House Subcommittee Reviews Four Telecom Bills

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The House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee, chaired by Rep Greg Walden (R-OR), reviewed four proposals it said would protect consumers and small businesses.

  1. The Amateur Radio Parity Act (H.R. 1301), authored by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) instructs the Federal Communications Commission to adopt rules to protect the rights of amateur radio operators to use amateur radio equipment.
  2. The Anti-Spoofing Act H.R. 2669 -- authored by Reps. Grace Meng (D-NY), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), and full committee Chairman Emeritus Joe Barton (R-TX) -- extends the provisions of the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009 to protect consumers from misleading or inaccurate caller identification information being used in text messaging.
  3. The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act H.R. 2666, also authored by Rep. Kinzinger, would prevent the FCC from regulating the rates charged for broadband Internet.
  4. The Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, authored by subcommittee Chairman Walden, would make permanent the FCC's temporary exemption from the enhanced disclosure rules for small businesses required by the commission’s Open Internet Order.

Nearly a year after the Federal Communications Commission approved comprehensive regulations on network neutrality after a more than decade-long battle, the regulator is still working out the kinks of its plan. The regulator is trying to navigate an increasingly fraught environment, as various companies and advocacy groups debate the impact of the new rules. Along with a court challenge from Internet providers questioning the regulator’s authority to oversee how Internet service is provided to consumers, the FCC is also facing questions about why it has not extended an exemption to transparency guidelines for small Internet providers. The FCC has also found itself in the middle of a conflict between T-Mobile and a watchdog group over allegations that the carrier was throttling video from a new streaming service, a charge that would appear to violate net neutrality.

Broadcasting&Cable’s John Eggerton covered the hearing, reporting that Members on both sides of aisle in the subcommittee appeared to be in agreement that the FCC should not regulate broadband rates. Republicans argued that given that both President Barack Obama and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said new Title II based Open Internet rules should not regulate access rates, codifying that should be a bipartisan no-brainer of sorts. Democrats agreed with no traditional rate regulation for broadband, but argued the bill's language was too broad and could sweep away consumer protections from monopoly rates, anticompetitive interconnection charges, and even rural broadband subsidies under the Universal Service Fund. Both sides had backers on the witness stand. Strongly supporting the rate regulation-blocking bill was Wiley Rein partner and former FCC Commissioner Rob McDowell, who argued the bill should even be strengthened to explicitly block potential rate regulation—by enforcement action—of interconnection agreements. Harold Feld of Public Knowledge countered that the current language is too broad.

There also seemed to be some agreement that the FCC should make some accommodation in its Open Internet rules for small ISPs -- but just how ‘small ISPs’ are defined and how that should be achieved divided the committee along political lines. Elizabeth Bowles, on behalf of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said the FCC should have made the exemption permanent, that compliance costs were a hardship, and that many smaller operators could not afford the lawyers it took to figure out what the new requirements were much less having to defend the company’s action from lawsuits if they guessed wrong or frivolous lawsuits. Feld said it would be premature for Congress to make the exemption permanent before the FCC had a better handle on what the actual compliance costs would be, and that where exemptions were made permanent, bad actors would follow to take advantage of not having to provide enhanced disclosure of their practices.

House Subcommittee Reviews Four Telecom Bills Broadband Bills Get Bipartisan Disagreement (B&C – Broadband Bills) McDowell: Broadband Rate Bill Needs Tightening (B&C – McDowell) Pallone Backs Preventing FCC From Regulating ISP Rates (B&C – Pallone) Eshoo: FCC Should Not Regulate ISP Rates (B&C – Eshoo) ISPs will be able to charge anything they want if Republican bill passes (ars technica) A year later, FCC is still working out kinks in network neutrality policy (Christian Science Monitor) House Panel Calmly Discusses Tweaks to Net Neutrality (Morning Consult)