House Passes Diversity, T-Band, Other Communications Bills

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

The House this week passed four communications-related bills including ones blocking Congress' own mandate to auction T-Band spectrum and one that would require the FCC to look at market entry barriers to diverse media ownership.

H.R. 5567, the Measuring the Economics Driving Investments and Access for Diversity Act of 2020 (or “MEDIA Diversity Act for short) was introduced by Reps. Billy Long (R-Mo.) and Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Tex.). It makes sure the FCC looks at what opportunities socially disadvantaged individuals have, or don't have, to be players in the communications space when it conducts its annual review of the communications marketplace. The FCC is also currently under a court order to better explain the impact of its deregulatory policies on minority and women ownership of media properties.

Related: FCC's Pai Joins Call for Congress to Ax T-Band Auction 

H.R. 451, the Don’t Break Up the T-Band Act of 2019, was introduced by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), Al Green (D-Tex.) and Peter King (R-N.Y.). 

The FCC is currently slated to reclaim spectrum from first responders for auction, but FCC Chairman Ajit Pai had asked Congress to reverse that decision. In the 2012 Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, Congress required the FCC to reallocate and auction the spectrum, which has been used for decades by public safety licensees, and to fund the relocation of those users elsewhere. Legislators on both sides of the aisle support the repeal.

H.R. 5918 directs the FCC to investigate and issue reports after activation of the FCC's Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS) and to make improvements to network outage reporting and ensuring they are reported to 911 centers. It was introduced by Reps. Doris Matsui, Anna Eshoo, Mike Thompson, and Jared Huffman (all D-Calif.). 

S. 2661, the “National Suicide Hotline Designation Act,” is companion legislation to the House bill that designates the FCC's choice of 988 as the suicide hotline number and allows states to pay for the hotline with a fee. It also requires the government to look into ways to help the LGBTQ population. The CDC says that according to a study of youth in grades 7-12 found that "lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers."

“The COVID-19 pandemic has proven just how crucial a reliable, fast and resilient communications network is to Americans’ well-being,” said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Mike Doyle (D-Pa.). “Together, the bills passed this week by the House will improve our disaster response protocols, keep tools in the hands of public safety officials to keep Americans safe in crisis, ensure better opportunities for socially disadvantaged Americans to enter the communications marketplace and support the implementation and funding of a three-digit universal dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. These are important improvements to our nation’s telecommunications system and we’re proud that they passed with such bipartisan support.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.