Legislative Activity

Senators Introduce Bill to Expand Broadband Deployment Using Accurate Coverage Data

On May 11, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced S.1104, the Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017. The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to “collect broadband coverage data that is valid, consistent, and robust” according to a press release on Sen. Manchin’s website. The bill would require the FCC to adopt regulations to establish a methodology applicable to the collection of coverage data by the FCC. The bill would require the FCC’s methodology to contain standard definitions for different broadband speeds (for example, 2G, 3G, 4G, and 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) speeds), to ensure that coverage data is collected consistently, to improve the validity and reliability of that data and to increase efficiency of data collection. According to the press release, standardized and reliable coverage data is “necessary to ensure that policies to expand broadband deployment accurately target the unserved and underserved communities and account for the mobile coverage experience of those living in the most remote parts of the county.” A similar bill, H.R.1546 was introduced in the House on March 15. The Senate bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Wednesday, May 17, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has scheduled a hearing titled “Future of Emergency Alerting.” The witnesses will be announced.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Releases Agenda for May 18 Open Commission Meeting, including Net Neutrality Item

The FCC has announced the following agenda items will be considered at the agency’s Open Commission Meeting on Thursday, May 18.

  • Presentation about 911 Outage. The FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau will present a final report on its investigation into the Voice over LTE (VoLTE) 911 outage that AT&T Mobility experienced on March 8.
  • Satellite Earth Stations in Motion. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would both facilitate the deployment of and reduce regulatory burdens on the three types of Fixed-Satellite Service earth stations authorized to transmit while in motion: Earth Stations on Vessels, Vehicle-Mounted Earth Stations, and Earth Stations Aboard Aircraft.”
  • Reform of Part 95 Personal Radio Services Rules. The FCC will consider a Report and Order that “would amend provisions of the Personal Radio Services located in Part 95 of the [FCC’s] rules in order to address two Petitions for Rulemaking, update and modernize various rules to reflect current uses and technologies, remove outdated regulatory requirements, and reorganize the rules to make them easier to read and understand.”
  • Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative. The FCC will consider a Public Notice that “would launch a review of the [FCC’s] rules applicable to media entities and seek comment on what rules should be modified or repealed.”
  • Proposed Elimination of Main Studio Rule. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would propose to eliminate the [FCC’s] main studio rule, based on a tentative finding that the rule is now outdated and unnecessarily burdensome for broadcast stations.”
  • Restoring Internet Freedom. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “would propose to restore the Internet to a light-touch regulatory framework by classifying broadband Internet access service as an information service and by seeking comment on the existing rules governing Internet service providers’ practices.” The proposed rules would modify major parts of the Open Internet, or net neutrality, rules that were adopted by the FCC in 2015.
  • Connect America Fund. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “proposes to eliminate a rule requiring rural telecommunications service providers receiving [Universal Service Fund] USF support to impose higher minimum monthly rates on their customers than the rates paid by some of their urban counterparts, or otherwise lose some USF support. The [FCC] will also consider a related Order that would freeze the current rate.”

The FCC has released draft versions of the above items, which are available here. The Commissioners also will consider one media item as part of a consent agenda.

The FCC’s Open Commission Meeting will be held on May 18 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.

FCC Proposes Fine for Operating TV Station Without a License

On Friday, May 12, the FCC issued a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL) proposing a $144,344 penalty against Vearl Pennington and Michael Williamson for operating a low-power television station in Morehead, Kentucky, without a license. According to the NAL, Mr. Pennington was granted an FCC license to operate the station in 1990. Mr. Pennington renewed the station’s license once, but failed to do so again. The FCC’s Media Bureau followed up with Mr. Pennington in 2004 about whether a renewal application had been filed, but did not receive a response. At that time, the Media Bureau canceled the license. Despite the cancelation, and numerous requests to cease operating, Mr. Pennington and Mr. Williamson continued to operate the station.

Section 301 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, prohibits the unauthorized operation of a broadcast television station. As explained in the press release accompanying the item, Congress first enacted the requirement “as a means of ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of scarce spectrum resources among entities, such as TV and radio broadcaster, public safety agencies, and wireless phone and data networks.” Operating an unlicensed station “can cause interference to licensed uses, such as potentially preventing the public from viewing or hearing important public safety warnings.” The FCC’s proposed fine in this instance is the maximum permitted for ongoing violations. Messrs. Pennington and Williamson have 30 days to respond.