Emerging Technologies Washington Update

January 3, 2019

Pardon Our Dust

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Week in Review

The partial government shutdown entered its 13th day this morning amid the standoff between the President and Congress over his request for $5 billion to build a border wall. As a result, nine departments and dozens of agencies and other entities are largely closed with hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed (see below for more details).

On Wednesday, bipartisan congressional leaders went to the White House for a border security briefing but did not make any progress towards a deal to reopen the government. As the 116th Congress convenes today, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will bring up and the House is expected to approve Senate-passed legislation to fund through the end of the fiscal year all of the agencies that are currently closed, except the Department of Homeland Security, which would be funded at current levels through February 8. Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) doesn’t plan to bring anything to the Senate floor that the President doesn’t support, however.

Before the 115th Congress came to a close, the Senate confirmed a number of pending executive branch nominations. Geoffrey Starks will fill the vacant Democratic seat on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Senate also confirmed Republican Commissioner Brendan Carr to a full second term. Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier is the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the first person to hold the position during this administration. Patrick Fuchs and Martin Oberman join the Surface Transportation Board and Joel Szabat is the new Assistant Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs at the Department of Transportation. A complete list of those confirmed can be found here. The President will have to resubmit any nominations that were not confirmed to the new Congress.

As the 116th Congress gets underway, the Senate has nine new members, namely Senators Blackburn (R-TN), Braun (R-IN), Cramer (R-ND), Hawley (R-MO), McSally (R-AZ), Romney (R-UT), Rosen (D-NV), Scott (R-FL), and Sinema (D-AZ). The House is swearing in over 100 new members today.

Looking Ahead

The near-term agenda in Washington will continue to revolve around the ongoing partial government shutdown as the 116th Congress gets underway with a Republican-controlled Senate and a Democratic-controlled House.

Consumer-Facing Agencies Among Those Closed in Partial Government Shutdown

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is almost entirely closed as of today with 1,200 employees, over 80% of its workforce, on furlough. As a result, the Commission isn’t reviewing or responding to consumer complaints or enforcing its consumer protection or local competition rules. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ran out of available funds before the end of the year, suspending all “non-merger investigations.” Consumer services like the National Do Not Call Registry and services for reporting consumer complaints and identity theft are also unavailable.

Other departments and agencies that are largely closed for business include the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Justice, Agriculture, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, State, Interior, and Treasury, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and National Park Service (NPS). Those deemed essential employees, such as Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners and air traffic controllers, remain on the job without pay.

NTIA Seeks Comments on National Spectrum Strategy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is soliciting comments on the development of a long-term national spectrum strategy. The request for public feedback stems from October’s Presidential Memorandum on Developing a Sustainable Spectrum Strategy for America’s Future. To inform its report to the President, NTIA is seeking recommendations to, among other things, increase spectrum access, improve US competitiveness in both terrestrial and space-related industries, and creating flexible models for spectrum management. Specifically, NTIA asks for comments on how the needs of spectrum users will develop in the next 15 years as the federal government looks to implement a forward-looking strategy. Comments are due by January 22.

Industry Invited to Help FAA Develop Remote Identification System for Drones

The December incident in London in which alleged drone sightings prompted Gatwick Airport to close its runways highlighted the urgent need to put in place a system in which the owner and/or operator of a drone operating in the airspace may be remotely identified by aviation and law enforcement authorities. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working for over a year on a remote identification (ID) rule, with a proposed rule expected this spring. In parallel, international standards organization ASTM is also developing standards for remote ID, which are expected to be published this winter. The FAA announced another initiative on December 20 in a Request for Information (RFI) for “data exchange strategies and demonstrations for UAS remote identification.” Modeled after the Low Altitude Airspace and Notification Capability (LAANC) system, a successful FAA-industry partnership to authorize drone operations in controlled airspace in real time, the FAA is seeking a small number of participants to serve as remote identification UAS Service Suppliers (USS). FAA envisions a remote identification system to be operated by the private sector (and certain federal agencies to manage and control their drone flights) at no cost to the FAA, with the FAA establishing the operational framework (requirements and criteria) and supporting data. The FAA believes that a remote ID USS may be a UAS manufacturer, a web-based information provider, a network provider, or a large scale UAS operations provider. The FAA will work with the selected entities to develop an initial prototype and conduct beta testing in prototype cloud environments under a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) and at the outset, intends to select no more than eight entities. It may, however, choose to add additional USSs to the program, as it continues to do with LAANC. Responses are due no later than 1:00 PM eastern on February 4.

FCC Chairman Lauds Failure to Overturn Net Neutrality Repeal

In a statement released yesterday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai celebrated House Democrats’ inability to pass a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution during the 115th Congress to overturn the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The Order, which took effect June 11, 2018, repealed net neutrality principles established under the 2015 Open Internet Order during the Obama administration. While the Senate voted 52-47 in May to pass Sen. Markey’s (D-MA) CRA resolution, parallel efforts led by Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) stalled in the House. Congressman Doyle’s discharge petition to bring his CRA resolution to the floor garnered a total of 182 of the 218 signatories required to trigger a vote before the 115th Congress came to a close. 

“I’m pleased that a strong bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives declined to reinstate heavy-handed Internet regulation. They did the right thing—especially considering the positive results for American consumers since the adoption of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” Pai stated. Democrats, including incoming House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), have vowed to continue the fight in the 116th Congress while states and the courts continue their efforts to challenge the FCC’s actions. “The new Democratic majority will work to restore strong net neutrality rules in the House of Representatives this year,” Pallone said in response to Pai’s statement.