What’s Hot List: 4/15/16

Ban on Internet rate regulation heading for House vote (The Hill 4/8)

Legislation to prevent the Federal Communications Commission from using its net neutrality rules to regulate the rates that companies charge customers for Internet service appears heading toward a House vote next week.

The House Rules Committee next Tuesday will set up procedures for voting on the bill on the House floor.

Building a digital Lifeline for America’s families (The Hill 4/11)

Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to modernize the Lifeline program in the most wide-ranging national effort ever enacted to remove cost barriers to broadband. By doing so, the FCC formally recognized that in the digital age, broadband access is a fundamental tool, rather than a luxury.

While significant, the FCC decision is only one step toward achieving robust broadband adoption for millions of low-income American families. Having consistent, quality access to broadband is critical to resolving the “homework gap” between low-income kids and their more privileged peers. Quality connectivity is no less important for their parents, for whom opportunities for employment and skills training are increasingly migrating online.

House to Vote on FCC Broadband Rate Reg Blocker (Mulitchannel 4/11)

The House is scheduled to vote April 15 on a Republican bill to block the FCC from using its Title II authority to regulate broadband rates, either before the fact or likely after.

Look for the vote to be contentious and the bill to be approved along party lines, as was the vote to approve the bill in the House Energy & Commerce Committee. A source says there has been no movement since that partisan, Ides of March, vote.

Wheeler: No Timetable for Zero-Rating Review (Multichannel 4/11)

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday that he is trying to create regulatory certainty though an ex post examination of zero rating plans and data caps, but he also said he has no timetable for completing that review.

Access to the Internet is arguably the most important commodity in the current economy, Wheeler said in speaking to the INCOMPAS (formerly COMPTEL) show here on April 11. That’s one of the reasons there is a general-conduct standard in the FCC’s Open Internet order, he said: So the gency can look at potential threats to broadband openness on a case-by-case basis.

FCC chair urges swift action on business internet reforms (The Hill 4/11)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday it was important for the agency to move quickly in its consideration of reforms to the market for high-capacity internet connections used by certain businesses.

“To have such a fresh start, we need broad principles, we need to work to find common ground, and we need to seriously look at the best ways for the Commission to act,” he said at a conference held by trade group INCOMPAS, according to his prepared remarks. “And we need to do it quickly.”

A Phishy Plan to Protect Privacy (The Wall Street Journal 4/11)

The Federal Communications Commission promised that managing the Internet like an 1890s railroad wouldn’t result in a crush of new “net neutrality” regulations, but this claim keeps hitting the firewall of reality: Now the commission is proposing privacy rules that dump decades of successful policy and don’t apply to the tech companies that profit off Web habits.

The FCC recently passed new rules for how Internet-service providers collect customer data. In all but a few cases, consumers would be required to consent, or “opt-in,” for a broadband company to use or share preferences to, say, sell targeted ads. The agency said in a fact sheet: “When consumers sign up for Internet service, they shouldn’t have to sign away their right to privacy.”

Charter’s CEO Meets With FCC Chairman to Ease Time Warner Cable Buy (Fortune 4/12)

The chief executive officer of Charter Communications met last week with the head of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the cable company’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

The meeting Wednesday came as the FCC continues its review of the proposed tie-ups after an informal 180-day FCC review period ended March 25.

GOP lawmakers try to limit FCC’s ability to help consumers (ARS Technica 4/11)

Republican lawmakers are working on two proposals that would hinder Federal Communications Commission efforts to help consumers.

The House of Representatives may vote as soon as this week on a measure that could disrupt net neutrality rules by stripping the FCC of rate regulation authority, The Hill reported. Separately, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on Wednesday will hold a hearing on a bill that would limit the amount of money the FCC’s Lifeline program could spend helping poor people purchase Internet service.

The FCC Should Drop Its Proposed Rules For Set-Top Boxes (Forbes- Commentary by Harold Furchtgott-Roth 4/12)

When unleashed for lawful, limited and thoughtful purposes, the federal government has extraordinary power to do good. But when it exercises its power with little purpose and little thought—and possibly limited legality, the federal government is unlikely to do much if any good.

Consider the example of “set-top boxes.” If you are like most Americans, you don’t think about them much if it all. The Federal Communications Commission thinks about them often. Therein lies the problem.

FCC Internet regulations must be scaled back (Commentary by Richard Bennett 4/12)

Within the next week, the DC Circuit Court will rule on a challenge to the FCC’s net neutrality regulations by entrepreneurs and established Internet Service Providers. It’s likely that the court will prune the regulations and in so doing, curtail the agency’s quest for power. If the DC court doesn’t, we can expect an appeal to the Supreme Court.

It’s unfortunate that we have to rely on the courts to micromanage regulatory agencies, but agency behavior leaves us little choice. While the FCC was established by Congress in 1934 to bring technical expertise to the task of managing communication markets, under Chairman Tom Wheeler’s direction it has become overly engrossed in politics.

Wireless Group Opposes Budget Cap for FCC’s Lifeline Program (Morning Consult 4/12)

A representative from the wireless industry will tell House lawmakers at a subcommittee hearing tomorrow that Congress shouldn’t institute a capped budget for the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.

“Capping the Lifeline program may be counterproductive to encouraging low-income consumers to adopt communications services that are essential to participation in today’s economy,” Scott Bergmann, vice president of regulatory affairs for CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in prepared remarks for a legislative hearing hosted by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. “A cap on the Lifeline program will inherently exclude an undetermined number of the eligible low-income consumers.”

FCC plans $51 million fine over Lifeline program abuse (CNN Money 4/8)

he FCC accused California-based Total Call Mobile of fraudulently enrolling tens of thousands of duplicate and ineligible consumers in the Lifeline program.

The company received an estimated $9.7 million in improper payments since 2014, according to the FCC. In the fourth quarter of that year, 99.8% of the company’s enrollments allegedly involved overriding a system designed to stop the registration of duplicate customers. FCC enforcement bureau chief Travis LeBlanc said the agency reserves its toughest penalties for those who “defraud or abuse federal programs.”

“Any waste, fraud, or abuse in the Lifeline program diverts scarce funds from the consumers they are meant to serve and undermines the public’s trust in the program and its stewardship,” he said in a statement.

FCC Chairman Calls for ‘Fresh Start’ in Oversight of Business-Data Services (The Wall Street Journal 4/8)

Federal regulators said on Friday they hope to revamp their oversight of an obscure but important part of the telecommunications market, the bulk data service that telecom companies provide to businesses, including each other. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler in a blog post proposed a “fresh start” for business data services regulation that would set aside outdated regulatory distinctions and be technology-neutral.

Mr. Wheeler said the agency vote on the overhaul plan at its April 28 meeting and hopes to complete its work on a new rule later this year.

Stop piracy apocalypse: ‘Walking Dead’ producer (USA Today 4/12)

Back in December of 2013, I attended Variety’s Content Protection Summit and delivered what turned out to be a pretty prophetic statement:

“There’s a mistaken belief by many of my peers that piracy is somehow good. … I’m not sure they really understand … that the people who pirate are not then going to choose legal downloads or legal viewing in the future.”

The FCC and the privacy crucible (The Hill 4/13)

We live in a world of smartphones, smart grids and smart cars, where companies store, collect and share more information than man has ever known. “Big data” has become such a big part of our lives and lexicon that it is no longer ominous. In fact, every time we swipe our credit cards, give our phone number to grocery clerks or merely visit our favorite website, we tacitly add to the big data pile.

The new social contract

In this new Age of Enlightenment, we abide by a simple social contract: Companies give us their goods and we give them our data. Nobody knows the true cost of the information we relinquish in this exchange, but that seems to be no deterrent. While the equity of the exchange is debatable, the loss of privacy is not.