Senate Commerce Approves FCC Reauthorization, Other Bills

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April 27 — The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved a bipartisan bill April 27 by voice vote that would reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission for the first time in 25 years.

Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said he hoped to get the bill (S. 2644) to the Senate floor by the end of May. Ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called it a “clean” reauthorization. The committee had previously circulated a substitute amendment to the bill incorporating anti-spoofing and 9-1-1 accessibility measures .

Both senators expressed hope that the bill would remain bipartisan and “noncontroversial” as it proceeds to the floor.

The measure, which would reauthorize the FCC through fiscal year 2018, was approved after the committee adopted a Thune substitute amendment along with 18 other Republican and Democratic amendments. That list included two from Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): one to require the FCC to begin a rulemaking within two years of enactment on cramming, the practice of adding unauthorized charges to consumers' phone bills, and another to promote broadband Internet access for veterans.

The list also included an amendment by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) that would require a study on the transition from copper-based landlines toward Internet protocol (IP)-based telecom services. Another of the amendments, by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), would require a report from the FCC on the post-incentive spectrum auction repacking of television broadcast signals. It also would require a second FCC report on a timeline for relocating TV stations to make way for wireless users to deploy service in the vacated spectrum.

An amendment by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) would require the U.S. comptroller general to submit a report every two years on the annual opportunity cost of each federal spectrum band allocated to federal users.

Other amendments bundled with the substitute relate to the Universal Service Fund, the FCC's regulatory fee structure, FCC data collection, the spectrum auctions, FCC budgetary processes, FCC action notices and other items.

The committee also approved by voice vote a bipartisan bill that would form a working group to explore policies to promote the growth of connected devices, known as the Internet of Things. The Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act (S. 2607) was approved with a substitute amendment from sponsor Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) incorporating three minor amendments.

FCC Process Bill OK'd Despite Opposition

In contrast to the swift approval of the two bipartisan telecom bills before the committee, the Republican-sponsored FCC Process Reform Act (S. 421) faced stiff opposition from panel Democrats. It advanced by a 13-11 party-line roll call vote.

The bill, from Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), would require FCC rulemaking items to be published at least 21 days before a commission vote. It would also require cost-benefit analyses on rules with significant economic impact.

“We've seen multiple examples of the FCC engaging in rulemaking practices that raise suspicions that they are less than transparent,” Heller said. He cited the publication of the agency's controversial Open Internet order two weeks after it was approved by the FCC, as well as the perception that the FCC, an independent agency, might have been influenced by the White House to pursue a more stringent regulatory regime under those rules.

“This isn’t about who’s chairman or what policies they’re passing. It’s about ensuring transparency over the process for the sake of the American public,” Heller said.

Dems Push for Rosenworcel Reconfirmation

The continued delay in full Senate action on the nomination of Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to a second term at the agency was raised by Nelson and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

The two lawmakers called on their colleagues to press the issue and reiterated their understanding of a pact between Senate leaders in 2013 to advance the nomination of Republican Michael O'Rielly to the FCC as a standalone action in exchange for later Senate action on the Rosenworcel renomination.

Thune said the decision remained up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), adding that his committee had done its job in advancing her renomination.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lydia Beyoud in Washington at lbeyoud@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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