Communications Act update passes House, bill heads to Senate for approval

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The House of Representatives voted unanimously to amend and approve S. 253, the Communications Act Update Act of 2016, marking a major step in completing new telecom legislation.

With this bill, the House addresses eight Energy and Commerce Committee bills that have previously passed the House or have unanimously passed the committee.

The bill now heads back to the Senate for final consideration.

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Some of the key provisions address the FCC’s reporting process and extending affordable broadband services. For example, in H.R. 2583, the Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act which was sponsored by Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), lawmakers call for the FCC to be more transparent in its rule making, and adopt procedures that "create certainty."  

Meantime, H.R. 4596, the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act, which was passed in March, supports small Internet Service Providers (ISPs) by protecting them from the same reporting requirements included in the FCC’s net neutrality order. The bill would extend the small business ISP exemption for providers with fewer than 250,000 subscribers for five years, allowing small businesses to focus on building networks, deploying broadband, improving connectivity for rural consumers, and creating jobs. 

“These eight bills are further testament that the Energy and Commerce Committee is a legislative workhorse. Another hallmark of the committee is that we try to take advantage of every opportunity to advance our legislative priorities,” said full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), in a statement. “Greater government transparency, improving rural phone call quality, protecting consumers -- these are all wildly popular and have achieved near unanimous support in the House.

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai praised the House’s ability to work across party lines to approve the act. “I commend Chairman Fred Upton and Ranking Member Frank Pallone of the Energy and Commerce Committee as well as Chairman Greg Walden and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee for advancing this bipartisan legislation that would improve rural communications, crack down on robocalls, and protect public safety, including by promoting direct dial 911,” Pai said in a statement. “This is straightforward, good-government legislation, and I hope that the U.S. Senate will act quickly to send this bill to the President for his signature.”

Revising the Communications Act of 1934 has been an effort long in the making. In August, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee said that making the revisions is a key priority for 2017.

The last time the law was updated was in 1996. But as Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) pointed out in the report, the “endless litigation” surrounding new laws could serve as the catalyst for revisions.

For more:
- see the release

Related articles:
U.S. House passes bill to exempt small ISPs from net neutrality rules
Republicans eye renewed shot at revising Communications Act
Republican congressmen propose update to 1996 Telecommunications Act

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