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Beyond Broadcast, Busy Times Lie Ahead for Telecomm

Broadcast rules aren’t the only thing in play as Pai lays out modernization plans

This article is from the blog of law firm Fletcher Heald & Hildreth.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is planning to make some major overhauls at the FCC. Eight months into his term, Pai is preparing to “modernize [the FCC’s] rules to match the realities of today’s marketplace.” At this year’s Radio Show, Pai announced he would present to his fellow FCC commissioners at least one Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) every month, starting in September.

These monthly NPRMs are intended to address concerns that Chairman Pai has assessed are part of those “outdated or unnecessary media regulations that should be eliminated or modified.” Of course, one might ask whether it wouldn’t expedite his objective by getting all of the reform initiatives going at once rather than dribbling them out in a series of monthly NPRMs that will each require separate comment cycles and separate commission analysis. If something needs reform, why not do it right away?

Pai’s statements at NAB focused on broadcasting, while his statements via a blog post go into more detail on what’s ahead outside of the broadcast industry. With the tentative agenda for the commission’s upcoming September meeting posted, it’s shaping up to be a busy time at the FCC for the foreseeable future.

So what does this all mean for non-broadcasting entities? Quite a lot actually.

First, Chairman Pai aims to address the outdated rules governing the satellite industry, where technology has outpaced the FCC’s rules. The chairman argues that current regulations covering non-geostationary-satellite orbit, and fixed-satellite services systems reflect designs and rules from the early 2000s. To meet the industry where it’s at, the chairman announced that the FCC will vote in September on updating and streamlining several of the rules governing the industry in NGSO FSS operations, which he hopes will have the indirect effect of expanding satellite-based broadband access in rural areas.

Second, improving 911 calling in centralized communications systems such as schools, hospitals, offices, and hospitals will also be addressed. Chairman Pai circulated a Notice of Inquiry to seek information on the lagging 911 capabilities which still require users to dial nine in order to place a call outside of a specified building. So much for deregulation; this initiative will add yet another unfunded mandate to private industry.

Third, the commission will look into providing relief for small and rural wireless service providers that are required by FCC rules to detail their efforts to ensure wireless handsets are compatible with hearing aid devices. There are indications that requiring providers, no matter how big or small, to do this is having an adverse impact on the affected carriers. To address this, Chairman Pai announced that the commission will vote on an item that will “seek comment on whether we can eliminate or streamline the requirement for small carriers while continuing to preserve the benefits of collecting this information from industry.”

Fourth, the chairman outlined how the commission intends to revisit rules for certain toll-free numbers. He has asked for public comment on whether or not to use a public auction to distribute the currently available, unassigned toll-free numbers. This would also include setting aside certain toll free numbers for public health and safety used by government and non-profits.

Finally, the 20th Mobile Wireless Competition Report will come before the FCC this month. The report is set to review facts, trends, and other factors that analyze whether there is a comprehensive competition into the marketplace for mobile wireless services. The report previously was given to the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, but was not put up for public Commission vote. Before becoming his appointment, Chairman Pai opposed this practice and is instead, as part of his ongoing campaign for FCC transparency, putting the Report up for a public commission vote.

All of this is to say, the lazy days of summer are definitely over. Chairman Pai and the rest of the FCC are gearing up for a big fall.