TR Daily House Commerce Committee OKs Eight Communications Bills
Wednesday, July 15, 2020

House Commerce Committee OKs Eight Communications Bills

The House Energy and Commerce Committee today approved 29 bills and one resolution, including seven bills and one resolution that came out of the communications and technology subcommittee, as well as two health care–focused bills that contain telecom provisions.

All of the communications-related measures passed by voice vote, and only two were amended during the markup.

The committee approved an amendment in the nature of a substitute (ANS) from Rep. Yvette Clarke (D., N.Y.) for the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act (HR 4194).

The bill, originally sponsored by Reps. Chris Stewart (R., Utah) and Seth Moulton (D., Mass.), would designate “988” as the short code for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline, an action the FCC is poised to take at its meeting tomorrow. Sen. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.) has introduced a companion bill in the Senate (TR Daily, April 27).

Both the original version of HR 4194 and Rep. Clarke’s ANS would make the designation of 988 effective within one year of enactment, but the draft order that Chairman Pai released ahead of tomorrow’s meeting called for a two year transition (TR Daily, June 25).

Like the original version, the ANS preserves the right of state, local, and tribal authorities to impose fees for the support of 988 services, but it also mandates that such fees only be used for that purpose. Both versions call for the FCC to report on the use of such fees.

Rep. Clarke’s ANS also eliminates a provision in the original version of HR 4194 that limited state, local, and tribal fees imposed on IP (Internet protocol)-enabled services for the support of 988 services to the same rate as 988 fees imposed on “the same class of subscribers to telecommunications services.”

The other telecom measure amended by the committee was HR 5918, a bill introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui (D., Calif.), Anna Eshoo (D., Calif.), Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), and Jared Huffman (D., Calif.), which would direct the FCC to issue reports and hold field hearings after activation of the Disaster Information Reporting System and to launch a rulemaking on requiring commercial mobile radio service providers to report to public safety answering points service disruptions “that prevent (A) the origination of 911 calls; (B) the delivery of Automatic Location Information; or (C) Automatic Number Information.”

Speaking in support of the bill, Rep. Eshoo said that the consequences of disasters for people increase when communications networks aren’t resilient.

The committee adopted an ANS proposed by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R., Fla.), which, among other things, would give the FCC more time to complete reports following activations of DIRS and would include “communications service” providers among the stakeholders the FCC should consider including in the field hearings after a DIRS activation. The original bill called for the inclusion of “broadband internet access services.”

Rep. Eshoo asked for clarification on the change in timing for the FCC reports. Mr. Bilirakis said the ANS would give the FCC one year to complete the report. The original bill allowed for eight months.

Rep. Eshoo asked, “Why do they need so much time?”

Rep. Bilirakis said, “To make sure that they are thorough in final report.”

The committee adopted the ANS and approved the amended bill on voice votes.

Commenting on the vote, Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said, “We thank Rep. Matsui for shepherding this legislation that will help the FCC minimize communications outages during future natural disasters. In particular, we are glad that this legislation requires the FCC to hold field hearings that policymakers can use to prevent future outages. Additionally, we’re pleased the bill directs the agency to report on important information about network outages, including the number and duration of outages, and who is affected. This information will help policymakers prevent future outages of vital communications networks during disasters.”

She added, “Moving forward, we urge Congress and the FCC to do more to strengthen our nation’s wireless networks and emergency preparedness. Future actions should include enacting this legislation, updating the FCC’s framework for disaster response, imposing requirements for companies to better maintain their communications networks, and passing Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) and Rep. Jerry McNerney’s (D-CA) RESILIENT Networks Act, which aims to improve network resiliency in times of emergency.”

Other communications measures approved without amendment include the Utilizing Strategic Allied (USA) Telecommunications Act (HR 6624), which was introduced by Chairman Pallone, committee ranking member Greg Walden (R., Ore.), and Reps. Matsui and Brett Guthrie (R., Ky.). It would establish a $750 million grant program at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to support companies’ efforts to deploy 5G networks using software and virtualization technology rather than hardware. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this year (TR Daily, Jan. 14).

Chairman Pallone said that the bill would help create a competitive market that would free the U.S. from dependence on Huawei Technologies Co. and ZTE Corp., equipment manufacturers with ties to the Chinese government.

In a statement after the vote, Jeff Blum, executive vice president–external and legislative affairs at Dish Network Corp., said, “The grants created by this legislation will enhance mobile connectivity, spur wireless network equipment competition, bolster the creation of U.S. jobs, improve wireless network security, and boost our nation's efforts to lead the global race to 5G.”

Mavenir Systems, Inc., Chief Executive Officer Pardeep Kohli said, “Mavenir thanks Chairman Pallone, Ranking Member Walden, Congresswoman Matsui and Congressman Guthrie for their leadership on this bipartisan legislation. Today’s advancement of the USA Telecommunications Act is a welcome reflection of widespread support for OpenRAN and the growing recognition that the U.S. must facilitate competition among mobile network suppliers in order to remain a technology leader. OpenRAN enables more competitive markets, and today’s action by the committee will help support the growing number of U.S.-headquartered suppliers in this space who are ready to serve as an alternative to Huawei. It is an important step forward in ensuring that the U.S. widens the supply chain so as to not be reliant on the current duopoly.”

Tommy Rosse, senior director–policy at software trade group BSA, said, “5G is poised to fundamentally change the tech ecosystem. Virtualized radio access network technologies with open interfaces are a promising way to support emerging 5G technologies and networks while prioritizing security. The USA Telecommunications Act is an important step towards investing in the development and rapid deployment of Open RAN technologies to improve functionality while enabling a broad, vibrant, and trustworthy supply chain.”

Also passed without amendment was the Spectrum IT Modernization Act (HR 7310), which was introduced by communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), ranking member Bob Latta (R., Ohio), and Reps. Rick Larsen (D., Wash.) and Tim Wallberg (R., Mich.). It would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to submit a plan for modernizing its spectrum information technology systems.

During discussion of the bill, Rep. Doyle said that it would help modernize federal spectrum management processes. “We cannot merely depend on federal agencies to work together cooperatively and collaboratively,” he added.

The Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act (HR 451) also passed without amendment or discussion. It was introduced by Reps. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.), Lee Zeldin (R., N.Y.), Al Green (D., Texas), and Peter King (R., N.Y.) (TR Daily, March 10). It would repeal a mandate in the Middle Class Tax Cut and Job Creation Act of 2012 for the FCC to reallocate public safety T-band spectrum, begin an auction of frequency licenses by 2021, and relocate incumbents by 2023. Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) introduced a similar mandate-repeal bill last year (TR Daily, Oct. 31, 2019), which the Senate Commerce Committee approved in December (TR Daily, Dec. 11, 2019).

H Res 549, which would reaffirm “the commitment to media diversity and pledging to work with media entities and diverse stakeholders to develop common ground solutions to eliminate barriers to media diversity,” which was introduced by Rep. Val Demings (D., Fla.), also was approved without amendment or discussion.

The committee passed without amendment the Measuring the Economics Driving Investments and Access for (MEDIA) Diversity Act (HR 5567), introduced by Reps. Billy Long (R., Mo.) and Marc Veasey (D., Texas), which would require the FCC to consider market entry barriers for socially disadvantaged individuals in its statutorily mandated communications marketplace report.

Reps. Marc Veasey (D., Texas), Darren Soto (D., Fla.), and Walden, who is a former broadcaster), spoke in favor of the bill. “It’s really important for the strength of our democracy and our country to have diversity of media ownership,” Mr. Walden said.

It passed the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement (READI) Act (HR 6096) without amendment as well. The bill would direct the FCC to establish a system for reporting false alerts and to conduct an inquiry into “the feasibility of updating the Emergency Alert System to enable or improve alerts to consumers provided through the internet, including through streaming services and would ban subscribers from blocking emergency alerts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.” It was introduced by Reps. Jerry McNerney (D., Calif.), Bilirakis, Pete Olson (R., Texas), and Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii).

In a statement after the markup regarding the communications measures, Chairman Pallone said that the committee “passed eight critical pieces of legislation today to make Americans safer, improve the security of wireless infrastructure and modernize federal spectrum management. I’m especially proud of my bipartisan bill to promote equipment and technologies to ensure a more diverse, sustainable and competitive supply chain for America’s 5G networks. America must promote the development of trusted alternatives to suspect 5G equipment so we can secure our critical networks and those of our allies in the fight against Huawei. These are all good pieces of legislation that I hope will move to the House floor soon.”

In a joint statement after the markup, committee ranking member Walden, energy subcommittee ranking member Fred Upton (R., Mich.), health subcommittee ranking member Michael Burges (R., Texas), and communications and technology subcommittee ranking member Bob Latta (R., Ohio) said, “Moving these 30 bills to the full House for consideration can help improve the lives of many Americans who are struggling in the midst the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are proud of this bipartisan work. We hope the House will take up these important bills quickly.”

The committee also passed two healthcare bills that contain communications-related measures.

The Telemental Health Expansion Act (HR 5201), introduced by Reps. Matsui and Bill Johnson (R., Ohio), would provide Medicare coverage of certain mental health telehealth services.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline Improvement Act (HR 4564), which was introduced by Reps. John Katko (R., N.Y.), Don Beyer (D., Va.), and Grace Napolitano (R., Calif.), would direct the Health and Human Services Department to develop a plan for ensuring quality service on the suicide prevention hotline, including setting performance metrics, standards for call-answering times by crisis centers and to create a $5 million, two-year pilot program on alternative technologies and communications platforms (such as social media, texting, and e-mail) for suicide prevention. It also would direct the Government Accountability Office to study and report on the suicide prevention hotline, including “the feasibility of geolocating callers to direct calls to the nearest crisis center.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews Congress FCC NTIA SpectrumAllocation WirelessDeployment BroadbandAdoption Cybersecurity PublicSafety

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