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 Eases Lifeline Application Process for Tribal Consumers, Extends Previous Waivers
On June 1, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) released an Order (DA 20-577) aimed at easing the Lifeline program application and enrollment process for consumers who reside in rural areas on Tribal lands and qualify for Lifeline benefits. Specifically, the WCB FCC’s Wireline issued a temporary waiver to allow Lifeline carriers to begin providing Lifeline service to consumers in rural Tribal areas even if those consumers have not yet submitted certain documentation to complete their application. The FCC noted that consumers living in rural areas on Tribal lands already face difficulties in providing this documentation, and the pandemic has added to these hardships.
Under the June 1 waiver, until August 31, 2020, a Lifeline eligible telecommunications carrier (“ETC”) may choose to immediately begin providing Lifeline service to a consumer living in a rural Tribal area who applies for Lifeline but is unable to provide the necessary documentation to resolve a failed automated eligibility check at the time of application. The consumer will have 45 days from the time of application to submit the documentation. If the applicant then does provide the necessary documentation within 45 days and is determined to qualify for Lifeline service, the Lifeline provider can go back and claim reimbursement for the discounted service provided during the 45-day period.
In addition, in the Order, WCB also extended its recent waivers of the Lifeline program’s recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, usage requirements, and three-month documentation requirements for income verification through August 31, 2020. Those waivers were set to expire at the end of June.
FCC Approves Latest Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Applications
On May 28, 2020, the WCB approved 53 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth program. Under the latest funding round, $18.22 million in funding will go to health care providers across 24 states. With this latest set of approvals, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has funded 185 health care providers in 38 states, plus Washington D.C., for a total of $68.22 million in funding awarded. Read the latest issue of Kelley Drye’s USF Tracker for details on awards granted.
FCC Grants Washington Tribe’s Temporary Spectrum Access Request
On May 29, 2020, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) granted the Makah Tribe emergency Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) request to operate in the 2.5 GHz band in Washington State. This is the latest action in the FCC’s continued effort to improve communications and broadband service in rural and other hard-to-serve areas during the crisis.