Legislative Activity

Senators Seek Hearing on Sinclair-Tribune Merger

On June 5, a group of senators including Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Al Franken (D-MN), and Corey Booker (D-NJ) sent a letter to Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary requesting that both committees “hold hearings to examine the proposed acquisition of Tribune Media (Tribune) by Sinclair Broadcasting (Sinclair),” which was announced in early May. The senators also requested that both committees hold hearings on the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) April 2017 Order on Reconsideration (Order) in which it reinstated the “UHF discount,” which allows commercial broadcast television stations to discount the audience reach of its ultra-high frequency television stations (generally those occupying frequencies between 470 MHz and 890 MHz) when calculating compliance with the FCC’s national television ownership rule, which prohibits a single entity from owning television stations that reach more than 39% of the total television households in the country in the aggregate. In the letter, the senators stated that “Sinclair currently owns 173 stations and reaches more than 38% of the nation” while “Tribune has 42 stations . . . and reaches more than 43% of the nation.” The group then argued that the acquisition of Tribune by Sinclair would create “the largest television broadcast company in the United States.” They expressed concerns about allowing such media concentration, including its “impact on the public interest,” worrying that the merger would “harm competition.” Regarding their request for hearings on the FCC’s Order, the group noted that the Order relaxed “the limits on how many stations a TV group could own by revising how the agency calculates the audience reached by broadcasters, thereby paving the way for mergers and acquisitions that would otherwise be barred by regulators.” The group concluded by asking both committees to hold hearings “after the companies have filed the requisite paperwork” with the FCC and the Department of Justice.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • On Tuesday, June 13, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection has scheduled a hearing titled “Disrupter Series: Update on IOT Opportunities and Challenges.” The witnesses will be announced.
  • On Tuesday, June 13, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has scheduled a hearing titled “Promoting Security in Wireless Technology.” The witnesses will be announced.
  • On Wednesday, June 14, the Senate Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing titled “Paving the Way for Self-Driving Vehicles.” The witnesses will be:
    • Mr. Mitch Bainwol, President and CEO, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
    • Mr. Rob Csongor, Vice President and General Manager of Automotive Business, NVIDIA Corporation
    • Mr. John Maddox, President and CEO, American Center for Mobility
    • Ms.Colleen Sheehey-Church, National President, Mothers Against Drunk Driving
  • On Tuesday, June 13, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice has scheduled a business meeting to examine lawsuit abuse and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Imposes $975,000 Against ATI for Failure to Make Federal Contributions

On Thursday, June 8, the FCC released a Forfeiture Order against Advanced Tel, Inc. (ATI) — a “California-based non-dominant interexchange carrier that provides interstate, international, and intrastate long distance telecommunications services as a switchless reseller in 25 states.” In the Forfeiture Order, the Commission claims that ATI failed to file data or pay into certain federal programs, including the Universal Service Fund, the Telecommunications Relay Service Fund, and the Local Number Portability cost recovery mechanism. The penalty amount—$975,000—represents a substantial reduction to the $1,588,988 forfeiture proposed in the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture (NAL). In response to the NAL, ATI did not dispute the underlying facts, but the company did claim an inability to pay, and challenged the FCC’s statute of limitations determination, arguing that an expired tolling agreement between the Enforcement Bureau and ATI reduced the scope of the violations. The FCC declined to reach the merits of those arguments, finding that the reduction based on the company’s inability to pay resulted in a lower penalty for ATI than a reduction based on the statute of limitations argument.

FirstNet Expects to Deliver State Plans on June 19

FirstNet held a state plan “kick-off” meeting in Dallas, Texas on June 7-8 and is targeting June 19 for the delivery of its initial state plans for the Radio Access Networks (RANs) for each state. FirstNet is working to deliver a nationwide broadband network dedicated to public safety users through a public-private partnership. The initial state plans will be delivered to states via an online portal. During the state plan review process, states will have 45 days to review the initial state plans and make comments. FirstNet will have 45 days to review and respond to the comments. After that step, the state plans would be made official. Once the final state plans are delivered, states will have 90 days to make a decision to (1) opt-in and have AT&T build the RAN for their state, or (2) opt-out and seek to build their own network. If a state has no comments on the original version of its state plan, it can notify FirstNet and the 90-day period for deciding whether to opt in or out can begin early. A state can notify FirstNet at any point that it wants AT&T to build its RAN.