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The Week Ahead: House to vote on package tackling spectrum, FCC reauthorization

The FCC and Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote on March 6 on a bipartisan legislative package that would both reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission in terms of funding and procedure, and would also resolve several outstanding issues in the media and communications space.

The legislation, the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act, or RAY BAUM'S Act, includes appropriations for the FCC, allocating $333.1 million for fiscal year 2019 and $339.6 million for fiscal year 2020. The amount for fiscal 2019 is in line with the commission's budget request, released in February, which noted $333.1 million represents a decrease of $21.2 million or 6% from the 2018 annualized continuing appropriation level of $354.3 million.

In addition, the legislation authorizes a spectrum repack fund to address the shortfall in funding available to relocate broadcasters being displaced following the 600 MHz incentive auction. During the auction, broadcasters sold their spectrum, and it was eventually acquired by mobile network operators. Now, to clear the bands into usable blocks, the FCC must reorganize broadcasters into remaining TV bands. Though Congress initially allocated $1.75 billion for the repacking process, the amount is widely expected to prove insufficient. The RAY BAUM'S Act would cover that shortfall and also provide funds for television translator stations or low-power television stations displaced by the repack.

Importantly for the FCC and its planned high-band spectrum auction later this year, the legislation also includes a provision that allows the FCC to deposit upfront auction payments directly with the U.S. Treasury Department. In February, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he planned to hold an auction in November for spectrum in the 28 GHz band, followed immediately by a second auction for spectrum in the 24 GHz band. This high-band spectrum is expected to play a significant role in the rollout of 5G given that it offers wider bands. While most spectrum today in lower bands is available in 5 MHz to 10 MHz blocks, high-band spectrum will be available in 200 MHz or more blocks, enabling operators to carry significantly more traffic at higher speeds. But Pai conditioned the auction on getting a legislative fix that addressed the handling of upfront payments.

According to the FCC, the Communications Act currently requires the FCC to deposit any upfront payments from bidders in spectrum auctions in "an interest bearing account at a financial institution." But private banks have told the FCC they do not want to hold these upfront payments, and public institutions have declined to set up the special purpose accounts necessary to offer such services. Pai has for months been urging Congress to change the law so that deposits from spectrum auctions bidders can be sent to the Treasury Department.

The FCC chairman has already voiced his support for the RAY BAUM'S Act, saying in February, "I look forward to seeing this legislation pass the House." The bill must also be approved by the Senate and signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law.

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March 6 The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on the RAY BAUM'S Act.
March 6 The Senate Committee on Finance will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. ET entitled "Protecting E-commerce Consumers from Counterfeits."
March 6 The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. ET titled "Oversight of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration."
March 6 The House Committee on Small Business will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. ET titled, "Disconnected: Rural Broadband and the Business Case for Small Carriers."
March 7 The House Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. ET titled "Review of Emerging Tech's Impact on Retail Operations and Logistics."
March 7 The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. ET titled "Legislative Proposals to Reform the Current Data Security and Breach Notification Regulatory Regime."
March 7 The House Homeland Security Committee will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. ET titled "Examining DHS' Efforts to Strengthen its Cybersecurity Workforce."
FCC events
March 8 The 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee's informal working group for space services will chat at 11 a.m. ET. The advisory committee is chartered under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to provide the FCC with public views and recommendations in preparation for the 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference.
March 8 The 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee's informal working group for regulatory issues will chat at 1 p.m. ET.
March 9 The 2019 World Radiocommunication Conference Advisory Committee's informal working group for terrestrial services will chat at 11 p.m. ET.
Industry events
March 6 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and U.S. Department of
Transportation will hold a public meeting seeking comment on the testing and compliance certification of automated vehicles.
March 7 The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation will host an event titled "Unboxing the Piracy Threat of Streaming Media Boxes." The event will look beyond popular devices like Inc.'s Fire TV Sticks, Alphabet Inc.'s Chromecasts and Roku Inc. boxes to look at the growing number of users who buy devices such as the TickBox or Dragon Box to avoid paying for content.
March 7 The Federal Communications Bar Association's Homeland Security and Emergency Communications Committee will sponsor an event titled "Public Safety Communications Systems: Frameworks and Operational Practicalities."
March 8 Silicon Flatirons at the University of Colorado Boulder will host an event titled "Section 512 Safe Harbor: Challenges and Opportunities in User-Generated Content."
Cybersecurity events:
March 5 -7 InfoSecurity Connect West 2018 will take place in San Diego. The forum brings together senior cybersecurity executives from some of the top U.S. banks, credit unions, insurers and financial service companies.
March 8 The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission will host an event titled "China, The United States, and Next Generation Connectivity." Among other things, the event will explore U.S. and Chinese policies to address 5G, data privacy and security challenges.
March 9 The Congressional Internet Caucus Academy will host an event titled "EU Privacy Countdown: What the GDPR Regulations Mean For Your Constituents" focused on the European Commission's upcoming implementation of General Data Protection Regulation rules.

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