WASHINGTON– U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which exercises jurisdiction in the Senate over Federal telecommunications policy, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), issued the following statement praising the contributions of Commerce Committee members and other senators to a bipartisan agreement on the House’s RAY BAUM’S Act (H.R. 4986), which reauthorizes the FCC, paves the way for next generation telecommunications, protects broadcasters in the ongoing repacking process, and includes multiple reforms championed in both the House and Senate.
“Congress now stands poised to enact enhancements and reforms to telecommunications policy which, in some cases, have been championed by members of the Commerce Committee for years,” said Thune. “I am deeply grateful for the contributions to this legislation from senators on both sides of the aisle as well as House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, Ranking Member Frank Pallone, and my Ranking Member Bill Nelson for working together with me on an agreement to combine the House’s FCC reauthorization bill with the MOBILE NOW Act and other important reforms. Thanks to these proposals, Americans will benefit from expedited deployment of next generation broadband technology and common sense consumer protections.”
“These measures will protect consumers from fraud, help make our communications networks more resilient after disasters, make sure TV and radio stations remain on the air, and put the United States on a path to leadership in high-speed, next generation wireless networks,” said Nelson. “This bill represents one of the most significant updates to our communications laws in the past two decades, and is yet another example of what Congress can achieve when we work in a strong bipartisan, bicameral manner. I thank Chairman Thune and my fellow Commerce Committee members for their essential contributions to this package, and I look forward to working with Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Pallone, and our House colleagues to get this measure across the finish line.”
Key Senate measures included in the House/Senate FCC reauthorization legislation, several of which also had companion House measures:
- S. 19 - MOBILE NOW Act (Sens. Thune and Nelson) – Boosts the development of next-generation gigabit wireless broadband services, including 5G, by ensuring more spectrum is identified for private sector use and by reducing the red tape associated with building broadband networks. It requires that 255 megahertz of spectrum be identified for fixed and mobile wireless broadband use by 2022 – at least 100 megahertz for unlicensed use and at least 100 megahertz for licensed use. Further, it identifies mid-band and high-band spectrum to be studied for possible commercial use. The bill also reflects:
- An amendment from Sen. Heller to speed the deployment of broadband facilities on federal lands by streamlining the application process and requiring timely action on applications.
- An amendment from Sens. Schatz and Moran to create a national policy and national plan on unlicensed spectrum.
- Amendments from Sens. Schatz, Gardner, and Moran to promote the availability of unlicensed spectrum to meet consumer demands for telecommunications services.
- An amendment from Sens. Fischer and Klobuchar to promote rural wireless service by requiring the FCC to craft rules to offer incentives to spectrum licensees to make portions of their spectrum available to small businesses for deployment in rural areas.
- An amendment from Sens. Klobuchar and Gardner to create new opportunities for state Departments of Transportation and broadband providers to coordinate excavations to ease the installation of broadband infrastructure alongside highway projects (so-called Dig Once).
- An amendment from Sens. Markey and Manchin to direct the federal government to study ways it can provide additional incentives (or facilitate such incentives from the private sector) to federal entities to make spectrum available for commercial use.
- An amendment from Sen. Booker to require a study on the availability of unlicensed spectrum and wireless networks in low-income neighborhoods around the country. The report would include recommendations on how to overcome barriers to deployment of networks in those neighborhoods, and how to encourage greater broadband adoption there as well.
- An amendment from Sen. Udall to instruct NTIA to create a national spectrum challenge prize competition to encourage new technologies for spectrum efficiency.
- An amendment from Sens. Cantwell and Udall to direct an FCC report to Congress documenting the state of broadband coverage on tribal lands. The FCC must follow up on that report with a proceeding to address broadband deficiencies on tribal lands.
- An amendment from Sen. Peters to encourage states and localities to participate in the National Broadband Facilities Asset Database.
- An amendment from Sens. Daines and Manchin to require the FCC, in making determinations regarding spectrum use, to consider the importance of the deployment of wireless broadband services in rural America.
- S.174 – Federal Communications Commission Consolidated Reporting Act of 2017 (Sens. Heller and Schatz) – Consolidates FCC reports on voice, video, and data delivery while repealing outdated reports that are no longer necessary.
- S. 134 – Spoofing Prevention Act (Sens. Nelson and Fischer) – Gives the FCC and law enforcement additional authority to stop fraudulent telephone calls from persons using false caller identification information. Also provides consumers with new tools and information to identify and prevent these illegal scam calls, and directs GAO to conduct a study on new technologies to stop these calls.
- S. 102 – Securing Access to Networks in Disasters Act of 2017 (Sen. Cantwell) – Would help speed the recovery of communications infrastructure after natural disasters, and direct the Federal government to study additional ways to make sure that existing infrastructure can survive during those disasters.
- S. 1632 – Viewer and Listener Protection Act (Sens. Moran and Schatz) – Would make available additional funds to TV stations who are moving channels as a result of the so-called repack necessitated by the incentive auction. It also would dedicate federal support to alleviate costs borne by radio stations as a result of the repack.
- S. 1621 – Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 (Sens. Wicker and Manchin) – Would require the FCC to standardize its wireless coverage data. With better coverage data, the FCC could ensure that funds provided for expanding rural broadband infrastructure are equitably applied between rural and urban areas.
- S. 2210 – FCC Chief Information Officer Parity Act (Sens. Moran and Udall) – Gives the FCC’s Chief Information Officer authority to participate in decisions regarding the Commission’s planning on information technology.
- S. 2319 (114th Congress) – Spectrum Auction Deposits (Sen. Thune) – Chairman Thune first introduced legislation in 2015 to address a technical problem identified by the FCC preventing it from receiving upfront payments from bidders in spectrum auctions and depositing them into the U.S. Treasury. These upfront payments would allow the FCC to confirm a bidder’s ability to follow through on their commitments, an essential step to managing federal auctions in a fiscally responsible manner.
- S. 2644 (114th Congress) – FCC Reauthorization Act of 2016 (Sens. Thune and Nelson) – This legislation contained many provisions that were ultimately included in the agreement reached today to reauthorize the FCC for the first time in 28 years. Many of these provisions were championed by members of the Senate Commerce Committee.
- S. 1261 (114th Congress) – Wireless Telecommunications Tax and Fee Collection Fairness Act (Sens. Manchin and Moran) – Would harmonize state laws regarding what entity is responsible for collecting and remitting certain types of taxes and fees assessed on wireless services.
The Energy and Commerce Committee approved an earlier version of H.R. 4986 by voice vote last month. As noted above, the Senate Commerce Committee passed an FCC reauthorization bill last Congress. RAY BAUM’S Act is named for former House Energy and Commerce Committee Staff Director Ray Baum, a champion of telecommunications policy and long-time personal friend of Chairman Walden, who lost his battle with cancer in February 2018. The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the bicameral legislation on Tuesday, March 6.
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