Senate Commerce to Revive Bipartisan Communications Bills from 114th Congress

January 18, 2017–The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has scheduled a Jan. 24 executive session at which it plans to mark up 17 bipartisan bills, many approved by the committee in the last Congress, including measures aimed at making more spectrum available for commercial wireless services, improving rural call completion, and consolidating the FCC’s reporting obligations.

Specifically, the agenda includes the MOBILE Now Act (S 19), sponsored by committee Chairman John Thune (R., S.D.) and ranking member Bill Nelson (D., Fla.). The committee approved the bill last year, but it failed to get vote by the full Senate due to a hold by former Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) (TRDaily, June 8, 2016).

Among other things, S 19 would require the government to free up 255 megahertz of spectrum below 6 gigahertz by 2020, codifying an Obama administration executive order released in 2010 to make 500 MHz available within a decade. Officials say 245 MHz has already been made available. Of that 255 MHz, at least 100 MHz would have to be made available on an unlicensed basis and 100 MHz would have to be freed up for exclusive, licensed use, subject to possible continued use by federal agencies.

Also on the committee agenda is the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act (S 88), co-sponsored by Sens. Deb Fischer (R., Neb.), Cory Booker (D., N.J.), and Brian Schatz (D., Hawaii). It would mandate a federal interagency report on eliminating regulatory and other government barriers inhibiting development of the Internet of things.  The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee also approved the Digit Act last year (TRDaily, April 27, 2016), but it did not receive a floor vote.

The committee is also scheduled to consider the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act (S., 96), co-sponsored by Sens. Thune, Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), and Jon Tester (D., Mont.). It would direct the FCC to adopt quality standards to ensure the delivery and completion of voice calls as well as rules requiring intermediate providers that transmit voice calls to register with the agency.  The committee approved the bill last year, as did the full House, but the full Senate did not vote on it.

The agenda includes the Securing Access to Networks in Disasters (SANDY) Act (S 102), co-sponsored by Sens. Booker, Nelson, Maria Cantwell (D., Wash.), and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). It would give phone, Internet, broadcast, and pay TV providers access to disaster sites during an emergency, so that they can restore and maintain service.  The committee approved the bill last year (TRDaily, June 29, 2016).

The committee plans to consider Kari’s Law Act (S 1223), co-sponsored by Sens. Klobuchar, Fischer, Schatz, Thune, John Cornyn (R., Texas), and Ted Cruz (R., Texas), which would require that multi-line telephone systems (MLTS) such as those found in hotels to connect 911 calls even if the user omits a dialing code (such as “9”) otherwise required to get an outside line. Kari’s Law Act was part of a larger bill (S 2644) last year, but it stalled in the Senate. The House passed it as part of a larger package known as the Communications Act Update Act (S 253) (TRDaily, Sept. 27, 2016).

Another telecom-related bill on the agenda is S. 134, the Spoofing Prevention Act (S 134), co-sponsored by Sens. Nelson, Fischer, Klobuchar, and Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), which is aimed at combatting the use of false caller ID information by expanding existing prohibitions on spoofing to text messages and international calls. It would also require the FCC to update its website to educate consumers on technological solutions to prevent spoofing, and would mandate a Government Accountability Office study on FCC and Federal Trade Commission efforts to combat spoofing.  It passed the committee last year as part of an FCC reauthorization bill (TRDaily, April 27, 2016).

And the Commission plans to consider the Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act (S 174), co-sponsored by Sens. Schatz and Dean Heller (R., Nev.). It passed the Senate Commerce Committee and the full House unanimously in February 2015.

At the Jan. 24 executive session, which is slated to begin at 10 a.m. in Room 253 of the Russell Senate Office Building, the committee also plans to formally adopt rules and a budget resolution for the 115th Congress. —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily