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Monday, January 28, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape



Patricia Moloney Figliola
Specialist in Internet and Telecommunications Policy

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent federal agency with its five members appointed by the President, subject to confirmation by the Senate. It was established by the Communications Act of 1934 (1934 Act) and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable. The mission of the FCC is to ensure that the American people have available—at reasonable cost and without discrimination—rapid, efficient, nation- and world-wide communication services, whether by radio, television, wire, satellite, or cable.

Although the FCC has restructured over the past few years to better reflect the industry, it is still required to adhere to the statutory requirements of its governing legislation, the Communications Act of 1934. The 1934 Act requires the FCC to regulate the various industry sectors differently. Some policymakers have been critical of the FCC and the manner in which it regulates various sectors of the telecommunications industry—telephone, cable television, radio and television broadcasting, and some aspects of the Internet. These policymakers, including some in Congress, have long called for varying degrees and types of reform to the FCC. Most proposals fall into two categories: (1) procedural changes made within the FCC or through congressional action that would affect the agency’s operations or (2) substantive policy changes requiring congressional action that would affect how the agency regulates different services and industry sectors. Nine bills have been introduced during the 112
th Congress that would change the operation of the FCC.

For FY2013, the FCC requested a budget of $346,782,000. The FY2012 enacted appropriation was $339,844,000. FY2013 appropriations bills from the Senate and the House have not yet been passed. H.J.Res. 117, which was passed by the House on September 13, 2012, would provide a framework for a six-month Continuing Resolution that began on October 1, 2013. The FCC’s budget is derived from regulatory fees collected by the agency rather than through a direct appropriation. The fees, often referred to as “Section (9) fees,” are collected from license holders and certain other entities (e.g., cable television systems) and deposited into an FCC account. The law gives the FCC authority to review the regulatory fees and to adjust the fees to reflect changes in its appropriation from year to year. It may also add, delete, or reclassify services under certain circumstances.

There are currently nine bills under consideration in the House and Senate that would affect the operations of the FCC: H.R. 1009, H.R. 2102, H.R. 2289, H.R. 3309, H.R. 3310, S. 611, S. 1780, S. 1784, and S. 1817. These are discussed in more detail in the body of the report.



Date of Report: December 18, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: RL32589
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Friday, January 25, 2013

Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response: The SAFER Grant Program



Lennard G. Kruger
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

In response to concerns over the adequacy of firefighter staffing, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Act, known as the SAFER Act, was enacted by the 108th Congress as Section 1057 of the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 108-136). The SAFER Act authorizes grants to career, volunteer, and combination local fire departments for the purpose of increasing the number of firefighters to help communities meet industry-minimum standards and attain 24-hour staffing to provide adequate protection from fire and fire-related hazards. Also authorized are grants to volunteer fire departments for recruitment and retention of volunteers. SAFER is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

With the economic turndown adversely affecting budgets of local governments, concerns arose that modifications to the SAFER statute may be necessary to enable fire departments to more effectively and affordably participate in the program. Since FY2009, annual appropriations bills have contained provisions that waive certain provisions of the SAFER statute. These provisions included the length of the grant, maintenance of expenditure requirements, local matching requirements, and grant caps. The waivers served to reduce the financial obligation on SAFER grant recipients, and allowed SAFER grants to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters and to fill positions lost through attrition.

Under the existing SAFER statute, the program was authorized through FY2010. The 112
th Congress enacted the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012 (P.L. 112-239), which reauthorized SAFER through FY2017; altered the grant distribution formula among career, volunteer, combination, and paid-on-call fire departments; raised available funding for higher population areas; and permanently addressed waiver issues previously addressed in annual appropriations legislation.

Meanwhile, the Administration’s FY2013 budget proposed $670 million for firefighter assistance, including $335 million for SAFER and $335 million for Assistance to Firefighters Grants (AFG). Both the House-passed FY2013 appropriations bill (H.R. 5855) and the Senate Appropriations Committee bill (S. 3216) provided $675 million ($337.5 million for SAFER and $337.5 million for AFG). The Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2013 (P.L. 112-175) funds firefighter assistance programs through the first six months of FY2013 at an increase of 0.612% of the FY2012 level. Therefore, under the FY2013 continuing resolution, AFG is funded at $339.5 million and SAFER is funded at $339.5 million through March 2013.

The 113
th Congress will likely consider FY2013 and FY2014 budget appropriations for SAFER. As is the case with many federal programs, concerns over the federal budget deficit could impact budget levels. At the same time, firefighter assistance budgets will likely receive heightened scrutiny from the fire community, given the local budgetary cutbacks that many fire departments are now facing. The 113th Congress will also likely examine the impact of new SAFER hiring grant guidelines mandated by P.L. 112-239, the Fire Grants Reauthorization Act of 2012. The continuing issue is how effectively grants are being distributed and used to protect the health and safety of the public and firefighting personnel against fire and fire-related hazards. .


Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 14
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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cybersecurity: A Compendium



The nation’s health, wealth, security, and quality of life rely on the production and distribution of certain goods and services (safe drinking water, electricity, fuels, etc.). The array of physical assets, processes, information, and people that facilitate this production and distribution have been referred to as the nation’s critical infrastructure. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, government at all levels has focused greater attention on the vulnerability of critical infrastructure and on how best to enhance its protection.

The federal government has taken on the responsibility of working with the owners and operators of critical infrastructure (both public and private) to determine which of their assets are the most critical to the nation as whole, to assess the vulnerability of these assets to a variety of threats, to determine the risks involved, to develop options for reducing those risks, and to implement the most cost-effective risk-reduction options. Although there is a range of regulatory intervention already in place across the various critical infrastructure sectors, national policy states that the federal government should strive to encourage owners and operators to take proactive, market-based actions to protect these assets. However, the federal government is willing to intervene (through regulation or incentives) in those cases where owners and operators are unwilling or unable to adequately protect nationally critical assets. The federal government has also assumed the responsibility of assisting state and local governments and some private sector entities protect assets that are important locally, but which may not be critical to the nation as a whole. While many federal agencies play a role, Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) No. 7 makes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the lead agency in coordinating this national effort.

Date of Report: January 9, 2013
Number of Pages: 206
Order Number: C12034
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Privacy and Data Security: A Compendium



This Compendium provides an extensive overview of federal statutes governing wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping. Online advertising as it relates to privacy law is examined including a detailed review of the advertising industry in the digital age. The growing threat of at-risk customer financial risk is emphasized.

Spyware, the not only annoying but often exceedingly dangerous invader of computers, is the focus on one section of the Compendium. Another section deals with legal developments relating to the collection, disclosure, and confidentiality of Social Security numbers. A separate section concerns itself with compulsory DNA collection. The Compendium is rounded out with a discussion of the ever-present threat of identity theft.

Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 331
Order Number: C12016
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The Role of Patents and Regulatory Exclusivities in Pharmaceutical Innovation



John R. Thomas
Visiting Scholar

In combination, patents and regulatory exclusivities provide the fundamental framework of intellectual property incentives for pharmaceutical innovation in the United States. Patents, which are administered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), provide their owner with the ability to exclude others from practicing the claimed invention for a limited time. In contrast, regulatory exclusivities are administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Alternatively known as marketing exclusivities, data exclusivities, or data protection, regulatory exclusivities establish a period of time during which the FDA affords an approved drug protection from competing applications for marketing approval.

Although patents and regulatory exclusivities are separate entitlements that are administered by different federal administrative agencies and that depend upon distinct criteria, they both create proprietary rights in pharmaceutical and biologics innovation. These rights allow innovators to receive a return on the expenditure of resources leading to a discovery. Once these proprietary interests expire, the marketplace for that drug is open to generic or follow-on competition.

Congressional interest in promoting both innovation and competition in the pharmaceutical industry has focused attention on both patents and regulatory exclusivities. For example, the 112
th Congress proposed but did not enact the Modernizing Our Drug and Diagnostics Evaluation and Regulatory Network Cures Act, or MODDERN Cures Act (H.R. 3497). This bill confronted policy makers with a debate previously conducted by legal academics over the relative role of patents and regulatory exclusivities in promoting pharmaceutical and biotechnology R&D. In addition, the Obama Administration has proposed a reduction in the regulatory exclusivity offered to brand-name biologic drugs to seven years, down from the 12 years incorporated in the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009 (enacted as Title VII of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act). Controversy has surrounded the award of regulatory exclusivities to colchicine, an ancient remedy for gout that was subject to the FDA’s Unapproved Drugs Initiative.

International agreements require each World Trade Organization (WTO) member state to treat all patented inventions in the same manner. This rule seemingly prohibits discrimination both against and in favor of patents on drugs as compared to other technologies. As a result, regulatory exclusivities provide Congress with a more flexible option for stimulating specific sorts of desirable private activity than do patents. The WTO Agreements, as well as certain Free Trade Agreements to which the United States is a signatory, also obligate nations to provide some manner of protection to pharmaceutical test data. Discussion over the inclusion of regulatory exclusivity requirements within the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is ongoing.



Date of Report: January 7, 2013
Number of Pages: 19
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