Legislative Activity

House Passes E-LABEL Bill

On Thursday, November 13, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Senate version of the Enhance Labeling, Accessing, and Branding of Electronic Licenses Act (E-LABEL Act) (S. 2583). The E-LABEL Act allows manufacturers of electronics to meet FCC labeling requirements by posting digital notices providing that information on the screen of devices instead of having to physically place labels onto devices, which is particularly advantageous as some devices grow increasingly smaller. The legislation now goes to the President.

House Commerce Committee Announces Hearing on FCC Oversight

On Wednesday November 12, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) announced that the subcommittee will hold a hearing on FCC oversight on Wednesday, December 10. The hearing will focus specifically on the FCC’s consideration of net neutrality rules. All five FCC Commissioners are expected to testify.

Nomination of Commissioner O’Rielly Sent to the Senate

President Obama has sent the nomination of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly for another term to the Senate. Commissioner O’Rielly’s term ended on June 30, 2014, but he can continue to hold the seat until the Senate adjourns in 2015 or confirms a nominee for the seat. If confirmed, Commissioner O’Rielly will serve for another five-year term on the FCC.

This Week’s Hearings:

  • Tuesday, November 18:  The House Homeland Security’s Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing on communications inoperability progress since 9/11.
  • Wednesday, November 19:  The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the proposed Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act. The hearing is a rescheduling of a cancelled September 23 hearing.

Regulatory Activity

President Obama Issues Statement on Net Neutrality in Favor of Title II Reclassification

On Monday, November 10, President Obama said in a statement that the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service subject to common carrier regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, while forbearing from rate regulation. He said the FCC needs to adopt specific bright-line rules to protect the free and open Internet by increasing transparency and preventing blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. The President encouraged the FCC to adopt rules barring the blocking of any legal content, barring throttling based on the type of service or an Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) preferences, increasing transparency by making full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet, and barring paid prioritization. He noted that this net neutrality plan should not create major burdens for ISPs and that the rules “mean everything for preserving the Internet’s openness.” He stated that it was time for the FCC to recognize that broadband must carry the same obligations as other services.

FCC Chairman Wheeler responded to President Obama’s statement the same day. Chairman Wheeler said that the FCC, as an independent regulatory agency, welcomed the President’s comments and would incorporate them into the record of the Open Internet proceeding. He also acknowledged that the reclassification approach or a hybrid approach with Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 raise “substantive legal questions” and stated that much work was left to do on the issue. Finally, he concluded by emphasizing the importance of taking the time to “get the job done correctly” while voicing his continuing support for an open Internet.

FCC Names David Waterman Chief Economist

On Thursday, November 13, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the appointment of David Waterman as the Commission’s Chief Economist. Mr. Waterman is a professor at Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications, specializing in communications industries with particular focus on vertical integration and other aspects of market structure in multichannel television, and on the economics of programming, copyright, and Internet video distribution. At the FCC, he is expected to focus on media-related issues, and his appointment will likely lead to greater consideration of economic policy in FCC decision-making. Mr. Waterman will start at the FCC in January 2015.

Rural Broadband Experiments Draw Nearly 200 Applicants

On November 12, the FCC announced that 181 applicants—representing almost 600 project bids totaling $885 million dollars—had been submitted for rural broadband experiments. The bidders came from a broad array of entities including electric utilities, wireless internet service providers, and competitive providers. The $100 million available for the experiments is divided into three groups: (1) $75 million to test competitive interest in building networks that are capable of delivering 100 Mbps downloads and 25 Mbps uploads—far in excess of the current Connect America Fund standard of 4/1—for the same or lower amounts of support than will be offered to incumbent carriers in Phase II of Connect America; (2) $15 million to test interest in delivering service at 10/1 speeds in high cost areas;  and (3) $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are extremely costly to serve. Over the coming weeks, the Commission will review the bids and identify provisionally winning bidders. Bidders that can meet the required financial, technical, and regulatory requirements could conceivably launch their experiments as early as spring 2015.

Commission Denies Applications for Review and Requests for Stay and Amends Joint Protective Orders in Comcast and AT&T Merger Proceedings

On Monday, November 10, the Commission denied two requests for stay and two applications for review of the Amended Modified Joint Protective Orders in Comcast’s deal to acquire Time Warner Cable and AT&T’s deal to acquire DirecTV. CBS, Discovery Communications, Walt Disney, and other content companies expressed concern that highly sensitive proprietary commercial information would be disclosed to third parties during the course of the government’s review of the merger deals. They noted that such disclosure could thwart their ability to be competitive in the future. In a two-page order, the Commission gave the okay for reviewing parties to access this confidential information pursuant to the Amended Modified Joint Protective Orders but only at the offices of the Submitting Party’s outside counsel of record or other “secure locations,” as defined in the protective orders. The Commission reasoned that review of the confidential information at issue “will aid the Commission in the expeditious resolution of these proceedings.” Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissented from the Commission’s Order, noting both procedural irregularities with the item and a departure from the Commission’s longstanding precedent regarding treatment of confidential information.

In response to the Commission’s order, the media companies filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit asking the court to overturn the Commission’s Order. Without a decision from the D.C. Circuit, the confidential documents would be available for viewing at the FCC on Monday, November 17 under the terms of the order.

Reminder:  November 2014 Open Commission Meeting

The FCC will hold its monthly Open Commission Meeting on November 21 at 10:30 AM in Room TW-C305 at the FCC. Chairman Wheeler had previously circulated a tentative agenda for the meeting, which will address modernizing contest rules, emerging wireline networks and services, and 911 governance, and accountability.

FCC Distinguished Health IT Scholar Weighs in on Connected Care Issues

On Monday, November 10, Michele Ellison—Chair of the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force—introduced Dr. Chris Gibbons of Johns Hopkins University as an FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence, and a key member of the FCC’s Connect2Health Task Force. Dr. Gibbons, Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute and Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins’ Schools of Medicine and Public Health, is also a physician informatician, healthcare disparities, and urban health expert. In his practice, he researches how big-data science and technology-focused approaches can help improve delivery of broadband-enabled health services.

In a blog post published later that day, Dr. Gibbons noted the many resources consumers rely on for health-related issues— including doctors, social services, nutritionists, pharmacies, caregivers and others—explaining that “frustration, burnout, high costs and suboptimal outcomes” result when these providers fail to connect. Dr. Gibbons also noted that the nation must “aggressively pursu[e] the potential that broadband and broadband-enabled health technologies have to offer,” explaining that “[m]any of these broadband benefits are already on the horizon.” In conclusion, the newest member of the Task Force called on continued input from the public and interested stakeholders, promising that the Commission would do its part to “identify policy and regulatory challenges that inhibit innovation, investment and entrepreneurship in digital health.”