Communications Bills Advance in House and Senate
House Passes Seven Communications Bills
On January 23, the U.S. House of Representatives (House) passed the following seven communications bills:
H.R.290, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) that is designed to make the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) more efficient through various reforms of the FCC’s processes and procedures designed to increase transparency and efficiency, among other things.
H.R.423, the Anti-Spoofing Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) that is designed to protect consumers from the practice of caller identification (caller ID) “spoofing” whereby callers falsify or disguise their caller ID information to make it appear as though they are calling from a different entity such as a government agency, bank, police department, or hospital.
H.R.460, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by Rep. David Young (R-IA) that would require certain telecommunications providers to register with the FCC and comply with service quality standards in order to improve call quality from long distance to wireless calls in rural areas.
H.R.555, the Amateur Radio Parity Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) that would require the FCC to adopt rules protecting amateur radio operators from the reach of community association rules, architectural standards, and other private land use restrictions that can interfere with the installation and operation of amateur radio towers and antennas.
H.R.582, Kari’s Law Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) that would require multi-line telephone systems, usually found in schools, offices, hotels, or hospitals, to connect directly t0 911 when dialed even in situations where the phone required the user to dial another number to get an outside line.
H.R.588, the Securing Access to Networks in Disaster Act: a bill sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) that would require mobile service providers to ensure that consumers have access to networks during disasters and would also require the FCC and the Government Accountability Office to examine the resiliency of such networks during emergencies.
H.R.599, the Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act of 2017: a bill sponsored by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), which would consolidate eight separate reports at the FCC into a single report containing a comprehensive overview of the communications marketplace thereby reducing the FCC’s reporting burdens and encouraging the agency to analyze competition in the communications marketplace.
Similar bills were also considered during the 114th Congress, but final action was never taken on them. In response to the passage of the legislation, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement commending the House for passing “a number of important, bipartisan telecom bills.” Chairman Pai added that he “look[s] forward to working with Congress on these and other important issues as Chairman of the FCC.” The bills go to the Senate for consideration.
Senate Commerce Committee Approves Seven Communications Bills
On January 24, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved the following seven communications bills:
S.19, the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless (MOBILE NOW) Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-SD) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) that targets the build-out of next-generation 5G wireless broadband networks by seeking to ensure that more spectrum is made available for commercial use and by reducing various regulatory barriers associated with network build-out.
S.88, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) that would, among other things, require the creation of a federal working group consisting of federal stakeholders for the purpose of providing recommendations and a report to Congress related to various aspects of the Internet of Things, including how to maximize the potential and development of the Internet of Things to benefit all stakeholders.
S.96, the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), John Thune (R-SD) and Jon Tester (D-MT) that, like its counterpart in the House, is designed to ensure the integrity of voice communications by requiring certain telecommunications providers to register with the FCC and comply with service quality standards in order to improve call quality from long distance to wireless calls in rural areas.
S.102, the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters (SANDY) Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Bill Nelson (D-FL) that, like its counterpart in the House, would require mobile service providers to ensure that consumers have access to networks in disasters.
S.123, Kari’s Law Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Brian Schatz (D-HI), John Cornyn (R-TX), John Thune (R-SD), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) that, like its counterpart in the House, would require multi-line telephone systems to connect directly t0 911 when dialed even in situations where the phone required the user to dial another number to get an outside line.
S.134, the Spoofing Prevention Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Roy Blunt (R-MO) that, like its counterpart in the House, is designed to protect consumers from the practice of caller ID “spoofing.”
S.174, the FCC Consolidated Reporting Act: a bill sponsored by Sens. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) that, like its counterpart in the House, would reduce the FCC’s reporting burdens.
Similar bills were also considered during the 114th Congress, but final action was never taken on them. The bills now go to the full Senate for consideration.
House Commerce Committee Members Ask FCC Chairman Pai to Close the Docket on the Set-Top Box Proceeding
On January 25, House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), House Commerce Committee Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX), and all of the Republican members of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Pai requesting that he “close the docket on the set-top box proceeding, MB Docket No. 16-42, and signal clearly to consumers, content producers, consumer electronics manufacturers, and video programming distributors that the Commission’s consideration of its set-top box proposal is at an end.” The FCC’s set-top box proceeding was launched in early 2016 and, broadly speaking, was designed to allow consumers to choose how they wish to access multichannel video programming and to facilitate innovation in the display, selection, and use of such programming. The FCC was set to vote on a Report and Order at its September 2016 Open Meeting, but the item was later pulled from consideration. In their letter, the representatives suggested that the FCC should close the proceeding for three principal reasons. First, they argued that the FCC should close the docket to facilitate “the healthy practice of closing dockets that are no longer under active debate and consideration.” Second, the representatives argued that the FCC’s proposal “remains an unnecessary regulatory threat to the content creation and distribution industries.” Finally, the representatives urged closing the docket “to give video programming distributors a clear sign that they can bring technological advances to set-top boxes and video delivery without fear that the Commission [will] overturn them by regulation.” The representatives concluded by claiming that the set-top box proposal “has cast a shadow over investment and innovation in traditional video programming delivery.”
This Week’s Hearings:
Thursday, February 2: The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Reauthorization of NTIA.” Witnesses have not yet been announced. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is the coordinator of government spectrum allocations and represents the administration before the FCC and in Congress on communications and information policy. According to a press release, subcommittee members “will take a holistic look at the NTIA with an eye toward updating the NTIA Organization Act for the 21st Century.”
FCC to Consider Order to Streamline Public File Rules at January Open Meeting
The FCC has announced that the following item is on the agenda for its January 31 Open Commission Meeting:
Streamlining the Public File Rules. The FCC will consider a Report and Order to “eliminate the requirement that commercial broadcast stations retain copies of letters and emails from the public in their public inspection file and the requirement that cable operators retain the location of the cable system’s principal headend in their public inspection file.”
The FCC’s January 31 Open Meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30 a.m. at the FCC’s headquarters at 445 12th Street S.W., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.
Comments in FCC’s 5G Security Inquiry Due April 24
On December 16, 2016, the FCC released a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on “the security implications (e.g., as to [the Internet of Things)] that arise through the provision of a wide variety of services to various market sectors and users in the future 5G network environment,” and on “5G security threats, solutions, and best practices.” 5G or “fifth generation” refers to wireless technologies that “represent the next evolutionary step in wireless communications,” and these networks “promise to enable or support a diverse range of new applications, and will provide for a vast array of user requirements, traffic types, and connected devices,” according to the FCC. In the NOI, the FCC seeks comment as to “the current state of security planning for 5G networks,” and as to how the FCC can, “working together with other stakeholders, ensure the rapid deployment of secure 5G networks, services, and technologies.”
Comments on the FCC’s inquiries in the NOI are due April 24, and reply comments are due May 23, according to a notice in the Federal Register published on January 23.
Chairman Pai Announces New Order Concerning the Net Neutrality Small Business Exemption
On Friday, January 27, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that a new order has been circulated that would “waive for five years the enhanced transparency reporting requirements for small businesses with no more than 250,000 subscribers.” According to Chairman Pai’s statement, the proposed order “mirrors the bipartisan compromise reflected in the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act of 2017—legislation introduced by Chairman Greg Walden of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Representative Dave Loebsack (and which has received a unanimous vote in the House of Representatives), as well as Senators Steve Daines and Joe Manchin.”
The proposed order follows the expiration of the small business exemption from the Title II Order’s expanded reporting requirements. Chairman Pai asserts that expiration of the exemption “left thousands of our nation’s smallest and most competitive Internet service providers—mom-and-pop wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), small cable operators, municipal broadband providers, electric cooperatives, rural telephone companies, and others—worried that they would be subject to unnecessary, onerous, and ill-defined reporting obligations.” Breaking from past FCC practice, Chairman Pai notes that both he and FCC Commissioner O’Rielly have already voted to adopt the item, stating that he is hopeful that the full Commission—which at this point includes just Commissioner Clyburn as the final vote—will adopt the item quickly.