In the News

On March 18 and 19, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (Senate Commerce Committee) and the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s (House Commerce Committee’s) Subcommittee on Communications and Technology respectively held hearings concerning oversight of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) policy decisions and the process by which it reaches them.  All five FCC Commissioners testified at the two hearings. During both hearings, committee members reviewed the FCC’s budget for fiscal year 2016 and questioned the commissioners about the recent vote on the Open Internet Order and other pressing policy matters currently before the FCC. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform also held a similar hearing on March 17, which examined the FCC’s process in developing the new net neutrality regulations. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was the sole witness at that hearing.

Draft of FCC Reauthorization Act Released

On March 17, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) released a discussion draft of the FCC Reauthorization Act of 2015. The draft legislation was released in advance of the March 19 oversight hearing by the House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. The bill would authorize $9 billion per year in appropriations, which would be offset by fund contributions for the preservation of universal service support mechanisms. It would also authorize appropriations to the FCC for spectrum auction expenses at current levels through 2022, the last year of the existing auction authority. Finally, the bill would provide for an independent inspector general for the agency.

FCC Collaboration Act of 2015 Introduced in House and Senate

On March 17, Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) introduced companion bills, S,760 and H.R.1396 in the House and Senate titled the  Federal Communications Commission Collaboration Act of 2015. The companion bills propose to amend the Communications Act of 1934 to authorize a bipartisan majority of the FCC commissioners to hold non-public collaborative discussions. The bills propose to allow such a practice provided that a vote or any other agency action is not taken during such a meeting and an attorney from Office of General Counsel is present during the meeting. The legislation would also require the FCC to disclose the occurrence of such a meeting to the public within two business days.

Bill to Restore FCC Authority to Preserve the Open Internet Introduced in House

On March 17, Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA) introduced H.R.1409, a bill that would amend the Communications Act to restore the authority of the FCC to adopt rules related to preservation of the open Internet. The legislation would also direct the FCC to take all action necessary to restore to effect the portions of those rules that were vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Verizon v. FCC. The bill was referred to the House Commerce Committee.

This Week’s Hearings:

Tuesday, March 24:  The House Committee on Appropriations will hold a budget hearing concerning the FCC.  FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai will serve as witnesses.

Tuesday, March 24:  The Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety, and Security will hold a heading titled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems:  Key Considerations Regarding Safety, Innovation, Economic Impact, and Privacy.”

Thursday, March 26:  The House Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing titled “Next Steps for Spectrum Policy.”

Regulatory Activity

FCC Announces Agenda for March Open Meeting

The FCC has released its final agenda for its March 26 Open Meeting. The FCC will consider two items:

STELAR Implementation. The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to implement Section 102 of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act (STELA) Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR). STELAR directs the FCC to adopt rules that permit the modification of a commercial television broadcast station’s local television market for the purposes of satellite carriage rights.

Local Number Portability Administrator (LNPA). The FCC will consider an Order addressing the recommendation of the North American Numbering Council regarding whether Telcordia Technologies, Inc. should be selected to serve as the next LNPA. The LNPA manages local number portability, which enables end users to keep their telephone number when switching from one telecommunications service provider to another.

On March 16, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) requesting comment on whether to adopt a rebuttable presumption that cable operators are subject to “effective competition.” By law (47 U.S.C. § 543(a)(2)), franchising authorities – which are the city, county or other government organizations that grant cable operators the right to provide cable service in that community – are permitted to regulate basic cable rates only if the cable system is not subject to effective competition. If adopted, the proposed rule would reverse the FCC’s current presumption that cable operators are not subject to effective competition absent a cable operator’s demonstration to the contrary (47 C.F.R. § 76.906). The NPRM notes that the FCC grants nearly all requests for a finding of effective competition, which is due in part to the changes to the video marketplace that have occurred since 1993, including the widespread availability of satellite television.

Petitions for Rulemaking May Now Be Submitted Online

On March 19, the FCC released a Public Notice stating that Petitions for Rulemaking may now be filed online. Previously, a paper copy of such petitions had to be filed with the FCC. If a petition applies to an open docket, parties may submit it electronically in that docket. If a petition pertains to a new non-docketed item, parties may use a new online filing module in the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) System to submit the petition. Online filing is optional and paper filings will still be accepted.