FCC to Tackle Spectrum, Foreign Ownership Rules

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By Brandon Ross
Oct. 1 — The FCC at its Oct. 22 open meeting will consider proposals for new rules regarding foreign ownership policies and the next wave of mobile wireless spectrum, while also voting on whether to cap the rates on notoriously high inmate calling services.
The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda items in an Oct. 1 press release.
The FCC will vote whether to adopt a so-called notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on regulations meant to make its policies more flexible and accommodating for advanced mobile wireless technologies looking to operate in above the 24 gigahertz (GHz) spectrum band, which could facilitate the next wave of mobile wireless speeds known as 5G.
An NPRM is usually only the beginning of a notice and comment period process spanning several months, at least, but which can last significantly longer if proposals prove highly complex or controversial. Eventually the FCC will then vote on whether to adopt new rules, which are based on the comments received in the rulemaking process,
“We are leveraging regulatory advances and propose to use market-based mechanisms that will allow licensees to provide any service—fixed, mobile, private, commercial, and satellite—depending on the band, and allow unlicensed uses to continue to expand,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in an Oct. 1 blog post on the proposal.
“To maintain our leadership position, we need to continue looking to the future and act now to facilitate the next generation—the fifth generation—of mobile technology,” said Wheeler's blog. “The fifth generation of mobile networks could leverage both low-band and high-band spectrum to provide significantly greater wireless broadband speeds for consumers.”
Wheeler said the new rules could play a big part in U.S. talks for spectrum band rules at the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference in November.
“The bands we propose in this NPRM are consistent with the U.S. position, and we are committed to working with both domestic and international partners on developing rules for these bands and on conducting technical sharing and compatibility studies.”

Foreign Ownership Rules

The agency will also be voting on whether to adopt a proposal for rules to streamline its foreign ownership review filing process.
“The Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would streamline the foreign ownership review process for broadcast licensees and applicants, and standardize the review process for broadcast, common carrier and aeronautical licensees and applicants,” the FCC press release said.
The FCC may need to broaden its scope to address other pressing issues with the foreign ownership rules, FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said.
In an Oct. 1 statement, O'Rielly said that while he appreciated Wheeler's attention on the agency's foreign ownership rules, “This doesn't decrease the need to also streamline the ‘Team Telecom' review process.”
Team Telecom is a working group of representatives from the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, Justice, State, Treasury and Commerce, and U.S. Trade Representative and the FBI.
In a Sept. 18 blog post, O'Rielly said “we must clearly permit greater foreign ownership in order to open the doors to new capital and opportunities for U.S. broadcasters while at the same time hopefully laying the groundwork for similar treatment of U.S. investors abroad.”
“The way to break the stalemate is to set a definitive process that the Commission will follow in working with Team Telecom,” O'Rielly said in the September post.
Capping Inmate Calling Fees

FCC members announced Sept. 30 they would also vote on a proposed order to cap the rates companies are allowed to charge prison inmates and their families to communicate. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a longtime advocate for an overhaul of inmate calling services (ICS), detailed the agency's proposed order (See previous story, 10/01/15).
In an FCC fact sheet, the agency said the new rules would ensure all ICS rates for local, in-state and national calls were “just, reasonable, and fair.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Ross in Washington at bross@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com