Legislative Activity

Seven FCC Transparency Bills Approved by House Commerce Subcommittee

On May 20, the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s (House Commerce Committee’s) Subcommittee on Communications and Technology (Communications Subcommittee) held a markup session on seven bills designed to improve the processes and transparency of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission). The markup was the result of a two-part hearing that the Communications Subcommittee held on April 30 and May 15. The following bills were approved and reported out of the subcommittee and will now go before the full committee for consideration:

  • Transparency: The FCC Process Reform Act of 2015 aims to increase transparency and predictability at the FCC by, among other things, requiring the FCC adopt procedural changes to its rules to maximize opportunities for public participation and efficient decision-making. The bill was approved by voice vote.
  • Delegated Authority: A draft bill would require the FCC to publish a list of items that are placed on delegated authority. The bill was approved by a roll call vote of 16-12.
  • Publication of Drafts: A draft bill would require the FCC to publish a draft of a rulemaking, order, report, or any other Commission action when it is circulated to the commissioners for a vote. The bill was approved by a voice vote.
  • Publication of Rules on the Day of Adoption: A draft bill would require the FCC to publish new rules on the same day that they are adopted. The bill was approved by a roll call vote of 17-13.
  • Reports to Congress and Website Posting: A draft bill would require the FCC to make quarterly reports to Congress and to post data on the FCC’s website regarding the total number of decisions pending, categorized by bureau, the type of request, and how long the requests have been pending. The bill was approved by voice vote.
  • Posting of Internal FCC Procedures:  draft bill would require the FCC chairman to post the FCC’s internal procedures on the FCC’s website and update the website when the chairman makes any changes. The bill was approved by voice vote.
  • Small Business Participation:  draft bill would require the FCC to coordinate with the Small Business Administration (SBA) and issue recommendations to improve small business participation in FCC proceedings. The bill was approved by voice vote.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel Renominated For Second Term

On May 20, President Obama announced the renomination of Jessica Rosenworcel as a Commissioner at the FCC. Ms. Rosenworcel’s current term, which began in 2012, will expire at the end of June. President Obama’s renomination would keep Ms. Rosenworcel at the FCC for another five years. Her renomination must now be confirmed by the Senate.

House Commerce Committee Seeks Information on Connected Cars

On May 28, leaders of the House Commerce Committee wrote letters to seventeen automobile manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in which they requested information concerning how the auto industry will address the cybersecurity issues posed by new technologies that connect vehicles and transportation infrastructure. Noting that advancements in connected vehicle technology create novel cybersecurity issues, the committee members asked manufacturers and the NHTSA to respond to a series of questions on these issues. Recipients of the letters have until June 11 to respond.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, June 2:  The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Lifeline:  Improving Accountability and Effectiveness.”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Releases Agenda for June 18 Open Meeting

On May 28, the FCC announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the agency’s June 18 Open Meeting:

  • Direct Access to Numbers for Interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Providers. The FCC will consider a Report and Order that will “facilitate innovative technologies and services by establishing a process to authorize interconnected VoIP providers to obtain telephone numbers directly from the Numbering Administrators, rather than through intermediaries.”
  • Lifeline Reform and Modernization. The FCC will consider a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Order on Reconsideration, Second Report and Order, and Memorandum Opinion and Order that aim to “comprehensively restructure and modernize the Lifeline program to efficiently and effectively connect low-income Americans to broadband, strengthen program oversight and administration, and take additional measures to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse” in the program. The Lifeline program is supported by the Universal Service Fund. On May 28, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a Fact Sheet and posted to the FCC Blog outlining the proposals.
  • Protecting Consumers Against Unwanted Robocalls. The FCC will consider a Declaratory Ruling and Order “reaffirming the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s protections against unwanted robocalls, encouraging pro-consumer uses of robocall technology, and responding to a number of requests for clarity from businesses and other callers.” On May 27, Chairman Wheeler released a Fact Sheet discussing the proposals (see below for a summary).

The FCC’s Open Meeting is scheduled to commence at 10:30 a.m.at the FCC’s headquarters and will be shown live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Chairman Releases Fact Sheet on Telephone Consumer Protection Act Proposal

On May 27, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that at the Commission’s Open Meeting on June 18, the FCC would vote on proposals to address two dozen petitions seeking clarity on various aspects of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). In connection with the announcement, the Chairman released a “Fact Sheet” broadly outlining his proposal. The Chairman states that his proposal would “close loopholes and strengthen consumer protections already on the books,” and will: (1) provide consumers the right to revoke consent to receive robocalls and robotexts in any reasonable way at any time, (2) authorize carriers to offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers and implement market-based solutions to block robocalling, (3) provide that if a number has been reassigned, callers must stop calling the number after one call, (4) define an autodialer as technology with the “capacity to dial random or sequential numbers,” (5) create limited and specific exceptions for certain types of free calls and texts such as fraud alerts and medication refill reminders, and (6) “confirm consumers’ ultimate right to control the calls they receive.” The Fact Sheet states that existing consumer protections, such as the Do-Not-Call List and the FCC’s “strong” enforcement of the TCPA rules, will remain in place if the Chairman’s proposal is adopted.

FCC Releases Order Requiring Emergency Information on Second Screens

On May 28, the FCC released a Second Report and Order (R&O) and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) taking additional steps to implement the provisions of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility of 2010 (CVAA). The new rules established in the R&O require that emergency information be made “accessible” to persons who are blind or visually impaired via a “secondary audio stream” on tablets, smartphones, laptops, and similar devices (second screens) when subscription television providers permit consumers to access programming using an app on these devices. Additionally, the new rules require that equipment used to receive and play back TV programming have a simple and easy to use mechanism – such as a button or icon – to switch from the main program audio to the secondary audio stream to hear audible emergency information.

The FNPRM seeks comment on additional issues related to accessibility of emergency information to blind or disabled persons, including how to prioritize emergency information, whether information related to school closures should continue to be made available via the secondary audio stream, and possible future requirements on video programming distributors to improve access to the secondary audio stream.