RAY BAUM Reporting for Broadband

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Round-Up for the Week of March 5-9, 2018

Ray Baum
Ray Baum 1955-2018*

On March 6, the House voted unanimously to pass the RAY BAUM’S Act (H.R. 4986). Headlines about the legislation pointed to provisions addressing funding for television broadcasters and reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission. But we'd like to take a moment to highlight the bill's broadband-related language. With bipartisan, bicameral support, this bill is now moving with leaders in both the House and Senate Commerce Committees who hope to attach it to the next omnibus bill that addresses the Congressionally-created spending crisis now scheduled for March 23. Fasten those seatbealts.

Changes to FCC Broadband Reporting

Title IV of H.R. 4986 consolidates redundant Federal Communications Commission reports and provides conforming amendments to streamline FCC reporting requirements. This provision includes a consolidation of reports into a single communications marketplace report, consolidation of additional satellite and international broadband data reports, consolidation of reports on barriers to entry, and removal of outdated reports.

Communications Marketplace Report

H.R. 4986 would require the FCC to issue a report in the last quarter of every even-numbered year to report on the state of the communications marketplace which:

  1. Assesses the state of competition in the communications marketplace, including competition to deliver voice, video, audio, and data services among providers of telecommunications, providers of commercial mobile service, multichannel video programming distributors, broadcast stations, providers of satellite communications, Internet service providers, and other providers of communications services;
  2. Assesses the state of deployment of communications capabilities, including broadband, regardless of the technology used for such deployment, including whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion;
  3. Assesses whether laws, regulations, or regulatory practices (whether those of the Federal Government, States, political subdivisions of States, Indian tribes or tribal organizations, or foreign governments) pose a barrier to competitive entry into the communications marketplace or to the competitive expansion of existing providers of communications services;
  4. Describes the agenda of the FCC for the next 2-year period for addressing the challenges and opportunities in the communications marketplace that were identified; and
  5. Describes the actions that the FCC has taken in pursuit of the agenda described pursuant to paragraph (4) in the previous report submitted under this section.

Special Requirements of the Marketplace Report

The FCC is to consider all forms of competition, including the effect of intermodal competition, facilities-based competition, and competition from new and emergent communications services, including the provision of content and communications using the Internet.

When assessing deployment, the FCC is to compile a list of geographical areas that are not served by any broadband provider.

The FCC may use readily available data to draw appropriate comparisons between the United States communications marketplace and the international communications marketplace and to correlate its assessments with demographic information. H.R. 4986 eliminates more detailed requirements of the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008 which directed the FCC to choose communities for the comparison in a manner that will offer, to the extent possible, communities of a population size, population density, topography, and demographic profile that are comparable to the population size, population density, topography, and demographic profile of various communities within the United States. The FCC's current international comparison report includes a geographically diverse selection of countries and communities including the capital cities of such countries. 

In assessing the state of competition and regulatory barriers, the FCC is to consider market entry barriers for entrepreneurs and other small businesses in the communications marketplace in accordance with the national policy to favor diversity of media voices, vigorous economic competition, technological advancement, and promotion of the public interest, convenience, and necessity.

In assessing the state of competition, the FCC is to include in each report the aggregate average total amount paid by cable systems in compensation to broadcasters for retransmitting their programming.

Rewriting Section 706

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 directs the FCC and state public service commissions to "encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of [broadband] to all Americans...," by using "price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods...." It also directs the FCC to undertake an annual review, and if it finds that broadband deployment is not proceeding "in a reasonable and timely fashion," to "take immediate action to accelerate deployment...."

H.R. 4986 would rewrite Sec 706's mandate for a 'regular' advanced telecommunications capability report, instead making it part of the communications marketplace report. The new subsection (b) would read:

If the Commission determines in its report ... after considering the availability of advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans (including, in particular, elementary and secondary schools and classrooms), that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, the Commission shall take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.

In addition, H.R. 4986 deletes the definition of "advanced telecommunications capability" which now is "without regard to any transmission media or technology, as high-speed, switched, broadband telecommunications capability that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology."

Broadband Internet Access Service for Veterans

H.R. 4986 requires the FCC, within one year, to submit a report to Congress on its efforts to promote broadband Internet Access Service for veterans, especially low-income veterans and/or those who reside in rural areas. The bill would require a public proceeding to inform the writing of the report.

Tribal Digital Access

Section 508 of the bill requires the FCC, again within one year, to submit a report to Congress evaluating broadband coverage in Indian country and on land held by a Native Corporation pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The report must include an assessment of both the areas with adequate service and the areas that are unserved. The bill would require a public proceeding, within 30 months, to address the areas that do not have broadband service.

Mobile Coverage Data

The bill would also require the FCC to establish a methodology for collection of mobile service coverage. That methodology will:

  1. Contain standard definitions for different available technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE;
  2. Enhance the consistency and robustness of how the data are collected by different parties;
  3. Improve the validity and reliability of coverage data; and
  4. Increase the efficiency of coverage data collection.


These new reporting requirements are just a slice of the RAY BAUM’S Act -- and not exactly the kinds of provisions that get the most attention. But these changes to FCC data collection and reporting are likely to inform policymaking -- both at the FCC and in Congress -- for many years to come. We'll keep an eye on H.R. 4986 as it moves forward -- and we'll see you in the Headlines

* The RAY BAUM’S Act is named for former House Commerce Committee Staff Director Ray Baum, a champion of telecommunications policy and long-time personal friend of Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). Mr Baum lost his battle with cancer in February 2018. The Benton Foundation is thankful for Mr. Baum's service to our nation.

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