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WiFi-Boosting Bill Hits a Partisan Wall

WASHINGTON — The MOBILE NOW Act remains immobile.

The bill, which could help cable operators access more of the unlicensed spectrum that powers WiFi hotspots — currently MSOs’ primary mobile broadband play — is being blocked thanks to the ongoing fight between Republicans and Democrats over the renomination of Federal Communications Commission commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

In keeping with the dysfunction in Washington these days, both parties support another five-year term for Rosenworcel and the MOBILE NOW Act, each of which were unanimously approved in the Senate Commerce Committee earlier this year.

The bill is intended to hasten the rollout of next-generation 5G wireless gigabit broadband service and directs various federal agencies to evaluate spectrum bands for 5G, including high-band millimeter wave frequencies.

The bill includes an amendment, backed by wireless broadband spectrum fan Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), that insures at least 100 MHz of the freed up spectrum would go for unlicensed use.

But the MOBILE NOW Act has yet to get a full Senate vote, and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) came just short of saying it would get a vote over his dead body.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) took to the Senate floor last week to ask for unanimous consent to pass the bipartisan bill, essentially a procedural shortcut for noncontroversial bills. But Reid said, no dice, making it clear that inaction on Rosenworcel’s nomination was the big problem.

Reid said, quoting former Sen. Bob Dole: “If you don’t keep your word, is doesn’t matter what agenda you try to advance,” adding that while he had great respect for Thune, he was not going to let the mobile wireless through.

Reid said he was still waiting for the Republicans to keep the promise they had made 18 months ago when they pushed for the confirmation of Republican Michael O’Rielly to the FCC. Reid reluctantly agreed to allow the vote on the word of Thune and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) that Rosenworcel would get a vote when her she came up for renomination.

Despite that promise, there has been no vote. Reid, who said Rosenworcel was in limbo, cited last week’s “extremely important” vote on the on the FCC set-top box proposal while she still had not been confirmed in that job. “It is wrong.”

No one questions Rosenworcel’s qualifications, credentials or integrity, Reid said, “Yet Republicans have refused to keep their promise and hold a vote.”

He also noted the lack of a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, whom President Obama nominated in March to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. Given the broken, Reid-brokered Rosenworcel deal, and the inaction on Garland and other judicial nominees, there is no vote in sight for the bill.

Thune said he was also disappointed and he had done everything he could, including voting Rosenworcel out of committee — unanimously. He said he knew that Reid was frustrated with the inaction but the situation was out of his hands, scheduling on the floor was not in his control — it is in McConnell’s. Thune said that it was ironic that many of the concepts in the MOBILE NOW Act reflected Rosenworcel’s ideas, and that two of the most important additions to the bill were from Democrats: promoting unlicensed spectrum and a “dig once” provision to speed broadband deployment.

“While I respect how important it is to Sen. Reid and to other Democrats that commissioner Rosenworcel be confirmed this year, there is simply no reason for that effort to jeopardize the good faith work that senators on both sides of the aisle did to create this bill,” he said, calling for passage. Reid said that was not going to happen. “You can bring it out every other day, every other minute, every other hour. I will object to it.”

Wheeler Won’t Commit Hill Take On Transparency Waiver

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler has sent a pretty clear signal he is not in tune with Congress when it comes to the waiver of the Open Internet order’s enhanced transparency rules. The FCC is set to decide in December whether and how to extend the waiver.

In March, the House passed the Small Business Broadband Deployment Act — which would have extended the waiver — 411 to zero. Then it passed the Senate Commerce Committee 21 to three, but like so much other legislation this term, has gone no farther.

At a recent Commerce Committee FCC hearing, Sen. Steve Danes (RMont.) told Wheeler that Congress has “shouted pretty loud” that the waiver should be extended, and apply to systems with 250,000 subscribers or fewer.

But asked if he would vote to extend, Wheeler would not commit. Wheeler said he was fully aware of the votes, but added that 250,000 subscribers is about $250 million dollars in revenue. “So, you’ve got to say to yourself: ‘Are you going to keep transparency because it is, quote, too expensive, away from consumers who are on companies that do a quarter billion dollars a year in revenue?’ ”

Wheeler said he was not trying to be judgmental, but it was hard not to view the statement as a judgment.