This Week: House Judiciary Committee to probe competition in digital markets, House and Senate Committees examine the state of the media marketplace, DOT convenes conference on vehicle-to-everything communications, FTC to hold final hearing on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, FCC publishes spectrum horizons proceeding.
Week in Review
With the President in the United Kingdom for a state visit, the House and Senate returned to Washington on Monday after the weeklong Memorial Day recess. The House immediately passed a supplemental disaster aid bill, sending it to the President for his signature. The Senate continued to process executive branch and judicial nominations, including Andrew Saul’s nomination to be Commissioner of Social Security and Heath Tarbert's nomination to be Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC) chairman. Both chambers wrapped their work mid-week as many lawmakers traveled to Normandy to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day alongside the President and other world leaders.
Senators Thune (R-SD) and Schatz (D-HI) reintroduced the STREAMLINE Small Cell Deployment Act this week, which aims to expedite 5G deployment by “setting reasonable standards for public review of infrastructure siting while recognizing the unique challenges for small municipalities,” according to the sponsors. The legislation mirrors a bill they offered last Congress that drew criticism from local governments who consider it federal overreach, but Schatz said this week that local government support will be critical for passage and he will continue to seek compromise.
Elsewhere, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Pallone (D-NJ) confirmed this week that he plans to take steps to evaluate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) after tweeting last week that “Sec 230 is meant to enable platforms to take down harmful content. It should not be a shield for inaction.” Pallone’s comments are consistent with those of Speaker Pelosi (D-CA), who last month warned that the protection could be “in jeopardy.”
In a Federal Register notice posted last Friday, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) moved up from August 26 to July 29 the comment deadline for an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) requesting public comments on what Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations need to be amended, revised, or repealed to facilitate safely introducing Automated Driving Systems (ADS) in commercial vehicles. The July 29 date matches the comment deadline for a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ANPRM requesting public comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Vehicles with Automated Driving Systems published the same day. For more information on these proceedings, click here. The FAA also announced last week that it will extend the comment deadline from June 15 to July 30 for a proposed rule to streamline and increase flexibility in the FAA’s commercial space launch and reentry regulations.
Last Friday, the State Department said it will begin implementing a new policy under which visa applicants will be required to disclose their social media monikers for the purposes of background checks. The enhanced vetting is a response to a March 2017 executive order, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.”
Earlier today, the FCC voted unanimously during its June Open Commission Meeting that wireless service providers can proactively block unwanted robocalls before they reach consumers. Under the Declaratory Ruling, these providers can block unwanted calls based on “reasonable call analytics,” as long as their customers are informed and have the opportunity to opt out of the blocking. The FCC also adopted several related initiatives during the meeting aimed at combating unwanted and illegal robocalls.
The House will start bringing FY20 appropriations bills to the floor next Wednesday with the Senate Appropriations expected to start marking up its bills shortly thereafter. The Senate will continue considering pending executive branch and judicial nominations, including Edward Crawford’s nomination to be Ambassador to Ireland.
Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) and Armed Services Committee Chairman Inhofe (R-OK) are aiming to bring the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the floor the week of June 17. The House Armed Services Committee is in the process of marking up its companion legislation, which will continue next week.
House Judiciary Committee to Probe Competition in Digital Markets
Bipartisan House Judiciary Committee leadership announced on Monday that the Committee will investigate competition in digital markets. The investigation will include a series of hearings in the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law and requests for information to support the inquiry, which will focus on three areas: 1) documenting competition problems in digital markets; 2) examining whether dominant firms are engaging in anti-competitive conduct; and 3) assessing whether existing antitrust laws, competition policies, and current enforcement levels are adequate to address these issues.
“Given the growing tide of concentration and consolidation across our economy, it is vital that we investigate the current state of competition in digital markets and the health of the antitrust laws,” said Chairman Nadler (D-NY). Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman Cicilline (D-RI) added, “After four decades of weak antitrust enforcement and judicial hostility to antitrust cases, it is vital for Congress to step in to determine whether existing laws are adequate to tackle abusive conduct by platform gatekeepers or if we need new legislation.” Full Committee Ranking Member Collins (R-GA) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Sensenbrenner (R-WI) both applauded the investigation, with Sensenbrenner adding, “I believe these hearings can be informative, but it is important for us to avoid any predetermined conclusions.” The first hearing - “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 1: The Free and Diverse Press” - will be next Tuesday afternoon.
The announcement comes in conjunction with recent reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will investigate potential antitrust violations of major technology companies. Specifically, the Justice Department will investigate potential antitrust violations related to Apple and Google, while the Federal Trade Commission will look into the practices of Facebook and Amazon.
House and Senate Committees Examine the State of the Media Marketplace
On Tuesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing entitled “STELAR Review: Protecting Consumers in an Evolving Media Marketplace.” The Committee discussed how reauthorization of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) would impact consumers. Democratic members including Subcommittee Chairman Doyle (D-PA) and Congressman Cárdenas (D-CA) expressed support for STELA, noting the Act assists in preserving local broadcast services for underprivileged communities as well as those who lack access to broadband. Doyle noted that expiration of STELA “would create a crisis that could result in nearly a million consumers losing access to important broadcast content.” However, Rep. Eshoo (D-CA) and Rep. Scalise (R-LA) are seeking to expand the scope of STELA Reauthorization (STELAR) to include provisions that would mitigate channel blackouts, which occur due to lengthy negotiation processes between broadcasters and pay-TV companies. Other members, including Full Committee Ranking Member Walden (R-OR) and Rep. Loebsack (D-IA), expressed concern that STELAR could reduce the availability of local programming.
The following day, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to discuss “The State of the Television and Video Marketplace,” which focused on topics similar to those discussed by the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee. In his opening statement, Chairman Wicker (R-MS) noted that the hearing “is an opportunity to discuss how television programming and the delivery of video content has evolved over the past decade, particularly within the broadcast and cable television industries.” Lawmakers discussed the impact of online streaming services on broadcast media and consumers’ access to quality content. Senators Cruz (R-TX) and Lee (R-UT) advocated for broader reforms to the media marketplace regulations, noting that there are major discrepancies between the regulatory regimes for online and broadcast content. Lawmakers agreed on the need to ensure consumers retain access to local programming.
DOT Convenes Conference on Vehicle-to-Everything Communications
On Monday, the Department of Transportation held a conference entitled Traffic Safety and the 5.9 GHz Band focused on transportation products developed for use in the 5.9 GHz band. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology Diana Furtchgott-Roth delivered opening remarks during which she emphasized the potential of these technologies to enable safer operations, including truck platooning and expanded autonomous vehicle operations. Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Furchtgott-Roth also underscored the importance of ensuring the rules for use of the bands are technology neutral, which will ultimately encourage market forces to demonstrate appropriate approaches to low-latency connectivity that result in safe, interoperable, scalable, and efficient use of spectrum. Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, Heidi King, echoed the importance of promoting life-saving technologies developed for use in the 5.9 GHz band, referencing the ongoing testing that is occurring between the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Agency to determine whether spectrum-sharing opportunities with Wi-Fi devices are technically feasible.
Following opening remarks, panels featuring remarks from representatives of state departments of transportation, automakers, technology companies and the disability community addressed both operational and anticipated safety technologies in the band as well as use cases they intend to explore. While the panel discussions focused primarily on the original technology designated for use in the band, known as Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC), some panelists spoke about applications that utilize cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X), technology based on the standards that underlie 5G and other cellular communications networks.
FTC to Hold Final Hearing on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century
The Federal Trade Commission will hold the 14th and final event in its series of hearings on competition and consumer protection in the 21st century next Wednesday at Creighton University School of Law in Omaha, Nebraska. Creighton professors and FTC officials from the Office of Policy Planning will moderate a series of panels throughout the day during which state attorneys general, their representatives, and other experts will discuss consumer protection and antitrust enforcement and policy. Attorneys General Jeff Landry (LA), Doug Peterson (NE), Jason Ravnsborg (SD), and Herbert H. Slatery III (TN) will participate, along with representatives from the offices of the attorneys general of Arizona, the District of Columbia, Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Washington.
The FTC kicked off its series of hearings in September 2018 to examine whether privacy, innovation, consolidation, data security, and other emerging issues may require the agency to take different approaches to competition and consumer protection enforcement or prompt changes to law.
FCC Publishes Spectrum Horizons Proceeding
Spectrum between 95 GHz and 3 THz - long thought unusable - was officially made available for innovation and experimentation this week as the Federal Communications Commission published its rules in the Spectrum Horizons proceeding in the Federal Register. Given technological advances, these frequencies are increasingly seen as opportunities for the development and deployment of new communications services and applications. In the Order, the Commission deferred adoption of a licensing regime for these frequencies, opting to move forward with rules to permit experimental licensing and unlicensed applications.