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.

FCC Approves Tenth Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Applications, Surpassing $100 Million in Funding Out of the $200 Million Allocated

On June 10, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) approved 67 additional funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Under the latest funding round, $20.18 million will go to health care providers across 27 states and Washington, D.C. With this latest set of approvals, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has funded 305 health care providers in 42 states, plus D.C., for a total of $104.98 million in funding awarded so far. Congress appropriated $200 million for the Program and the FCC continues to evaluate applications and distribute funding on a rolling basis.

In the most recent episode of Kelley Drye’s Full Spectrum podcast, Partner John Heitmann and Special Counsel Denise Smith discuss the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, including healthcare provider eligibility criteria, funding coverage, and key application considerations.

WCB, OMD Defer Form 470 Changes

On June 8, the WCB and the Office of the Managing Director (“OMD”) issued a Public Notice (DA 20-598) notifying E-Rate program participants that the FCC Form 470 will remain unchanged for funding year 2021. Form 470 is the form that E-Rate program applicants use to solicit bids from service providers for eligible services. This is the latest FCC action aimed at allowing schools and libraries to continue to focus their time and resources on responding to the pandemic.

WCB Waives Filing Requirement for RoR ETCs

On June 8, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-641) granting a temporary waiver of the requirement for privately held rate-of-return (“RoR”) eligible telecommunications carriers (“ETCs”) that receive loans from the Rural Utilities Service (“RUS”) to file electronic copies of their annual RUS Operating Report for Telecommunications Borrowers filings by July 1. The RUS is a unit within the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”). In the USF/ICC Transformation Order, the FCC required all privately held rate-of-return ETCs to provide a full and complete annual report on their financial condition and operations. The Order notes that it is “not in the public interest to require these carriers to submit a copy of a report that has not yet been required by or reported to the USDA.” These carriers must submit a copy of this report to USAC at the time it is due to USDA. The FCC still requires all ETCs, including those who are RUS loan recipients, to complete the remainder of their Form 481 filing and submit it to USAC by the July 1 deadline.

Commissioner Starks Announces Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition Program

On June 8, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks announced the Digital Opportunity Equity Recognition (“DOER”) Program to commend organizations, institutions, companies and individuals who, through their actions and responses to the COVID-19 crisis, have helped to make quality affordable broadband service available to unserved or underserved communities. Nominations for the first round of recognitions are due to DOERProgram@fcc.gov by July 8.