Federal Communications Commission

Remarks of Commissioner O'Rielly on Protecting Consumer Privacy and Promoting Innovation in the Internet Era

The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted rules that impose new burdens on supposed “rogue” Internet Service Providers under the guise of protecting consumer privacy. The three-to-two vote fell along party lines, placing me in the non-winning camp once again. While the text of the item is not available at the moment – a flaw in the Commission procedures – I am free to express my thoughts and views on the item and the topic as a whole.

From my perspective, the biggest substantive areas of concern are (1) the ill-conceived definition of sensitive information, which includes web browsing history and application usage and thus requires consumer opt-in mechanisms; (2) the unreasonable limitations on first-party marketing; and (3) the effective establishment of a new Commission regime to review consumer privacy trades.

FCC Adopts CAF Phase II Service Obligations for Alaska Communications Systems

In this Order, the Federal Communications Commission adopts tailored service obligations for Alaska Communications Systems (ACS), a carrier serving a non-contiguous area that elected to receive nearly $20 million annually in Connect America Phase II frozen support amounts in lieu of model-based support. We find these obligations are in the public interest and will advance the Commission’s goal of ensuring universal availability of modern networks capable of providing voice and broadband service.

Specifically, ACS will receive Phase II frozen support for a 10-year term and be required to offer voice service and broadband service at the same speed, latency, usage and pricing metrics as established for Phase II model-based carriers to at least 31,571 locations, primarily in census blocks identified as highcost that are unserved by unsubsidized competitors, with limited exceptions. These service obligations strike the appropriate balance of ensuring Alaska consumers receive broadband service while also allowing ACS the flexibility to provide that service in a way that is logical, maximizes its network and is reasonable considering the unique climate and geographic conditions of its service territory.

FCC Consumer Advisory Committee: Announcement of Renewal of Charter, Appointment of Members, Designation of Chairperson, Agenda

By this Public Notice, the Federal Communications Commission announces the renewal of the charter of its Consumer Advisory Committee and appointment of members, designates a Chairperson, and further announces the date, time, and agenda of the Committee’s first meeting under its renewed charter.

In anticipation of the renewal of the Committee’s charter, by a Public Notice (DA 16-657) released June 14, 2016, the Commission solicited applications for membership on the Committee for its ninth two-year term. The application deadline was July 25, 2016. After a review of the applications received, Chairman Tom Wheeler hereby appoints twenty-nine (29) members to the Committee (including the Benton Foundation). Of these, seventeen (17) represent interests of general consumers, two (2) represent interests of people with disabilities, six (6) represent interest of industry, one (1) represents minority interests, two (2) represent interests of quasi-government/regulators, and one (1) represents interests of seniors. The Committee’s membership is designed to be representative of the Commission’s many constituencies, and the diversity of the selected members will provide a balanced point of view as required by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. In addition, Chairman Wheeler designates Eduard Bartholme representing Call For Action as Chairperson of the Committee. All appointments and reappointments are effective October 21, 2016, and shall terminate October 21, 2018, or when the Committee is terminated, whichever is earlier. The first meeting of the Committee under its renewed charter will take place on Friday, January 27, 2017, from 9:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. at the FCC.

Consumer And Governmental Affairs Bureau Seeks Comment On Petitions Concerning The Commission's Rule On Opt-Out Notices On Fax Advertisements

Two petitions have been filed seeking a waiver of section 64.1200(a)(4)(iv) of the Commission’s rules, which requires that an opt-out notice containing certain information be included in fax ads sent to a consumer who has provided prior express invitation or permission. With this Public Notice, we seek comment on the Petitions as described below. Specifically, Petitioners seek retroactive waiver of the opt-out notice requirement for fax ads they sent where prior express invitation or permission allegedly had been obtained from the recipients. The Petitioners argue that good cause exists because they are similarly situated to parties who were granted retroactive waivers from this requirement by the Commission in the Anda Order. In the Anda Order, the Commission granted retroactive waivers to several individual petitioners because of uncertainty about whether the opt-out notice requirement applied to “solicited” faxes.

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda For November 2016 Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the November Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Thursday, November 17, 2016:

Mobility Fund: The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would adopt rules for the second phase of the Mobility Fund, which would provide ongoing universal service support dedicated to expanding the availability of mobile broadband networks. (WT Docket No. 10-208; WC Docket No. 10-90)

Roaming Obligations of Commercial Mobile Service Providers and Regulatory Classification of Voice over LTE Service: The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would seek comment on proposals to implement a unified roaming standard and to classify Voice over LTE. (WT Docket No. 16-356)

Business Data Services: The Commission will consider a Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would allow for light-touch regulation of packet-based Business Data Services and retain and update price cap regulation for lower-bandwidth TDMbased Business Data Services to ensure that lack of competition does not unfairly harm commercial customers or the consumers who rely upon these services. (WC Docket Nos. 16-143, 15-247, 05-25; GN Docket No. 13-5; RM-10593)

Video Description: Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010: The Commission will consider a Report and Order which addresses the amount of video described programming required to be made available to consumers. (MB Docket No. 11-43)

Improving Wireless Coverage in Rural America

At our November monthly meeting, the Federal Communications Commission will consider a series of items that could improve wireless coverage in rural areas across the country. This starts with a proposal to move forward with Phase II of the Mobility Fund. A top priority of Phase II is making sure investments are better targeted to expand and preserve 4G LTE coverage in areas where it would be unavailable absent universal service support, especially in rural areas. I am circulating proposed rules for Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which would leverage this new coverage data, allow for the targeted use of additional data to validate eligibility decisions, and use a competitive “reverse auction” bidding process to allocate more than $470 million in annual support to preserve and extend 4G LTE coverage. The proposal also sets minimum network performance and service requirements to make sure rural residents aren’t stuck with second-rate service. And in recognition of the distinct challenges in bringing connectivity to Tribal lands, the proposal would allocate a portion of the overall support specifically for qualifying Tribal lands and offer bidding credits for Tribally-owned and controlled providers.

Another effective tool to help enhance consumer choice for wireless service in rural areas is “roaming.” To compete in the mobile marketplace, carriers must be able to offer nationwide coverage. Roaming agreements have made it possible for smaller providers – particularly in rural areas – to do business. Furthermore, carriers are increasingly providing voice service using Voice-over-LTE (VoLTE), an evolution of voice service that involves transmitting voice calls using streams of data. This proposal would also classify VoLTE under the “just and reasonable” standard as with other voice calls. Our aim is to provide consumers with seamless access to service in all areas of the country, regardless of provider and regardless of how a particular voice call is delivered.

At our November meeting, the Commission will vote on my proposal to encourage innovation and investment in Business Data Services, which are used for wireless backhaul, while ensuring that lack of competition in some places cannot be used to hold back wireless coverage.

Rounding out our November meeting will be an Order to increase the availability of video-described programming and to make it easier to access. Whether its people with disabilities or the residents of our most isolated rural communities, the FCC is committed to making sure all Americans have access to modern communications. With these actions, we will once again advance the cause of universal access.

FCC Provides Guidance on Rolling Recertification Pursuant to the Lifeline Modernization Order

In this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) provides guidance regarding the implementation of the rolling recertification process, as established by the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order. The Commission adopted rules to change the subscriber eligibility recertification process from once each calendar-year to a rolling process based on each subscriber’s service initiation date. Currently, Lifeline subscribers must recertify their eligibility once every calendar year. The Order adopted a rolling recertification process that requires subscriber eligibility to be recertified every 12 months following the subscriber’s service initiation date. The Commission established this rolling recertification requirement to improve administrative efficiency and reduce burdens on carriers, USAC and, in the future, the National Verifier.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Announces Staff Changes

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the appointment of Lisa Hone as legal advisor to the Chairman with responsibility for wireline telecommunications issues, and the departure of Stephanie Weiner.

Hone begins work in the Chairman’s office in November. Hone has most recently served as an associate bureau chief in the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB). She has also served as a legal advisor for former Commissioner Michael J. Copps and as a deputy division chief in the Telecommunications Access Policy Division in WCB. Prior to joining the staff of the FCC in 2010, Hone worked at the Federal Trade Commission where she conducted and supervised federal court litigation and rulemaking proceedings involving a wide array of consumer protection issues. Hone has also worked in the US Senate (on detail from the FTC) and in private practice at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City. Hone earned her law degree from the University of California, Los Angeles and earned a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.

Weiner has been at the Commission since 2013, serving as senior legal advisor to the Chairman and, prior to that, in the FCC’s Office of General Counsel. Weiner has served in senior legal positions with Neustar, Inc.; the US Department of Energy; the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau; and as an associate at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis, LLP. Weiner earned a law degree from Northwestern University School of Law, a master's from the University of Chicago, and a bachelor’s from Brown University.

FCC Announces Excellence in Economics, Engineering Award Winners

The Federal Communications Commission announced the winners of the Excellence in Economic Analysis and Excellence in Engineering Analysis Awards. These awards are intended to recognize Commission staff for outstanding economic analysis, and engineering, scientific or technical contributions that they have performed in the course of their work at the Commission.

Eugene Kiselev of the Media Bureau and Katherine LoPiccalo of the FCC’s Office of Strategic Planning share the 2016 Excellence in Economic Analysis Award for economic analysis of the Charter/Time Warner Cable/Bright House merger application. Kamran Etemad of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Robert Pavlak and Navid Golshahi of the Office of Engineering and Technology are the winners of the Commission’s 2016 Excellence in Engineering Award for their work on the technical issues for the Citizens Band Radio Service in the 3550 – 3700 MHz band.

FCC Rejects Reconsideration of Calling Card Company Fines

The Federal Communications Commission rejected petitions for reconsideration of $20 million in fines issued against four prepaid calling card companies for deceptively marketing their products. In October 2015, the FCC issued separate $5 million fines against four calling card companies, Locus Telecommunications, Lyca Tel, NobelTel, and Touch-Tel USA, following an investigation by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. Each of the companies formally asked the FCC to reconsider those fines in four, separate petitions for reconsideration. The FCC dismisses and denies those requests and continues to seek payment of the fines.

The FCC has referred these matters to the US Department of Justice, which leads the process of collecting outstanding fines in federal court. The companies’ advertisements, apparently targeting immigrant communities, suggested that their calling cards could be used for hundreds or thousands of minutes of international calls. Multiple fees and surcharges added by the companies, however, caused the actual calling minutes available to consumers to be much fewer than advertised.