Legislative Activity

Election Brings Changes to Senate Commerce Committee

With Republicans winning a majority in the Senate for the 114th Congress and the departure of key lawmakers, there will be changes on the Senate Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) will assume the chairmanship of the committee. With Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) retiring, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) is considered the front-runner to become the ranking member of the committee. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) is expected to be the Chairman of the Communications, Technology, and the Internet Subcommittee. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) or Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who have both taken an interest in communications issues, could become the ranking member of the subcommittee.

House Commerce Committee Describes Priorities for 114th Congress

The House Energy and Commerce Committee plans to move forward with Communications Act update legislation during the 114th Congress under Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). In 2013, the committee initiated a formal process to update communications policy to better reflect modern realities by kicking off the #CommActUpdate. It published a series of white papers identifying issues for public discussion, invited public comment, and conducted a series of listening sessions where communications and technology industry stakeholders presented their views on communications policy reform. The committee hopes to issue additional white papers seeking input on various issues related to the planned legislation, including one addressing video issues, toward the end of 2014.

On November 5, Committee Chairman Upton issued a statement concerning the committee’s priorities in the 114th Congress and referred to the committee’s work “to bring the nation’s communications laws into the 21st century.” He emphasized that updating the communications laws is integral to boosting job creation and economic growth. Chairman Upton also promised to continue to advance key issues for consumers, employees, and job creators on everything from data protection to manufacturing in the upcoming Congress.

Regulatory Activity

Commission November Meeting Tentative Agenda Announced

According to a tentative agenda released for the Friday, November 21 Open Meeting, the FCC is planning to consider the following three items at its monthly meeting:

  • Modernizing Contest Rules:  The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to provide broadcasters greater flexibility in their disclosure of contest terms.
  • Emerging Wireline Networks and Services:  The Commission will also consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Declaratory Ruling, and Order to facilitate the transition to next generation networks by promoting and preserving the Commission’s public safety, consumer protection, and competition goals.  In a blog released the same day as the tentative agenda, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler noted that this item will “update the Commission’s rules that govern the retirement of legacy networks, and the discontinuance of traditional services.”  Specifically, the item as circulated by the Chairman proposes to protect:
    • Public safety by taking steps “to ensure that consumers using . . . next generation networks and services—whether cable coax or telecommunications fiber—can reach 911 and other emergency services even when the power goes out.”
    • Consumers by implementing transparency measures “to ensure consumers know what is happening to their voice service when carriers propose to take it away—and what consumers can do about it.”
    • Competition by including proposals that will ensure that a “change of a network facility or discontinuance of a legacy service [does] not deprive consumers or businesses of competitive choices.
  • 911 Governance and Accountability:  Finally, the Commission will consider a Policy Statement and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding its approach to 911 governance, and proposing mechanisms to ensure continued accountability for reliable 911 services as technologies evolve.  Touting the “tremendous benefits” that can be realized by the “transition of public safety to IP-based networks,” Chairman Wheeler noted in the October 31 blog that the “introduction of new technologies has also introduced new vulnerabilities that cannot be ignored.”  The Chairman explained further that the item as circulated “proposes a 911 governance structure designed to ensure the technology transitions are managed in a way that maximizes the availability, reliability, and resiliency of 911 networks, as well as the accountability of all participants in the 911-call completion process.”

The open meeting is scheduled to begin at 10:30 am in room TW-C305 at the FCC.

Pleading Cycle Established for Responses to Incentive Auction Petitions for Reconsideration

In a recent public notice the Commission announced the deadlines for oppositions (November 12) and replies (November 24) to various petitions for reconsideration of the incentive auction report and order (GN Docket No. 12-268).  The petitions for reconsideration are listed in another public notice released by the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau on October 2, 2014.  A mistake was made in the October 27 Federal Register notice which provided the wrong deadline for replies, but then subsequently corrected in the Federal Register on November 4.