The Regulatory Mix, TMI’s daily blog of regulatory activities, is a snapshot of PUC, FCC, legislative, and occasionally court, issues that our regulatory monitoring team uncovers each day. Depending on their significance, some items may be the subject of a TMI Regulatory Bulletin.
Both houses of Congress passed S.517, the Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act that allows consumers to unlock their cell phones to use on their preferred wireless network consistent with the terms of their contracts. The President is expected to sign the legislation. The Act: (1) restores the former exemption to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) that was removed by the Library of Congress in 2012; (2) ensures that consumers who lack the technological savvy to unlock their phones themselves can authorize others to do the unlocking for them; and (3) in recognition of the growing use and importance of other wireless devices such as tablets, directs the Librarian of Congress to determine whether such devices should also be unlockable. That determination will be part of the Librarian’s next triennial rulemaking under the DMCA, which is set to begin later this year. The legislation creates no new obligations for cellphone manufacturers or wireless carriers, such as how a carrier may choose to process unlocking requests or provide unlocking codes.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai issued a statement applauding passage of the Act and saying that the legislation “makes clear that Americans will not be subject to criminal prosecution or civil fines just for unlocking their wireless phones in order to move from one carrier to another. Contract law—not copyright or criminal law—should govern the relationship between consumers and wireless carriers. This measure will help the free market for wireless phones and services flourish—freedom that I hope will soon extend to tablets and other wireless devices.”
The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation announced it will hold a hearing titled, “Cramming on Wireless Phone Bills: A Review of Consumer Protection Practices and Gaps” on Wednesday, July 30, 2014, at 2:30 p.m. The hearing will be webcast live via the Senate Commerce Committee website. In June 2012, the Committee’s Chairman, John Rockefeller opened an inquiry to examine the scope of wireless cramming and industry practices to protect consumers against unauthorized charges on their wireless bills. The hearing will review findings of the Chairman’s wireless cramming inquiry and examine consumer protections as carrier billing technologies and practices continue to evolve.
The FCC approved the transfer of the licenses and authorizations held by AT&T’s wholly owned subsidiaries The Southern New England Telephone Company and SNET America, Inc. to Frontier Communications Corp. The transaction will result in the transfer to Frontier of approximately 900,000 local access lines, 415,000 broadband customers, and 180,000 video customers in Connecticut. The FCC found that the transaction is not likely to harm competition or consumers, likely will result in public interest benefits, and thus was in the public interest.
Rural Broadband Experiments
The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) released list of the census blocks that are eligible for rural broadband experiment support and their associated support amounts. The list is available at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/rural-broadband-experiments. Census blocks not on the list are not eligible for funding in the rural broadband experiments. The Bureau also announced that its map depicting the geographic areas that may be eligible for Phase II support now provides more detailed information regarding location totals and support amounts at the census tract level, which may be a useful tool for applicants interested in applying for rural broadband experiment funding. This map is available at http://www.fcc.gov/maps/fcc-connect-america-fund-phase-ii-initial-eligible-areasmap.