: The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Facilitating the 21st Century Wireless Economy.” According to a press release, “[m]embers will examine the impact of spectrum on economic growth and how the federal government can help meet America’s ever-growing spectrum needs.” In addition, the subcommittee will also examine S.19, the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act (MOBILE NOW Act). The witnesses will be announced.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for April Open Meeting

The FCC has announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the FCC’s April 20 Open Commission Meeting:

  • Connect America Fund. The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration that “would amend the construction project limitation within section 54.303 of the Commission’s rules to permit carriers to report, for universal service purposes, capital expenses per location up to the established per-location per-project limit, rather than disallowing all capital expenses associated with construction projects in excess of the limit.”
  • Wireline Infrastructure Deployment. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Notice of Inquiry, and Request for Comment that “would propose to remove regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment, suggest changes to speed the transition from copper networks and legacy services to next-generation networks and services dependent on fiber, and propose to reform Commission regulations that are raising costs and slowing, rather than facilitating, broadband deployment.”
  • Wireline Infrastructure Deployment. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry that “commences an examination of the regulatory impediments to wireless network infrastructure investment and deployment, and how the Commission may remove or reduce such impediments consistent with the law and the public interest.”
  • Business Data Services. The FCC will consider a Report and Order that “recognizes the strong competition present in the business data services market and modernizes the Commission’s regulatory structure accordingly to bring ever new and exciting technologies, products, and services to businesses and consumers.”
  • Reinstating the UHF Discount. The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration to “reinstate the UHF discount used to calculate compliance with the national television audience reach cap.”
  • Noncommercial Educational (NCE) Station Third-Party Fundraising. The FCC will consider a Report and Order that “would adopt rules permitting NCE stations not funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to alter or suspend regular programming in order to conduct fundraising for third-party non-profit organizations so long as such stations do not spend more than one percent of their total annual airtime on such activities.”
  • Promoting Diversification of Ownership in the Broadcasting Services. The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration that would “allow noncommercial broadcasters greater flexibility to use a Special Use FRN for ownership reporting purposes and avoid the need to submit personal information to the [FCC].”

The FCC has also released draft versions of the above items, which are available here.

The FCC’s Open Commission Meeting will be held on April 20 at 10:30 a.m.in the Commission Meeting Room at the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554, and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.