Federal Communications Commission

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Announces Staff Appointments

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced two new staff appointments to the Office of the Chairman. Nathan Leamer is now serving as the Chairman’s Policy Advisor, and Carlos Minnix is serving as a Staff Assistant.

Nathan Leamer, Policy Advisor: For the past two years, Leamer served as the Outreach Manager and a Senior Fellow at the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank at which he managed the institute’s government relations and wrote extensively on emerging technology, innovation policy, and public safety. Leamer has also worked at Generation Opportunity, a millennial advocacy organization. Prior to these roles, he served as a legislative aide for Rep Justin Amash (R-MI) as well as a legislative assistant in the Michigan House of Representatives. Leamer received his undergraduate degree from Calvin College.
Carlos Minnix, Staff Assistant: Minnix joins the Chairman’s Office from the Enforcement Bureau’s Spectrum Enforcement Division, where he was a Staff Assistant. Minnix had served in that Division since 2007.

FCC Chairman Pai Tells Congress Closing Digital Divide is Top Priority

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai sent letters to 30 senators on February 21, 2017, in response to their February 2, 2017 letter, which urged continued focus on ensuring access to mobile broadband services in rural America and closing the digital divide as a top priority for the FCC. Chairman Pai said closing the digital divide is his top priority, and that is why he scheduled a vote on the second phase of the Mobility Fund for the FCC’s February meeting. Chairman Pai also sent similar letters to Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) on February 21, 2017, in response to their January 25, 2017 letter, which urged the FCC to move forward with the Mobility Fund Phase II auction.

Taking Stock of FCC Paperwork Burdens

There are many types of costs that an agency can put on regulatees, but lacking solid information on most burdens due to the absence of cost-benefit analyses in prior items, I want to at least highlight one category of costs that the agency is required to track: paperwork burdens.

The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) requires the Federal Communications Commission to seek Office of Management and Budget approval before asking entities to fill out forms, maintain records, or disclose information to others. The intent was to require agencies to carefully consider the need for additional information before collecting it, thereby minimizing burdens. Once approved, the cost estimates are posted online and searchable by agency. Even I was a bit surprised to see the extent of the FCC’s information collection efforts, which seem disproportionately costly. According to OMB, as of the end of February, the FCC has 423 active collections demanding 457,355,706 responses each year requiring a total of 73,200,049 hours to complete at a total cost of $798,204,803. In short hand, that's 73 million hours and $800 million annually just to fill out FCC paperwork, and there is a decent chance that these figures are lowballed. That is well above the cost figures of several other major agencies. While I strongly believe in data driven decision making and the need to ensure accountability, I have to question how much of the existing information collection is truly justified.

FCC Grants Emergency Waiver to Help Protect Jewish Community Centers

The Federal Communications Commission issued an emergency temporary waiver to Jewish Community Centers and telecommunications carriers that serve them to allow these entities and law enforcement agencies to access the caller-ID information of threatening and harassing callers. FCC rules generally require phone companies to respect a calling party’s request to have its caller-ID information blocked from the party receiving the call. A waiver of this rule may help the community centers and law enforcement identify abusive and potentially dangerous callers.

Earlier this week, Sen Charles Schumer (D-NY) requested such a waiver, indicating that there have been 69 such incidents involving 54 JCCs in 27 different states since the beginning of 2017. The Commission has issued such waivers in the past, but rarely. In 2016, the Commission provided a limited waiver to a school in New York State. The action comes in the form of an order from the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau. In addition, the Commission has issued a public notice soliciting comment on whether a permanent waiver would be
appropriate.

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda For March 2017 Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the March Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 23, 2017. Continuing the Chairman’s pilot program, the FCC is publicly releasing the draft text of all six matters that are expected to be considered at the March Open Meeting, along with one-pagers describing each of these items in greater detail.

  1. Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Notice of Inquiry that would enable voice service providers to better protect subscribers from illegal and fraudulent robocalls. (CG Docket No. 17-59)
  2. Promoting Technological Solutions to Combat Contraband Wireless Device Use in Correctional Facilities – The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would adopt rules to facilitate the deployment of technologies used to combat contraband wireless devices in correctional facilities, while seeking comment on additional proposals and solutions. (GN Docket No. 13-111)
  3. Improving the Quality and Efficiency of Video Relay Service – The Commission will consider a Report and Order, Notice of Inquiry, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order that would enhance service quality and propose a new provider compensation plan for video relay services. (CG Docket Nos. 10-51 and 03-123)
  4. Cellular Service Reform – The Commission will consider a Second Report and Order, Report and Order, and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would facilitate mobile broadband deployment, including LTE, promote greater spectrum efficiency, and reduce regulatory burdens and costs. (WT Docket Nos. 12-40, 10-112, 16-138)
  5. Part 43 Reporting Requirements for U.S. Providers of International Services – The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to (1) eliminate the Traffic and Revenue Reports and (2) streamline the Circuit Capacity Reports. (IB Docket Nos. 17-55 and 16-131)
  6. Channel Sharing by Stations Outside the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction Context – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would authorize channel sharing outside the context of the incentive auction and thus permit stations with auction-related channel sharing agreements to continue to operate if their auction-related agreements expire or otherwise terminate. (GN Docket No. 12-268; MB Docket No. 03-185; MB Docket No. 15-137).

FCC Seeks Comment on Request for Reconsideration Concerning Lifeline Broadband Providers

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on a request for reconsideration by Free Press, 18MillionRising.org, AFL-CIO, American Library Association, Appalshop, Inc., Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, Center for Media Justice, Center for Rural Strategies, Color of Change, Common Cause, Common Sense Kids Action, Communications Workers of America, Fight for the Future, FOOTPRINTS INC, Generation Justice, Global Action Project, human-IT, Inclusive Technologies, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Media Mobilizing Project, MetroEast Community Media, Mobile Beacon, Monterey County Office of Education, NAACP, National Consumer Law Center, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, Native Public Media, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Open MIC, Partners Bridging the Digital Divide, Public Knowledge, SPNN, The Benton Foundation, The Greenlining Institute, United Church of Christ, OC Inc., and WinstonNet, Inc. of the Bureau’s reconsideration of the Lifeline Broadband Provider designations.

Comments are due March 16, 2017. Reply Comments are due March 23, 2017.

(WC Docket Nos. 09-197, 11-42)

States Must Stop Raiding 9-1-1 Fees

It is unconscionable that some states divert fees collected for legitimate and needed 9-1-1 communications capabilities to unrelated purposes, threatening the public's safety for short-term budget relief. After almost fifteen years of working on the problem, we are no closer to resolving it. I suggest that the appropriate policymakers must implement new measures to end this practice once and for all. This may require uncomfortable conversations with states or taking forceful actions, but the current mechanism of shame and hope isn't working.

Here are three non-mutually exclusive ideas for the FCC to increase the pressure and force states to end this despicable practice:

  • Interstate Services Prohibition: The FCC maintains sole jurisdiction over interstate communications services and, as such, we retain the right to bar diverting states from imposing 9-1-1 fees on the interstate calls.
  • Prohibit Collection and Remittance by Providers: For diverting states, the collection of funds above what will be spent directly on 9-1-1 services is by definition misleading to consumers. The FCC can prevent any providers from collecting such funds or requiring them to remit the funds to diverting states. As part of this effort, the FCC could also define what are inappropriate uses of 9-1-1 funds and ensure providers are held harmless in the process.
  • Commission Advisory Committees: The ability to serve on Commission Advisory Committees is a privilege, not a right. As such, the FCC can and should exclude any person from a diverting state from participating on an advisory committee, and this can be done without losing valuable advice.

FCC Moves To Ensure Consumers Have Uniform Online Privacy Protection

The Federal Communications Commission issued a temporary stay of a data security regulation that would have subjected Internet service providers (ISPs) to a different standard than that applied to other companies in the Internet ecosystem by the Federal Trade Commission. The regulation would have gone into effect on March 2.

The March 1 decision will maintain a status quo that has been in place for nearly two years with respect to ISPs and nearly a decade with respect to other telecommunications carriers. The stay will remain in place until the FCC is able to act on pending petitions for reconsideration. The stay will provide time for the FCC to work with the FTC to create a comprehensive and consistent framework for protecting Americans’ online privacy. The FTC had proven to be an effective cop on the beat for safeguarding digital privacy. But in 2015, the FCC stripped the FTC of its authority over ISPs’ privacy and data security practices when it adopted the Title II Order. The stay will also ensure that ISPs and other telecommunications carriers do not incur substantial and unnecessary compliance costs while the FCC considers modifications to the rule.

ISPs have been – and will continue to be – obligated to comply with Section 222 of the Communications Act and other applicable federal and state privacy, data security, and breach notification laws. In addition, broadband providers have released a voluntary set of “ISP Privacy Principles” that are consistent with the Federal Trade Commission’s long-standing privacy framework. For other telecommunications carriers, the Commission’s preexisting rules governing data security will remain in place.

FCC Chairman & FTC Chairman on Protecting Americans' Online Privacy

The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are committed to protecting the online privacy of American consumers.

We believe that the best way to do that is through a comprehensive and consistent framework. After all, Americans care about the overall privacy of their information when they use the Internet, and they shouldn’t have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected differently depending on which part of the Internet holds it. That’s why we disagreed with the FCC’s unilateral decision in 2015 to strip the FTC of its authority over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices, removing an effective cop from the beat. The FTC has a long track record of protecting consumers’ privacy and security throughout the Internet ecosystem. It did not serve consumers’ interests to abandon this longstanding, bipartisan, successful approach. We still believe that jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices should be returned to the FTC, the nation’s expert agency with respect to these important subjects. All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, enforced by the same agency. Until that happens, however, we will work together on harmonizing the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for other companies in the digital economy.

Accordingly, the FCC today stayed one of its rules before it could take effect on March 2. This rule is not consistent with the FTC’s privacy framework. The stay will remain in place only until the FCC is able to rule on a petition for reconsideration of its privacy rules. Two years after the FCC stripped broadband consumers of FTC privacy protections, some now express concern that the temporary delay of a rule not yet in effect will leave consumers unprotected. We agree that it is vital to fill the consumer protection gap created by the FCC in 2015, and today’s action is a step toward properly filling that gap. How that gap is filled matters. It does not serve consumers’ interests to create two distinct frameworks—one for Internet service providers and one for all other online companies. The federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another—and certainly not when it comes to a marketplace as dynamic as the Internet.

So going forward, we will work together to establish a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world. Such a uniform approach is in the best interests of consumers and has a long track record of success.

FCC Commissioners React to Stay from Data Security Regulation from Broadband Privacy Order

Commissioner Clyburn: On the very same day a major content distribution network revealed that the private data of millions of users from thousands of websites had been exposed for several months, the FCC announced its intention to indefinitely suspend rules requiring broadband providers to protect users’ private data. The irony here is inescapable. With a stroke of the proverbial pen, the Federal Communications Commission—the same agency that should be the “cop on the beat” when it comes to ensuring appropriate consumer protections—is leaving broadband customers without assurances that their providers will keep their data secure.

It is for this reason, that I must issue this unequivocal dissent.

This Order is but a proxy for gutting the Commission’s duly adopted privacy rules—and it does so with very little finesse. First, the Order alleges deleterious divergence from FTC standards, when in actuality there is little daylight between the approaches taken by the two agencies. Second, the Order alleges significant harm to service providers, but cites absolutely nothing to prove it. In fact, the stay request does not even begin to estimate the costs associated with compliance. The outcome of this Order is not relief of regulatory burdens, as is evidenced by providers seeking a stay using the text of the FCC’s rule as the basis for their voluntary code of conduct. What it actually does is permit providers to shift the costs for corporate negligence onto private citizens.

Finally, I must express my disappointment that the Chairman even entertained this item being adopted on delegated authority. This would have marked the first time in which the Wireline Competition Bureau actually granted a petition for stay. Thankfully, my request to have this considered by the Commission preserved some degree of procedural integrity at the FCC.

Commissioner O’Rielly: I support this decision to stay the broadband data security rules while the Commission and Congress consider an appropriate resolution of the broader Net Neutrality proceeding.

To be clear, I think the law and Commission precedent are quite straightforward: the FCC lacks authority to adopt data security rules for any type of provider. Data security is not mentioned anywhere in the Communications Act, and other statutes and legislative efforts that have addressed the topic do not afford the FCC any role.

I consistently objected to the prior Commission’s unlawful attempts to freelance in this area long before the Net Neutrality Order and Privacy Order were adopted. I also pointed out that the Commission’s attempts to saddle the communications sector with experimental regulations could conflict with well-established FTC precedents that have served as a predictable road map for businesses and consumers alike.

Finally, I appreciate the opportunity to vote on this order at the Commission level. While I welcome greater participation by the full Commission in general, I think that Commission-level action on significant decisions like this one are particularly helpful to provide a clear and final statement of the agency’s position, which promotes transparency and certainty for all interested parties.