Legislative Activity

House Sees New Legislation on Inmate Calling and Video Rates

On September 29, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) introduced H.R.3638, the Family Telephone Connection Protection Act of 2015. The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prescribe rules regulating the rates charged for inmate telephone and video services to ensure such rates are just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory. Among other requirements, the bill directs the FCC to adopt regulations that: prescribe a maximum per-minute compensation rate, prescribe a maximum uniform service connection or other per-call compensation rate, and require providers of inmate telephone and video service to offer both collect calling and debit account services. The bill requires the FCC to adopt such regulations within one year of the enactment of the bill. In a related development, discussed below, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn circulated an Order aimed at ensuring that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are fair for all types of calls. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Wednesday, October 7: The Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Commerce Committee will hold a hearing entitled “Improving Federal Spectrum Systems.” The hearing will focus on the federal government’s spectrum allocation.
  • Wednesday, October 7: The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a hearing entitled “Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband Deployment.” Witnesses have not yet been announced.

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda for October Meeting

On October 1, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Tentative Agenda for its next Open Commission Meeting, scheduled for October 22. The following items are listed on the Tentative Agenda:

  • Rates for Inmate Calling Services (ICS): The FCC will consider a Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would, according to the Tentative Agenda, “adopt a comprehensive reform of intrastate, interstate, and international ICS calls to ensure just, reasonable and fair ICS rates.” The item will also seek comment on additional measures to provide ICS rates that are consistent with “the statute and public interest.” On September 30, the FCC released a Fact Sheet summarizing the item and on October 1 Commissioner Clyburn posted to the FCC blog discussing the item.
  • Review of Foreign Ownership Policy: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would “streamline the foreign ownership review process for broadcast licensees and applicants, and standardize the review process for broadcast, common carrier, and aeronautical licensees and applicants,” per the Tentative Agenda. On October 1, Chairman Wheeler posted to the FCC blog discussing this item and the “Spectrum Frontiers” item below.
  • Spectrum Frontiers: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to create “new flexible service rules in certain bands above 24 GHz to support multiple uses, including mobile wireless.”

The FCC’s Open Meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room (TW-C305) at FCC Headquarters on 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

FCC Releases Fact Sheet on ICS Rate Reform Item

On September 30, the FCC released a Fact Sheet discussing the Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which is intended to “ensure that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are just, reasonable and fair” for local, long distance, and international ICS calls. The FCC will vote on whether to adopt the item at its October 22 Open Meeting.

According to the Fact Sheet, the item will contain the following “Key Reforms”:

  • Caps on all inmate calling rates, which will cap the average rates for the “vast majority” of intrastate and interstate calls at $1.65;
  • Caps or bans on “burdensome and needless ancillary services charges,” including automated and live agent payment fees and paper bill fees;
  • Measures to “discourage” payments from inmate calling service providers to correctional institutions or government agencies (“site commission” payments);
  • Bans on flat-rate calling (e., a flat rate for a call up to 15 minutes regardless of actual call duration);
  • Measures to “ensure[] access for people with disabilities,” including by requiring providers to offer discounted rates to telephone relay service (TRS) calls for inmates with communications disabilities;
  • Requirements for rate caps, site commissions, and ancillary service charge reforms will go into effect 90 days from the effective date of the Order; and
  • A commitment to reevaluate reforms and rates in two years and a requirement for annual reporting by ICS providers.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking contained in the item seeks further comment on: (1) “promoting competition in inmate calling services without the need for additional regulation,” (2) “video visitation and other advanced inmate communications services,” and (3) “Recurring Mandatory Data Collection.”

FCC to Hold Summit on Telecommunications Needs of Persons with Cognitive Disabilities

On October 28, the FCC will host a summit to discuss the “telecommunication needs of people with cognitive disabilities and effective means of meeting those needs,” per a Public Notice released by the agency October 1. The summit will include panels covering topics such as “Communication Technologies for Independent Living” and “Emergency Preparedness/Living in the Community,” as well as an Expo of vendors and distributors of assistive technologies aimed at “familiarizing participants with available communication technologies to assist individuals with cognitive disabilities.” The summit will be held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on October 28 in the Commission Meeting Room (TW-C305) at FCC Headquarters on 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C., and will be streamed live at fcc.gov/live.

Comments on “Totality of the Circumstances” Test for Good Faith Retrans Consent Negotiations Due December 1

On September 2, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requesting comments pertaining to its review of the “totality of the circumstances” test for evaluating whether broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) – which includes entities such as cable operators and broadcast satellite services – are negotiating for retransmission consent in good faith. Pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 325(b)(1)(A), MVPDs are prohibited from retransmitting a broadcast station’s signal without the station’s express consent, which is known as “retransmission consent.” MVPDs and broadcasters are required by statute and by the FCC’s rules to negotiate for retransmission consent in good faith. The FCC has established a “two-part framework” for evaluating good faith, according to the NPRM. First, the FCC has established a “list of objective good faith negotiation standards, the violation of which is considered a per se breach of the good faith negotiation obligation.” Second, even if the per se standards are met, the FCC may find that, “based on the totality of the circumstances, a party has failed to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith.”

The FCC is seeking comment on “any potential updates” the agency should make to the totality of the circumstances test “to ensure that the conduct of broadcasters and MVPDs during negotiations for retransmission consent and after such negotiations have broken down meet the good faith standard[.]” Per the publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register, comments are due December 1, and reply comments are due December 31.

Oppositions to Petitions for Reconsideration of Citizens Broadband Radio Service Rules Due October 19.

As discussed in our blog post here, eight Petitions for Reconsideration have been filed asking the FCC to review rules it previously adopted authorizing spectrum sharing among commercial and federal operators in the 3550 to 3700 MHz bands, referred to as the “Citizens Broadband Radio Service.” The FCC adopted those rules in an April 21 Report and Order. Per a publication in the Federal Register, oppositions to those Petitions are due October 19, and replies to oppositions are due October 29.

Comments Due November 13 on Proposal to Allow Railroad Police Officers to Access and Use Public Safety Interoperability Frequencies

On September 1, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on proposed amendments to the FCC’s rules that would “permit railroad police officers to use public safety interoperability and mutual aid channels to communicate with public safety entities already authorized to use those band segments.” According to the NPRM, allowing railroad police officers to use these channels would “promote interoperability and facilitate improved emergency response in railroad-related emergencies and eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers to use of these channels.” The NPRM was issued in response to a Petition for Rulemaking filed by the National Public Safety Telecommunications Council asking the FCC to license railroad police officers to operate on those channels.

Per the publication of the NPRM in the Federal Register on September 29, comments on the proposals contained in the NPRM are due November 13, and reply comments are due November 30.