Legislative Activity

Democratic Senators Express Concern over Charter-Time Warner Merger

On February 25, five senators, including Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler expressing “significant concern” regarding the high-profile merger between Charter Communications, Time Warner Cable, and Bright House Networks, which is currently pending before the FCC. Their letter indicated that if Charter Communications’ planned acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks is approved, there would be negative effects on consumer choice, competition, and innovation in the broadband and online video markets. They stressed that allowing the merger would create a “broadband duopoly” that would leave the merged entity (New Charter) and Comcast in control of nearly two-thirds of the nation’s broadband-connected homes. They argued that rather than increased consolidation among existing broadband providers, the broadband markets need greater competition, stressing that broadband service is an economic and social necessity that should be competitively and affordably priced. The senators also argued that New Charter could use its power to block new online video distribution (“OVD”) providers from entering the market, causing further harm to consumers and to the online streaming service market.

The group requested that the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the FCC carefully evaluate how the merger could impact the telecommunications market. They stressed that New Charter must not only prove that the deal will not harm consumers, but must also show that it would actually benefit consumers and promote the public interest.

House Commerce Committee Advances Communications Bill to Protect Small Businesses

On February 25, the House Energy & Commerce Committee (House Commerce Committee) approved H.R.4596, the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act by voice vote. The bill, previously discussed here, exempts small businesses from the application of the enhanced transparency requirements of the FCC’s Open Internet Rules. The transparency requirements require broadband Internet service providers (“ISPs”) to publicly disclose accurate information concerning their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their Internet service. Recognizing that small ISPs would find the enhanced transparency requirements burdensome, the FCC established a temporary exemption for such providers through December 15, 2015. On December 15, 2015, the FCC extended the exemption until December 15, 2016. The bill passed by the House Commerce Committee aims to make the exemption permanent. Prior to advancing the bill, the Committee approved a bipartisan amendment that narrowed the bill’s definition of a small business from one with fewer than 500,000 subscribers to one with fewer than 250,000 subscribers, added a five-year sunset clause, and added a requirement that the FCC report back in 180 days on whether it recommends making the exemption permanent.   The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

Anti-Spoofing Act Introduced in Senate

On February 22, Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced S.2558, the Spoofing Prevention Act of 2016. The bill takes aim at the practice of caller identification (caller ID) spoofing in which a caller deliberately falsifies the information transmitted to a caller ID display to disguise their identity. The practice has often been used to trick individuals into giving away valuable personal information so that it may be used for fraudulent activity or sold. Current law and FCC rules prohibit most types of spoofing. The Senate bill would strengthen the existing prohibitions. Specifically, the bill would change current law to prohibit caller ID spoofing on voice calls, including calls made by individuals outside the United States to callers in the United States and all calls made using Internet protocol (IP) enabled voice services. The legislation would also prohibit caller ID spoofing on text messages and directs the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a study of the actions that the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have undertaken to combat the practice. The bill further requires the FCC to publish a report identifying existing technology that consumers may use to protect themselves against the practice on its website. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Science, Commerce, and Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) for consideration.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, March 1: The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing titled “The Encryption Tightrope: Balancing Americans Security and Privacy.” Witnesses will include James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Bruce Sewell, general counsel at Apple, Inc.; Susan Landau, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute; and Cyrus Vance Jr., New York County District Attorney.
  • Wednesday, March 2: The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission.” All five FCC commissioners will testify as witnesses.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Chairman Wheeler Heralds Formation of “NG911 Now Coalition”

On February 23, a “coalition of 911 public safety and industry leaders, in cooperation with the National 911 Program and the Next Generation 911 Institute . . . announced a nationwide effort to accelerate the implementation of Next Generation 911 (NG911) services by the end of 2020,” according to a Press Release from the coalition. The coalition is called the “NG911 Now Coalition.” NG911 refers to a 911 system that will use “Internet Protocol (IP)-based technology to deliver and process 911 traffic,” according to a 2013 FCC Report. Members of the NG911 Now Coalition include the National Association of State 911 Administrators (NASNA), the Industry Council for Emergency Responder Technologies (iCERT), and the National Emergency Number Association (NENA).

The FCC issued a Public Notice on February 23 in which Chairman Tom Wheeler heralded the formation of the NG911 Now Coalition. Chairman Wheeler wrote in his statement that the “transition to Next Generation 911 is stalled and we need an all-out effort to accelerate it,” and that the NG911 Now Coalition will work to “hasten the NG911 transition.” Chairman Wheeler’s statement noted that modernizing the nation’s 911 system “will take work from many stakeholders – including the FCC, state and local 911 authorities and legislatures, industry, and Congress[.]”

FCC Seeks Comment on Petition Asking for Modifications to Amateur Radio Service Rules

On February 22, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on a Petition for Rulemaking (PFR) filed January 8 by the American Radio Relay League, Incorporated (ARRL), which asks the FCC to “modify various sections” of the FCC’s Amateur Radio Service rules to “appropriately facilitate Amateur Radio communications using High Frequency (HF) data transmission modes and protocols[.]” ARRL states in its PFR that the proposed rule changes are “components of a comprehensive band plan revision” that has been “transparently and repeatedly vetted within the Amateur radio community . . . [and] reflect the aggregate input of well over fifteen hundred radio Amateurs[.]” ARRL states that the proposals in its PFR will achieve a “fair, equitable, and efficient ‘band plan’ looking forward for the foreseeable future.”

FCC Announces Workshop on Making an Initial Commitment in the Broadcast Incentive Auction

On Friday, March 11, the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force and Media and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus, will host a workshop discussing the procedures for making an initial commitment in the reverse auction phase of the Broadcast Incentive Auction, according to a February 26 Public Notice. An “initial commitment” is an “initial bid [and] irrevocable offer by the [broadcast licensee] to relinquish [] spectrum usage rights in exchange for the opening price offer for that bid option if that station is selected to be a winning station,” pursuant to the Incentive Auction Application Procedures Public Notice. The workshop will include “a demonstration of the initial commitment bidding system” and “a preview of the reverse auction bidding system for the clock phase” of the reverse auction.

The workshop will be held on Friday, March 11 from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm EST in the Commission Meeting Room at FCC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The workshop is open to the public and will be available for remote viewing (details about remote viewing are pending).