In a move spurred by Twitter’s decision to fact-check a pair of President Trump’s tweets, the president recently signed a multi-pronged “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” with the claimed intention of stopping online platforms from making content moderation decisions that discriminate against particular viewpoints. The President, along with other conservative political figures and commentators, have frequently claimed that social media platforms have used content moderation practices to stifle conservative speech. The Executive Order (“EO”) evokes the First Amendment, calling online platforms the 21st century “public square,” where people go to express and debate different views, and saying the allegedly biased content moderation practices undermine that free expression.

The most controversial aspects of the order are its interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”)—the statutory provision that shields online service providers from liability for user-generated content and the decisions they make about how to moderate that content—and its attempt to prompt the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to adopt regulations further interpreting the law. Reform of Section 230 has been under consideration in Congress for years, with Republicans and Democrats both offering different—and mostly contrary—critiques about how online platforms have failed to act in accordance with the statute while also benefitting from the liability protections.

Other directives in the EO attempt to elicit other parts of the federal government to discipline online platforms for their content moderation practices. Absent Congressional action, the EO’s directives appear to stand on shaky legal ground and are likely to have limited legal impact.  However, the issuance of the EO alone may be unlawful, at least according to a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the EO filed with the U.S. District Court in D.C. by the Center for Democracy & Technology (“CDT”). According to the complaint, the EO violates the First Amendment, which strictly limits the government’s ability to abridge speech, by retaliating against Twitter for exercising its right to comment on the President’s statements and because it “seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals” by demonstrating the government’s willingness to retaliate against those who criticize the government.


Continue Reading Section 230 Executive Order Strikes Back at Twitter, But Legal Impact Likely to be Limited

As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly unfolds, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers, extensions, and other regulatory relief. Kelley Drye’s Communications Practice Group is tracking these actions and what they mean for communications service providers and their customers. CommLaw Monitor will provide regular updates to its analysis of the latest regulatory and legislative actions impacting your business and the communications industry. Click on the “COVID-19” blog category for previous updates.

If you have any urgent questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Communications Practice Group. For more information on other aspects of the federal and state response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as labor and employment and other issues, please visit Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center.


Continue Reading COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – April 13, 2020

On March 25, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced a one-month postponement of the 3.5 GHz auction (3550-3650 GHz) in the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”), a.k.a. Auction 105. The Commission cited the need “to protect the health and safety of Commission staff during the auction and [the ancillary benefit” that parties have additional time to prepare to participate.”  FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated the agency’s commitment to hold the auction this summer. The band is the first in the so-called mid-band, a range of spectrum seen as critical to the roll out of 5G wireless applications. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly tweeted today that a further delay would be unlikely absent absolutely compelling circumstances. The start of the auction has been postponed to July 23, 2020, (from June 25, 2020), and the new short-form application filing window is April 23 through May 7, 2020.

The Commission also postponed indefinitely its Auction 106, which was set to begin April 28, 2020, and was selling through competitive bidding construction permits in the FM broadcast service.


Continue Reading FCC Postponing 3.5 GHz Auction on Account of COVID-19; Agency Hopes to Keep 3.7-4.2 GHz Auction on Track

On Thursday, February 6, in a speech at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai outlined his proposal for the realignment of 3.7-4.2 GHz, the so-called C-Band. Later in the day, the FCC website posted a summary of the Chairman’s proposals, and Republican Commissioners Carr and O’Rielly released statements in support of the initiative. A draft order is expected sometime today, February 7, which will fill in a lot of gaps missing from the broad brushstrokes the Chairman outlined.

Continue Reading Pai Offers Highlights of His 3.7-4.2 GHz Band Proposal; Particulars Presently Forthcoming

In a strongly worded Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order (the “Order”) released on November 26, 2019, the FCC adopted several measures to protect U.S. communications networks from potential national security threats. Likely coming as no surprise to anyone following the proceeding or current news, the FCC identified Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”), both Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers, as national security threats based, in large part, on the companies’ close ties to the Chinese government. Adding to numerous recent federal actions addressing national security concerns, the Order takes three significant steps, within the context of the universal service fund (“USF”) program, to try to mitigate national security threats to the nation’s communications networks.

Continue Reading FCC Prohibits Carriers Receiving USF Support from Using Providers Deemed to Pose a National Security Risk; Further Notice to Explore Using USF to Replace Equipment Already Installed

Featuring keynote remarks from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly

Date/Time: Wednesday, October 2, 3:00 – 5:30 PM
Location: Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, 3050 K Street NW

This seminar will feature background presentations on the Universal Service Fund (“USF”) programs, remarks from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and a conversation with experts on the future of the USF programs. Attendees are encouraged to ask questions and participate in the discussion as we take a deeper dive into the issues.


Continue Reading FCBA Universal Service Fund Seminar on October 2nd

In this two-part edition of Full Spectrum’s recurring series on FCC enforcement, Partner Steve Augustino and Senior Associate Brad Currier highlight a recent trend and cover some of the most interesting late-summer enforcement items.

Part one of this episode focuses on the significance and implications of Commissioner-led investigations, such as Commissioner O’Rielly regarding E-Rate overbuilding

FCC regulatory fees for FY 2019 must be paid by September 24, 2019, under an order issued by the agency earlier this week. Federal law requires the FCC to assess regulatory fees each year to cover its operating costs (thus, the agency is largely self-funding). The FCC plans to collect a total of $339 million in fees for FY 2019, representing about a 5 percent increase from FY 2018. Beyond providing the specific fees due, the order offers important guidance for entities seeking fee waivers or dealing with bankruptcy or license transfers. While most services saw only slight fee increases, the significant fee jump for certain industry sectors led Commissioner O’Rielly to push for new restraints on agency spending. As the FCC collects its regulatory fees across all regulated services, any decline in fees for one service necessarily means increased fees for others. In light of this “zero sum” game, all service providers should carefully examine the impact of the order on their business and the potential for future reforms.

Continue Reading FCC Regulatory Fees for FY 2019 Due September 24th, O’Rielly Urges Agency Belt-Tightening

On August 1, the FCC took another step in its ongoing effort to combat deceptive and unlawful calls to consumers. This action once again sets its sights on a common target:  concealment or alteration of the originating number on a communication. This practice is known as “spoofing” and, when conducted with an intent to cause harm to consumers, is unlawful. In the August 1 Report and Order, the FCC amended its Truth In Caller ID rules to expand anti-spoofing prohibitions to foreign-originated calls and text messaging services.

Once these rules take effect, the FCC closes a significant gap in its prior rules – calls which originate outside the United States – at the same time that it acts preemptively to prohibit deceptive spoofing in a growing area – text messaging. In the process, the FCC will enhance one of its most commonly used tools in its effort to combat unlawful robocalls – fines for unlawful spoofing. Generally, the FCC has attacked parties that originate unlawful robocalls by fining them for the subsidiary violation of spoofing the unlawful calls. In telecommunications enforcement, spoofing violations are the tax evasion charges to Al Capone’s criminal enterprise.


Continue Reading FCC Expands Anti-Spoofing Prohibitions to Foreign-Originated Calls, Text-Messaging Services

On Friday, May 31, 2019, the FCC released a much-anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider the adoption of an overall budget cap on the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), separate from any individual budgets for each of the four USF programs. The NPRM is in response to years-long advocacy on the part of Commissioner O’Rielly to impose budgets on USF spending, and it comes over dissent of the two Democratic Commissioners. While Commissioner O’Rielly justified the proposal as responsible stewardship of public money and said it would not limit funding in the near future, Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks criticized the proposal as undermining the goals of Universal Service and, at worst, creating a “universal service hunger games” among the support programs.

The release of the NPRM was our first look at the specifics of a proposal that broke a month ago. The NPRM does not propose a specific budget, primarily raises questions about how to proceed, and does not contain any proposed rules. Nevertheless, opponents of the proposal have been most vocal since word of the NPRM came out, and we expect those USF stakeholders to continue in opposition to the approach. Meanwhile, proposals to reform USF contributions remain stalled (and lacking any consensus), while the contribution factor hovers around 20% of assessable revenues.


Continue Reading Does the Universal Service Fund Need a Cap? A Divided FCC Begins its Inquiry