Welcome to the latest edition of Arent Fox’s This Week in Telecom, our weekly newsletter designed to keep you apprised of recent developments in telecommunications policy, legislation, and litigation.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Announcements

  • The FCC has released the Tentative Agenda for its next Open Meeting to be held May 9, 2013, at 10:30 am Eastern. It contains two items: a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on allocating spectrum in the 14.0-14.5 GHz band to increase broadband access on airline flights; and a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry on Commercial Space Operations. To read the Tentative Agenda, click here.
  • The FCC will hold a workshop titled “How The Internet Can Benefit Older Americans” on April 24, 2013, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm Eastern. It will be open to the public and streamed live at www.fcc.gov/live. To attend in person, pre-registration is highly recommended – please contact Susan Fisenne Susan.Fisenne@fcc.gov or by phone at 202-418-2502. More information is available here.

The Mobile Market

  • Most of the new rules adopted by the FCC for signal boosters will go into effect on May 13, 2013. The rules were adopted on February 20, 2013 in WT Docket No. 10-4. They create two classes of signal boosters and adopt regulatory requirements for each. Consumer Signal Boosters are designed to be used by individuals to improve their wireless coverage within a limited area such as a home or vehicle. They can be operated with the consent of the wireless network operator provided it is registered with the network operator and is an FCC certified model. Industrial Signal Boosters are designed to serve multiple users simultaneously and cover larger areas. These boosters require an FCC license or express licensee consent to operate, and must be appropriately labeled. Certain information collection requirements adopted by the Commission will not go into effect on May 13, because they require approval by the Office of Management and Budget. The Federal Register notice is available here.
  • The FCC has released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking exposure to radio frequency (RF) emissions. The existing RF standards were adopted in 1996 and this marks the first time that the Commission will revisit them. There has been concern, including from some in the medical community, that current limitations may not adequately protect users of wireless devices, especially children and pregnant women, and that cellular towers may impact the health of nearby residents. Comments are due 90 days after Federal Register publication and replies are due 60 days thereafter. The full document is available here. ET Docket Nos. 13-84 and 03-137.
  • As part of its Learn Everything About Reverse-Auctions Now Program (LEARN), the FCC will host a workshop on May 3, 2013, to discuss technical aspects of the 600 MHz band plan for recovered broadcast spectrum. The workshop will be free and open to the public and will be held in Commission Headquarters. Additional details will be released closer to the event date. To read more, click here.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Privacy Regulation

  • In furtherance of its focus on consumer protection issues related to mobile technology, the FTC has announced its first-ever case against a mobile “cramming” operation headed by Wise Media, LLC, Brian M. Buckley, and Winston J. Deloney. The FTC alleges that the operation “took in millions of dollars from placing charges on consumers’ mobile phone bills, many of which were ‘crammed’ or unauthorized charges.” According to the FTC, Wise Media billed consumers for so-called “premium services” that sent text messages with horoscopes, love advice, and other information. The FTC further alleges that consumers across the country were signed up for these services seemingly at random, and that the operation placed repeating charges of $9.99 per month on mobile phone bills without consumer knowledge or permission. Defendants attempted to conceal the charges and make it difficult to find the defendants’ contact information. More information is available here.
  • The FTC will host a “Cramming Roundtable” on May 8, 2013, to examine unauthorized third-party charges, also known as “cramming,” on mobile phone bills. The roundtable will bring together consumer advocates, industry representatives, and government regulators to explore various issues, including how mobile cramming occurs and how to protect consumers from this practice. The roundtable is free and open to the public and will be held at the FTC’s satellite building conference center, located at 601 New Jersey Avenue, NW, Washington, DC. More information is available here.
  • The FTC has announced that it will host a one-day public forum on June 4, 2013, addressing malware, viruses and similar threats facing users of smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies. According to the press release, the one-day forum “will focus on the security of existing and developing mobile technologies and the roles various members of the mobile ecosystem can play in protecting consumers from these types of security threats.” More information regarding the one-day forum is available here.
  • The FTC has announced a public workshop to be held on November 21, 2013, in Washington, DC to address the consumer privacy and security issues raised by the growing connectivity of consumer devices such as smart phones, cars, appliances, and medical devices, also commonly referred to as “The Internet of Things”. In advance of the workshop, the FTC is inviting comments on these issues and will accept submissions through June 1, 2013. More information regarding the “Internet of Things” workshop and comments is available here.

New Markets: Smart Grid and E-Health

  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued two reports regarding the evolution of the nation’s power grid into a modern, “smart” energy distribution network. The reports are titled “Technology, Measurement, and Standards Challenges for the Smart Grid” and “Strategic R&D Opportunities for the Smart Grid”. They “identify the most important technical issues in the smart grid arena, and prioritize impediments and R&D areas that must be addressed for successful deployment of the smart grid.” The reports state that, with the rapid changes to the grid’s capacity as an information generating system, a host of challenges will arise for the research and development community, not the least of which are grid security and consumer privacy as outlined in the reports. Both reports are available here.

Developments in Intercarrier Compensation

  • On April 5, 2013, the Missouri Public Service Commission (MPSC) issued a procedural schedule in a case filed by several Missouri payphone service providers (PSPs) challenging AT&T’s payphone tariffs. AT&T argues that the PSPs’ complaint should be dismissed because its tariffs are fully compliant with the FCC’s deregulation of payphone services. In addition, AT&T asserts that it has been classified as a “competitively classified company” under Missouri law, such that the MPSC has no jurisdiction over its rates. The MPSC ordered any interested parties to file responses to AT&T’s motion to dismiss by April 30, 2013. Docket No. TC-2005-0067.

Compliance Notes

  • Form 499-Q is due May 1, 2013, for all filers that are not considered de minimis for Universal Service filing purposes. This filing encompasses historical revenues from the first quarter of 2013 and projected revenues for the third quarter of 2013. A copy of the current FCC Form 499-Q can be found here.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) providers and Commercial Mobile Radio Service (CMRS) providers who rely on traffic studies to report interstate revenues on FCC Form 499-Q must submit these studies by May 1, 2013, to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) and the Chief, Industry Analysis and Technology Division of the FCC.

  • Every non-dominant provider of detariffed interstate interexchange service must certify in writing by May 1, 2013, that it is in compliance with Section 254(g) of the Communications Act which requires that rates to subscribers in rural and other high-cost areas are no higher than rates charged to subscribers in urban areas. This filing is required by Section 64.1900 of the Commission’s rules.
  • The Universal Service contribution factor for the second quarter of 2013 is 15.5%. A copy of the Public Notice announcing the rate can be found here. (DA 13-422)

In the Courts

  • On April 12, 2013, the Supreme Court of Iowa overturned a lower court’s decision that treating incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) differently from competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) and wireless service providers for tax purposes violates the Iowa Constitution. In reversing this decision, the Supreme Court of Iowa reasoned that the “differential tax treatment of these enterprises is rationally related to legitimate state interests in encouraging the development of new competitive telecommunications infrastructure, while raising revenue from those providers that historically had a regulated monopoly and continue to enjoy some advantages of that monopoly.” The dispute arose in 2006 when Qwest Corp., now CenturyLink, challenged the Iowa Department of Revenue’s assessment of Qwest’s property at more than $1 billion. Although the assessment was later reduced to $785 million, Qwest filed a petition for review in Iowa district court challenging its constitutionality. Qwest Corp. v. Iowa State Board of Tax Review, CIV No. 11-1543 (Iowa).

Legislative Outlook

  • The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing titled “A Status Update on the Development of Voluntary Do-Not-Track Standards” on April 24, 2013, at 2:30 pm Eastern in 253 Dirksen. More information is available here.
  • The House Communications Subcommittee will hold a hearing titled “The Lifeline Fund: Money Well Spent?” on April 25, 2013, at 10:30 am Eastern in 2123 Rayburn. To learn more, click here.
  • The House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations will hold a hearing titled “The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), Part 2: Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance” on April 25, 2013, at 10:00 am Eastern in 2141 Rayburn. More information is available here.