A Communications Act Update? In 2016?

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Robbie's Round-Up for the Week of September 26-30, 2016

In the flurry of news surrounding the first Presidential debate for the 2016 election (the most watched ever), it may have been hard to keep an eye on the legislative action happening on The Hill. The House passed the Communications Act Update of 2016 (S. 253), which contains a host of legislation affecting the Federal Communications Commission. The bill now heads back to the Senate for final consideration.

Eight Commerce Committee Bills
1) The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act (H.R. 2583), sponsored by House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). Previously passed the House November 16, 2015, by voice vote. The bill aims to increase transparency, efficiency, and accountability at the FCC. The bill would require the FCC to adopt rules establishing:

  • minimum comment and reply periods for rulemakings
  • policies to ensure that the public has notice and an opportunity to respond to comments, ex parte communications, or materials submitted toward the end of, or after, the comment period
  • deadlines for public notice, and guidelines for disposition, of certain petitions
  • procedures to include the specific language of proposed rules or amendments in proposed rulemaking notices.

2) The Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act (H.R. 734), sponsored by House Majority Whip and committee member Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA). Previously passed the House February 24, 2015, by a vote of 411 to 0. The legislation aims to reduce the reporting workload and increase efficiency at the FCC. The legislation would consolidate a number of existing reports required by law into a single, comprehensive report on the state of the communications marketplace. The FCC would be required to publish a report every two years on the communications marketplace assessing: 1) competition in the communications marketplace; 2) deployment of communications capabilities, including whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion; and 3) whether laws, regulations, or regulatory practices pose a barrier to competitive entry or expansion of existing providers of communications services.

3) The Small Business Broadband Deployment Act (H.R. 4596), sponsored by Chairman Walden. Previously passed the House March 16, 2016, by a vote of 411 to 0. The bill would support small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by protecting them from the onerous reporting requirements included in the FCC’s Open Internet Order (commonly referred to as network neutrality rules). The bill would extend the small business ISP exemption for providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers for five years.

4) Kari’s Law Act of 2015 (H.R. 4167), sponsored by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). Previously passed the House May 23, 2016, by voice vote. The would require that any multi-line telephone system connects directly to 911 when dialed, even in instances where the phone requires the user to dial “9” to get an outside line.

5) Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act (H.R. 3998), sponsored by Commerce Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ). Previously passed the House May 23, 2016, by a vote of 389 to 2. The bill would create requirements for mobile service providers during emergencies to ensure that consumers have access to networks during disasters, and requires the FCC and GAO to examine the resiliency of networks during these events. In addition, it amends the Stafford Act to ensure all categories of communications service providers may access disaster sites to restore service.

6) Anti-Spoofing Act of 2016 (H.R. 2669), introduced by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) and co-authored by committee members Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX). Previously passed by the Commerce Committee September 21, 2016, by voice vote. The bill aims to strengthen the Truth In Caller ID Act and protect consumers from fraudulent actors and deceptive text messages by going after lawbreakers who seek to harass and defraud consumers. Passed unanimously by voice vote.

7) Amateur Radio Parity Act (H.R. 1301), sponsored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). Previously passed the House September 12, 2016, by voice vote. The bill would instruct the FCC to adopt rules that protect the rights of amateur radio operators to use radio equipment in deed-restricted communities.

8) Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability (H.R. 2566), sponsored by Rep. David Young (R-IA). Previously passed by the Commerce Committee September 21, 2016, by voice vote. The bill would require intermediate providers to register with the Federal Communications Commission and comply with the service quality standards set by the agency in order to improve call quality from long distance or wireless calls in rural areas throughout the country. Passed unanimously by voice vote.

Of note, this bill was approved by the House and passed to the Senate for final consideration, but the Senate is not scheduled to convene again until November 14.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) said, “These eight bills are further testament that the Energy and Commerce Committee is a legislative workhorse. Another hallmark of the committee is that we try to take advantage of every opportunity to advance our legislative priorities. Greater government transparency, improving rural phone call quality, protecting consumers – these are all wildly popular and have achieved near unanimous support in the House. Hopefully, this effort helps clear the logjam and we will start to see real progress. Folks in Southwest Michigan and across the country are counting on us to get these bills across the finish line to modernize our communications laws for the 21st century.”

House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) said, “This bill encompasses nearly two years of legislative activity. This legislation is further evidence of our dedication to advancing thoughtful solutions that empower consumers and small businesses, make the FCC more transparent, and enhance our public safety communications networks. The Communication Act Update of 2016 lays an important foundation as we work to update our laws for the innovation era.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai’s said, “I applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for unanimously passing S. 253, the Communications Act Update of 2016, yesterday evening. I commend Chairman Fred Upton and Ranking Member Frank Pallone of the Energy and Commerce Committee as well as Chairman Greg Walden and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee for advancing this bipartisan legislation that would improve rural communications, crack down on robocalls, and protect public safety, including by promoting direct dial 911. This is straightforward, good-government legislation, and I hope that the U.S. Senate will act quickly to send this bill to the President for his signature.”

In covering passage of the bill, Fierce’s Sean Buckley noted that this legislation could mark “a major step in completing new telecom legislation.” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) pointed out that the “endless litigation” surrounding new laws could serve as a catalyst for revisions.

Overall, it seems that S. 253 represents tweaks to the Communications Act of 1996, rather than a major update of our communications laws. A conversation about a rewrite may be looming after the November elections.

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Election 2016

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Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
coffee iconDigitally Unconnected in the U.S.: Who’s Not Online and Why? (NTIA)
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coffee iconPrivate Solutions to Broadband Adoption: An Economic Analysis (Phoenix Center)
coffee iconCord-Cutting Could Cost Pay TV Industry $1 Billion in a Year, Study Says (Wall Street Journal)
coffee iconFCC Wireless Competition Report (FCC)

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