Today the FCC announced the opening of a docket and the issuance of a protective order related to AT&T’s proposed acquisition of T-Mobile USA. Presentations by interested parties before the FCC will be exempt from the agency’s ex parte procedures until the applications seeking FCC approval are filed. When filed, ex parte communications before the FCC must follow the "permit but disclose" ex parte procedures applicable to non-restricted proceedings, although it reserved the right to treat the proceeding as restricted.
In a setback to one of the FCC’s key policy proposals, the House of Representative today voted in favor of a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act aimed at invalidating the Commission’s Net Neutrality Order adopted late last year. The vote follows months of heated industry and Congressional debate, including sharply partisan debate about the Resolution’s merits, court challenges brought by wireless carriers, and procedural delays in bringing the Resolution to the House floor. While the Resolution seeks to overturn the FCC’s new anti-blocking, network management transparency, and traffic discrimination rules, it faces an uphill battle to become law. The Resolution would need to get passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate and get signed by the President. The White House recently said it plans to veto any measure overturning the FCC’s Net Neutrality Order.
Today the FCC prevailed in the continuing skirmish over Net Neutrality in Washington. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed the lawsuits filed last January by Verizon and Metro PCS seeking to overturn the FCC’s Net Neutrality order adopted in December. The court found that the two wireless carriers filed their challenges too early and should have waited until the Net Neutrality order was published in the Federal Register. Both wireless carriers have indicated they will re-file their appeals.
In response to a request by House Democratic supporters of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet (or Net Neutrality) order, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommitee on Communications and Technology has postponed its vote, scheduled for this morning, on the resolution to reverse the FCC order. Although no new date has been announced, we understand that a hearing will likely be scheduled for next week.
Yesterday, Energy and Commerce Committee ranking member Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), the ranking member on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, wrote to Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) urging him to first hold hearings on the proposed resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act in which supporters of the FCC’s order could be heard before having the vote. Note that even if the House approves the resolution of disapproval, it must still pass the Senate and survive a presidential veto to successfully reverse the FCC’s order.
UPDATE: A hearing has been scheduled for March 9, at 10:30 a.m. in 2123 Rayburn House Office Building.
SECOND UPDATE (3/7/11): Representatives Waxman and Eshoo sent a letter on behalf of a group of net neutrality supporters in the House asking Chairman Walden and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, to allow lawmakers to offer amendments to the resolution of disapproval. The Democrats requested the Chairmen bring the disapproval measure as a regular House Resolution instead of under the Congressional Review Act.
On December 21, 2010, a divided Federal Communications Commission adopted its long-awaited, but highly controversial, Preserving the Open Internet order (“Order”), which requires broadband service providers to treat all web traffic equally and protect open access to the Internet for web consumers and other stakeholders. While Congressional and industry opposition continues to ferment, a closer look at the Order reveals that mobile wireless broadband providers will retain considerable flexibility in how they manage their networks when compared to their fixed provider counterparts.
The Order focused on three primary goals underpinning the Commission’s net neutrality policy: 1) transparency 2) no blocking and 3) no unreasonable discrimination. For “transparency,” both fixed and mobile providers must publicly disclose the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband services. By contrast, the application of the “no blocking” condition differs depending on the type of provider. Fixed providers are subject to a broad obligation to not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. Mobile wireless providers are subject to a narrower obligation to not block lawful websites and applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services. Most importantly, the Order’s “no unreasonable discrimination” provision applies solely to fixed providers, leaving mobile operators free to favor or disfavor certain types of network traffic. According to the Commission, these new rules for mobile wireless providers will not harm customers because most consumers have more choices for mobile wireless service than for fixed broadband. The Commission also noted favorably the mobile industry’s recent moves towards openness, including the introduction of open operating systems like Android. As a result, when the rules finally go into effect, mobile wireless broadband providers will be exempt from the obligation to manage network traffic in a nondiscriminatory manner.
K&L Gates recently published its Global Government Solutions 2011 Annual Outlook, which contains articles from around the firm on key governmental developments expected in 2011.
The Annual Outlook includes an article addressing developments affecting the Telecom, Media and Technology sector in 2011 by DC partners Marc Martin and Marty Stern, noting that the TMT sector enters 2011 with significant regulatory uncertainty and the FCC facing an uphill battle on many signature regulatory initiatives.
The article reviews the FCC’s net neutrality order and the challenges it faces in court and on Capitol Hill, discusses the recent FCC and Department of Justice approvals of the Comcast/NBCU transaction, and a number of additional issues getting significant focus in 2011. These include retransmission consent battles between broadcasters and cable/DBS providers and the FCC’s expected rulemaking proceeding on this issue, the Commission’s implementation of new communications accessibility requirements under the new 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, and continued efforts to reform the Universal Service Fund and make it broadband-centric.
Recent leaks to the New York Times, as reported in September and October, indicate that the Obama administration will next year be pushing for sweeping expansions of the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA). CALEA facilitates government surveillance by, among other things, requiring companies subject to the law both to design their systems so that the government can easily plug in and intercept communications in real-time and to provide assistance to the government in these efforts.
A task force comprised of representatives from DOJ, Commerce, the FBI, and other agencies, are discussing amendments to the law. These changes would greatly expand the reach of CALEA, would significantly increase the costs of non-compliance for covered companies, and would include other requirements which may fundamentally change business models for companies promising encryption and decentralized communication services.
You can access the free webcast by clicking here (free registration is required).
K&L Gates partner Marty Stern joined co-host Jim Baller, together with guests Cecilia Kang, Communications Industry Journalist, the Washington Post, Gigi Sohn, President, Public Knowledge, Jeffrey Silva, Senior Policy Director, TMT, Medley Global Advisors, and Scott Cleland, President, the Precursor Group, for a lively and provocative review of 2010, particularly of the day-old FCC net neutrality decision, and for some bold predictions for 2011.
You can access the free webcast by clicking here (registration is required).
Stakeholders in America’s broadband future disagree on most issues, but not on this: with 35% of Americans not using broadband today and many others not using broadband to maximum advantage, spurring increased adoption and use is critically important to America’s success in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn kicked off the program, joining BroadbandUS TV hosts Marty Stern and Jim Baller for a provocative discussion ofthe FCC’s goals, activities, and progress in this area.
The program also included a panel on National Policy and Support, featuring Karen Peltz Strauss, FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau; Emy Tseng, National Telecommunications and Information Administration; Dr. Kenneth Peres, Communications Workers of America and US Broadband Coalition; Nicol Turner-Lee, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; and John Windhausen, Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition. A second panel featured a look at success stories from around the country.