Legislative Activity

Sen. Thune Introduces Bill Regarding Spectrum Auction Deposits

On November 19, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (Senate Commerce Committee), introduced S.2319, a bill that reduces some of the administrative burden associated with the handling of auction deposits. Specifically, the bill would require spectrum auction deposits to go directly to the U.S. Treasury (the Treasury), rather than to interest-bearing accounts. Presently, when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires auction participants to pay a deposit in order to participate in an auction, the deposits are placed in interest-bearing accounts at a designated financial institution. When the auction ends, the deposits of the successful bidders are paid to the Treasury within 45 days while unsuccessful bid deposits are returned to the bidder. Under Sen. Thune’s proposal, all deposits would be paid directly to the Treasury at the outset. The deposits of successful bidders would therefore not need to be transferred to the Treasury and the deposits of unsuccessful bidders would be returned to them within 45 days of the end of bidding. The bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce Committee for consideration.

Senate Commerce Committee Approves Rural Health Care Bill

On November 18, the Senate Commerce Committee approved S.1916, the Rural Health Care Connectivity Act of 2015 by voice vote. The bill, introduced in August 2015, would allow skilled nursing facilities to apply for support from the Universal Service Fund’s Rural Health Care Program (RHCP), a universal service support mechanism that provides discounts for telecommunications services for specified eligible health care providers in rural areas. The Communications Act specifies which types of health care providers are eligible to receive support from the program. Skilled nursing facilities are currently not permitted to apply for support from the program. This bill would allow them to do so. The bill, which was approved without amendment, now goes to the full Senate for consideration.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, December 1: The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “The Disrupter Series:       Mobile Payments.” The hearing has been called to examine innovations in mobile payments and various consumer privacy issues inherent in those innovations.
  • Tuesday, December 1: The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing entitled “H.R. 699, The ‘Email Privacy Act.’”
  • Thursday, December 3: The Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee will reconvene a hearing entitled “Broadcasting Ownership in the 21st Century.” This will be the continuation of a hearing initially convened in September.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Releases Tentative Agenda for December 17 Open Meeting

On November 25, the FCC released a tentative agenda for its December 17 Open Meeting. Two items are listed on the tentative agenda:

  • US Telecom Petition for Forbearance: The FCC will consider a Memorandum Opinion and Order “addressing a petition from USTelecom that seeks forbearance from various categories of statutory and Commission requirements applicable to incumbent local exchange carriers.” USTelecom’s Petition is available here.
  • Part 25 Rules for Space Stations and Earth Stations: The FCC will consider a Second Report and Order that “streamlines, eliminates or updates numerous provisions of Part 25 of the Commission’s rules governing licensing and operation of space stations and earth stations for the provision of satellite communication services.”

On November 25, FCC Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC Blog discussing these items. The FCC’s Open Meeting will be held at 10:30 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC’s Headquarters at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Seeks Comment on Petitions for Reconsideration and Clarification of Incentive Auction Procedures Public Notice

The FCC announced in a November 24 Public Notice that it received two Petitions for Reconsideration (PFRs) and one Petition for Clarification (PFC) of the August 11 Procedures Public Notice, which contained the FCC’s final procedures for the upcoming broadcast incentive auction. The PFC and one of the PFRs were filed by the National Association of Broadcasters, and the other PFR was filed by the “Blooston Rural Carriers” – a group of “rural and independent telephone and wireless service provider clients,” according to the PFR.

NAB’s PFR asks the FCC to: (1) reconsider its decision to relocate stations in the duplex gap (the guard band separating uplink and downlink frequencies), which NAB states will “eliminate the use of the duplex gap for wireless microphones in markets where the duplex gap is impaired,” and (2) reconsider its “standard for market variability in light of recent progress the Commission has made in international coordination with Canada and Mexico [because the] current standard allows far too much variability[.]” NAB’s PFC states that portions of the Procedures Public Notice “could be read to suggest that the Commission is planning to relocate in the 600 MHz band only those television stations that do not participate in the reverse auction or do not participate in a particular manner” and asks the FCC to clarify that “all broadcasters will receive equal treatment in repacking, regardless of whether and how they participate in the auction (if their bids are not ultimately accepted.”

Blooston Rural Carriers’ PFR asks the FCC to reconsider its decision to “require[] small businesses and rural service providers participating in the forward auction of 600 MHz licenses to be active on at least 95% of their total eligibility from the very start of the auction, . . . [which will] unnecessarily limit the ability of small and rural carriers and entrepreneurs to pursue alternative bidding strategies as bidding in their markets of interest develops.”

The FCC will publish the Public Notice seeking comment on the PFRs and PFC in the Federal Register; oppositions to the PFRs and PFC will be due within 15 days of that publication, and replies to oppositions will be due within 10 days of when oppositions are due.

FCC Releases Pole Attachment Rates Order on Reconsideration

On November 24, the FCC released an Order on Reconsideration “build[ing] on the Commission’s prior efforts to harmonize pole attachment rates that cable and telecom service providers pay utility pole owners.” Among other changes, the FCC has defined “cost” for purpose of calculating the rates that telecommunications carriers pay for pole attachments as “a percentage of fully allocated costs that will depend on whether the average number of attaching entities in a service area is 2, 3, 4, or 5.” The FCC also “introduce[d] new cost allocators for poles with 2 attaching entities (0.31 percent of costs) and 4 attaching entities (0.56 percent of cost)” and “act[ed] to support incentives to deployment of broadband facilities, particularly in rural areas, and to harmonize regulatory treatment between states where the Commission regulates the rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments and states where such matters are regulated by the state,” per the Order on Reconsideration.

FCC Announces Agenda for FCC-CU Boulder Cybersecurity Summit

The FCC has announced the agenda for the December 7 cybersecurity summit that the FCC will co-host with the University of Colorado Boulder Interdisciplinary Telecom Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. The summit will “explore cybersecurity issues facing the telecommunications sector and the public safety community,” according to the agenda. The summit will consist primarily of a series of panels covering the following topics: (1) “Building a Security Informed C-Suite”, (2) “Cybersecurity Risks Analysis, Planning and Implementation”, (3) “Vulnerabilities in Telecommunications Infrastructure”, (4) “Public Safety Network Security”, and (5) “Future R&D Goals in InfoSec”. The summit is open to the public but registration is required, according to the agenda. The summit will be held at the Discovery Learning Center Bechtel Collaboratory at the College of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

Enforcement Bureau Chief Clarifies the Enforcement Process and Collection of Fines

Travis LeBlanc, Chief of the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (EB) wrote a blog post concerning the collection of fines issued by EB. Responding to “questions . . . raised about the rate at which enforcement fines are collected,” Mr. LeBlanc provided a high-level overview of the FCC’s process for issuing a penalty against a company. Pertinently, the blog post emphasized that EB has “steadily improved its efficiency,” having collected more than 80 percent of the money owed to the FCC during each of the past three years and nearly $100 million in 2015 alone. Mr. LeBlanc also noted that EB has steadily increased the speed at which it concludes cases, demonstrating the bureau’s commitment to reducing its backlog. Finally, Mr. LeBlanc noted that ongoing coordination both within and outside the Commission is the cause for delay in resolving certain high profile cases.

FCC’s CSRIC to Meet December 3

The FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) will meet December 3 at 1 p.m. to hear progress reports from the CSRIC working groups, according to a Public Notice released November 23. CSRIC is a federal advisory committee set up to “provide[] recommendations to the Commission regarding best practices and actions the Commission can take to help ensure the security, reliability, and interoperability of communications systems and infrastructure.” The CSRIC meeting will be held at the Commission Meeting Room of the FCC’s Headquarters at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.