House Energy & Commerce Telecom Subcommittee Oversight Hearing with FCC Commissioners

Recap by Curtis LeGeyt, NAB Government Affairs

Wednesday, May 15, 2019, the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee held an oversight hearing with all five FCC Commissioners. The hearing was the subcommittee’s first in 12 months and the first for the new Democratic majority, so we thought it would be worthwhile to provide a summary of the committee’s areas of focus.

Full and subcommittee Chairmen Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) used their opening statements and questions to critique actions by the Republican-controlled FCC on substance and process. While this critique spared no industry, Chairman Pallone highlighted media ownership relaxation and the harm he believes this causes to consumers. Meanwhile the Republican leaders of the committee sought to highlight opportunities for bipartisan cooperation and provided cover for recent FCC decisions.

Member questioning focused mainly on a several non-broadcast issues, including accuracy of broadband mapping, buildout of rural broadband, robocalls, sharing of wireless geolocation data, and emergency communications. However, several broadcast issues were raised.

C-band: Subcommittee Chairman Doyle criticized the C-Band Alliance’s private auction proposal at the FCC, arguing that auction proceeds should go to rural buildout rather than foreign satellite companies. Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) announced her plans to introduce legislation that would require a public auction of c-band spectrum and incentivize incumbent satellite companies to clear up to as much as the entire band.

Press freedom: Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) lamented President Trump’s threats against broadcast licenses based on reporting and asked each Commissioner if they shared his view that the press is the enemy of the people. All commissioners disagreed and several referenced their previously stated positions in support of the first amendment.

Video marketplace: Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) lamented laws and regulations like the 1992 Cable Act that he claims have been surpassed by marketplace developments. Without referencing STELAR or retransmission consent, Whip Scalise asked the panel what recommendations they would make to Congress to address this type of problem. Chairman Pai suggested that Congress could give the FCC forbearance authority similar to telecom services to more expeditiously dispatch outdated regulations in the media space.

FM chips: Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) raised the importance of communications networks during times of emergency and noted his hope that FM chips would continue to be activated in wireless devices.

Broadcast diversity data: Rep. Yvette Clark (D-NY) encouraged the FCC to seek data on broadcast diversity (Form 395b) consistent with a recent letter she sent along with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD).

TV White Spaces: Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) expressed concern about a lack of rural broadband and asked about the status of TVWS questions before the FCC. Chairman Pai related that they are working to clear some technical issues where there is consensus between Microsoft and the NAB.

Media Ownership: Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-CA) asked about the open proceeding on the national ownership cap and stated that he believes that only Congress has the authority to change the cap. Chairman Pai disagreed, while Commissioner Rosenworcel agreed that only Congress has the authority. Rep. Cardenas asked about the quadrennial review and whether consolidation will reduce broadcast localism. Chairman Pai responded that they are merely in the information collecting phase.

ATSC 3.0: Rep. Cardenas asked about the patents underlying the next gen standard, noting key ownership by Sinclair, and asked whether and why reasonable and nondiscriminatory licensing requirements were not ordered. Chairman Pai agreed it was not and Commissioner Rosenworcel stated that RAND requirements were included for ATSC 1.0 and were appropriate for 3.0 as well.