Capital Thinking: Technology and Communications

Legislative Activity

 

House Commerce Committee Members Introduce Video Policy Bills

Last Thursday, December 12, two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee introduced video reform legislation that would eliminate or reform a number of provisions in current law governing video policy. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) introduced the Next Generation Television Marketplace Act (H.R. 3720), which seeks to eliminate the retransmission consent and must-carry provisions of the Communications Act, a number of media ownership restrictions imposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and compulsory licensing provisions of the Copyright Act. Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) signed on as an original cosponsor. Additionally, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the ranking member for the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, introduced the Video CHOICE (Consumers Have Options in Choosing Entertainment) Act (H.R. 3719), which would – among other provisions – grant new authority for the FCC to intervene in retransmission contract negotiations to reduce the threat of television blackouts when an impasse arises. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) signed on as an original cosponsor to Rep. Eshoo’s legislation.

Legislation Introduced To Ban Cellphone Calls On Commercial Domestic Flights

Last Thursday, December 12, Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the Commercial Flight Courtesy Act (S. 1811), which seeks to prohibit passengers on U.S. commercial airlines from making voice phone calls during domestic flights. The legislation would, however, permit passengers to utilize wireless phones and other devices to send text messages, emails, and access the Internet. The senators introduced S. 1811 several hours before the FCC voted 3-2 to release a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to allow airlines to permit the in-flight use of mobile wireless devices. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA) also has introduced a similar bill in the House.

FCC Oversight Hearing

Last Thursday, December 12, the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held an FCC oversight hearing during which all five FCC commissioners testified. The hearing touched on a wide range of issues currently before the FCC, including E-rate reform, the broadcast spectrum incentive auction, FCC process reform, the IP transition, net neutrality, and the FCC’s proposal to permit use of mobile wireless devices onboard aircraft.

House Committee Approves Bills On Federal Spectrum Auctions And FCC Process

Last Tuesday, December 10, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a markup to consider two bills to reform FCC process and to provide incentives for federal agencies to abandon spectrum for commercial auction. The first bill, the Federal Spectrum Incentive Act (H.R. 3674), was introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY) and Rep. Doris Matsui and seeks to incentivize federal agencies to abandon federally-held spectrum that could be used by private sector stakeholders in exchange for a percentage of revenue generated during the auction of that spectrum. Committee members voted overwhelmingly to favorably report the legislation to the full House. The second bill, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act (H.R. 3675), was authored by Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and seeks to reform a number of rules to bring more transparency and predictability to the FCC’s process. The bill, for example, would require the FCC to set timelines for its proceedings, ensure the public has at least 30 days to submit comments on notices of proposed rulemaking, allow a bipartisan majority of commissioners to place items on the FCC agenda, and permit more than two commissioners to meet in private under the FCC’s sunshine rules. The amended version of H.R. 3675 represents a compromise between Chairman Walden and Ranking Member Eshoo, and with her support, the committee approved the bill by a voice vote.

Senate Commerce Committee Hearing On Broadcast Spectrum Incentive Auction

Last Tuesday, December 10, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the FCC’s planned broadcast spectrum incentive auction. The hearing focused on issues including whether the FCC should ensure that smaller carriers have access to spectrum by restricting the amount of spectrum AT&T and Verizon Wireless are permitted to acquire during the auction. Committee members and witnesses offered varying views on this issue. Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) also continued to emphasize the importance of executing a successful auction in order to fund the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, December 17: The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “Protecting Small Businesses and Promoting Innovation by Limiting Patent Troll Abuse.”
  • Wednesday, December 18: The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a hearing to discuss the data broker industry and how its practices impact consumers. The hearing is a follow-up to an investigation launched by Chairman Rockefeller last year to examine nine major data brokers.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Open Meeting

At its open meeting last Thursday, December 12, the FCC took the following actions:

  1. By a 3-2 vote, the FCC adopted an NPRM proposing to provide airlines with the ability to permit passengers to use mobile wireless services in-flight via onboard airborne access systems. The FCC emphasized that the proposed technical rules would allow, but not require, airlines to permit their passengers to use data, text, and potentially voice services while airborne. Chairman Wheeler applauded the announcement by Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Anthony Foxx that DOT plans to initiate a proceeding to consider whether in-flight voice calls should be banned to protect consumers. Secretary Foxx emphasized in a separate statement that, while the FCC’s focus is on whether the in-flight use of mobile wireless devices is technically feasible, DOT has the responsibility to consider whether permitting in-flight voice calls would be fair to consumers.
  2. The FCC adopted rules to help ensure that 911 calls are delivered during disasters. The rules generally are designed to improve 911 communications networks nationwide by requiring 911 service providers to take reasonable measures to provide reliable and resilient 911 service, as evidenced by an annual certification.
  3. The FCC heard a status update on the work of the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force toward making near-term recommendations related to the FCC’s expectations and role in the IP transition. The Task Force is preparing an order, to be considered by the commission in January 2014, which would invite public comment on a diverse set of experiments designed to gather data about the impact of IP transitions on consumers.
  4. The FCC applauded an announcement by CTIA – The Wireless Association that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless have committed to adopt a set of voluntary industry principles for consumer unlocking of mobile wireless phones and tablets.

This Week’s Meetings And Deadlines:

  • Monday, December 16: The FirstNet Board will hold a public meeting of its four committees on (1) governance and personnel; (2) finance, audit and budget; (3) planning and technology; and (4) outreach.
  • Tuesday, December 17: The FirstNet Board will hold a public meeting.
  • Tuesday, December 17: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s NPRM proposing to eliminate the UHF discount for television broadcasters.
  • Tuesday, December 17: Reply comments are due in response to the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry seeking comments to refresh the record on “cramming,” the illegal placement of unauthorized charges on a consumer’s monthly phone bill.
  • Friday, December 20: Initial comments are due in response to the FCC’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing additional reforms to the rates and practices for interstate inmate calling services.