On April 13, 2017, the Texas Public Utilities Commission will hear oral arguments on the issue whether companies with certificates of public convenience and necessity from the Commission may place their facilities in local rights-of-way and provide wireline backhaul and Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) service without additional local authority or the obligation to pay fees. DAS providers say “yes” while local governments contend that such companies must negotiate separate license agreements and fees with individual cities to access their rights of way. The Commission will be considering the recommendation of two Texas administrative law judges to side with the companies.
Last Thursday, in a vote split along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) approved a new regulatory regime staking its claim to privacy regulation of both fixed and mobile Internet service providers (“ISPs”) like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. The FCC’s rules follow its decision in the Open Internet Order, released last year and analyzed here, to classify broadband Internet access service as a common-carrier telecommunications service. The FCC’s new rules are intended to give consumers control over the ways in which ISPs use and share their customers’ private information. While the FCC has yet to release its Report and Order, the FCC’s Fact Sheet and statements by the commissioners indicate that the new privacy rules in many respects track the proposed rules the FCC put forward earlier this year, which seek to make the FCC the “toughest” privacy regulator in the Internet ecosystem by imposing on ISPs significantly more onerous and restrictive requirements for use and collection of consumer data than the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) imposes on its non-ISP competitors.
On September 30, 2016, the FCC adopted an order designed to liberalize and streamline the foreign ownership review process for broadcast licensees (the “Broadcast Liberalization Order”). Section 310(b) of the Communications Act caps at 25 percent the amount of indirect foreign investment permissible in a U.S. broadcast, common carrier, or aeronautical fixed or en route radio licensee without obtaining FCC approval. Prior to 2013, the long-standing presumption among FCC practitioners was that the FCC simply would not allow indirect foreign ownership of a U.S. broadcast licensee in excess of the 25% benchmark in the Communications Act, even though the Act expressly contemplated such investments so long as they were blessed by the FCC. The Commission issued an Order in 2013 clarifying that the 25% foreign investment mark served only as a trigger requiring the FCC to review applications on a case-by-case basis, not an automatic bar to such investment. Foreign investment in broadcast licensees above 25% required prior express consent, based on an evaluation of public interest and national security considerations. Also in 2013, the FCC streamlined the process for reviewing foreign ownership amounts in excess of 25% for common carrier and aeronautical radio licensees. The recent Broadcast Liberalization Order largely extended these same rules and procedures to broadcast licensees, with certain exceptions and modifications.
The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) asserted broad regulatory authority over the Internet and broadband Internet service providers when it reclassified Internet access service as a “common carrier” service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 in its 2015 Net Neutrality Order (discussed in detail here). One of the many important questions left unanswered by the FCC’s reclassification decision was whether and to what extent the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) retained authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act to prohibit deceptive or unfair acts and practices by Internet service providers, in light of Section 5’s exemption of “common carriers” subject to the Communications Act.
The FCC’s February 2015 meeting yielded two significant and controversial orders premised on the agency’s authority under Section 706 of the Communications Act: its much-publicized Open Internet Order (discussed here), and its less-publicized order preempting state statutes setting limits on municipal broadband providers, including by restricting their geographic extension of service (“Municipal Broadband Order”). In June 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit gave the FCC a boost when it upheld the FCC’s net neutrality rules as a valid exercise of its authority under Title II of the Communications Act as well as Section 706. Yesterday, in State of Tennessee v. FCC, Nos. 15-3291/3555, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the FCC’s assertion of sweeping preemption authority under Section 706 and remanded its Municipal Broadband Order.
In a move that will support the development of 5G networks, the FCC issued an Order last week in the “Spectrum Frontiers” proceeding that should open up large amounts of high-band spectrum for licensed and unlicensed use. The Commission adopted a new framework for flexible-use licensing in several spectrum bands above 24 GHz, permitting mobile operations in those bands and instituting rules to ensure shared access with incumbent licensees. The Commission also noted that the new licensing framework may serve as a template for rulemaking in additional high-frequency bands in the future, and issued an NPRM seeking feedback on proposals that would open nearly 18 GHz more to mobile use.
Earlier this week, the FTC and FCC announced “parallel” investigations into how carriers and mobile device makers release information on vulnerabilities, and how and when mobile security patches are distributed. The regulators, who have publicly jockeyed for position on privacy and cybersecurity matters in the past year, appear to have reached a truce of sorts, allowing each agency to examine industry players within its core jurisdiction.
On April 1, 2016, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would impose new regulatory burdens on broadband Internet service providers’ use of customer data. The wide-ranging NPRM also proposes rules covering providers’ protection of customer information and their actions in the event of a data security breach. Continue Reading
Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge recently filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) challenging a multi-system operator’s (“MSO”) online video service as violative of conditions imposed as part of a 2011 merger and the agency’s Open Internet rules. The service allows the MSO’s customers to stream its licensed video content to computers, tablets, and mobile devices without incurring additional data usage charges. The MSO maintains the content of this service does not touch the public Internet – and thus is not subject to the Open Internet rules – because it is delivered on the same private, managed network as its cable services. Continue Reading
No reason to be paranoid, but chances are the (electronic) voices you hear, and the words you are reading, come from a device (Android, iPhone or other) that relies on broadband technology. Depending on where you are, and when (and who else is using the network when you are), your broadband access might be spotty because capacity and connections in some communities far outpace those in others. Continue Reading