Business & Strategic Planning

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.

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At the end of July, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (“NIST”) released draft cybersecurity guidance for IoT device manufacturers. The document, titled Core Cybersecurity Feature Baseline for Securable IoT Devices: A Starting Point for IoT Device Manufacturers, is intended, according to NIST, identify the cybersecurity features that IoT devices should have “to make them at least minimally securable by the individuals and organizations who acquire and use them.” The NIST document is not a rule or requirement for IoT devices, but rather is a continuation of NIST’s effort to foster the development and application of voluntary standards, guidelines, and related tools to improve the cybersecurity of connected devices.

NIST is seeking comment on the document through September 30 of this year and it held a workshop in August for interested parties to discuss the document. In a prior post, I blogged on takeaways from that workshop. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at the NIST document itself.


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Connected devices already are making headway into business and consumer markets. “Smart” speakers, video doorbells, remote programmable thermostats and other devices are increasing in popularity in homes across the United States. Major automakers and startups are pursuing self-driving cars and the “passenger economy.” Businesses are using IoT capabilities to enhance preventive maintenance, to track assets through the production cycle and to gain insights into consumer behavior.

Now, the federal government is trying to provide resources for businesses engaged in the Internet of Things (“IoT”) economy. Building on guidelines it established for cybersecurity generally and IoT cybersecurity specifically, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (“NIST”), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, held a workshop for manufacturers on securing IoT devices. I attended the workshop and these are my principal takeaways from the meeting.


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At its August Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) implementing portions of two recent statutes—Kari’s Law and the RAY BAUM’s Act—that address ensuring greater access to 911 and emergency services for members of the public. Kari’s Law requires multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”), like those in hotels and offices, to have the capability for a user to dial 911 directly without having to press “9” (or some other access code) first to call out.  Section 506 of the RAY BAUM’s Act requires the FCC to consider adopting rules to ensure a 911 caller’s dispatchable location is properly conveyed from an MLTS to the public safety answering point (“PSAP”). The Commission took the opportunity of implementing these two Acts to also expand 911 dialing requirements for certain VoIP, TRS and mobile text-to-911 services.

With these new requirements, the FCC continues its trend of expanding the availability of emergency services calling to newer technologies. As these new forms of communication become more mainstream – and as they grow as replacements for, rather than complements to, traditional telecommunications services – the FCC has been inclined to make emergency services a “must have” feature of the service. Providers of new communications technologies should carefully review their service offerings to determine how to handle customer attempts to reach emergency services.


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On August 13, 2019, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced that it settled a nearly three-year long investigation into whether CenturyLink included unauthorized charges from third-party service providers on customer bills. Also known as “cramming,” the assessment of unauthorized charges is a major source of consumer complaints and frequent focus of FCC enforcement actions. The CenturyLink Consent Decree follows in the wake of a handful of enforcement actions for cramming when accompanied by unlawful carrier switches (“slamming”) and the FCC’s adoption of new rules codifying its longstanding ban on cramming in 2018. The settlement underscores the responsibility borne by carriers for the chargers they place on customer bills – even for services they do not provide – and the need to maintain safeguards to ensure such charges are authorized.

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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.


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On August 12, the FCC officially launched the Fraud Division of its Enforcement Bureau with the publication of an Order adopted earlier this year. The new division will be tasked with taking enforcement actions against fraud in the Universal Service Fund (“USF”) and other funding programs that the agency oversees. While February’s brief Order

Even with the dog days of summer upon us, the FCC shows no signs of slowing down on its policymaking priorities in a jam-packed agenda for its next open meeting on August 1, 2019. Headlining the agenda is a proposal to establish a Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) offering $20.4 billion over a decade to support high-speed broadband deployment to unserved areas. The RDOF would eventually replace the FCC’s Connect America Fund (“CAF”) as the agency’s primary universal service program for high-cost areas. The areas receiving RDOF support would be determined by a new agency-led information collection, requiring more granular service data from broadband providers. As with the CAF, the RDOF proceeding is sure to engender debate in the broadband industry about the appropriate performance benchmarks, auction bidding rules, and data collection mechanisms. In addition to the RDOF, the FCC also plans to adopt items at the August meeting to reform how it allocates Rural Health Care Program funding; streamline licensing procedures for small satellite systems (otherwise known as “smallsats”); establish procedures for the auction of new toll free numbers; implement 911 direct dial and location information requirements on multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”) often found in offices, hotels, and college campuses; expand the agency’s anti-spoofing rules; and limit the franchise fees placed on cable operators.

The August agenda items impact all corners of the telecommunications industry. You will find more details on some of the most significant August meeting items after the break:


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Continuing its push to free up spectrum to support next-generation 5G services, the FCC plans to move forward on auctions of both mid- and high-band spectrum for commercial mobile use at its next open meeting scheduled for July 10, 2019. First, the FCC would establish new licensing rules for the 2.496-2.690 GHz band (“2.5 GHz Band”) currently used for educational television services to facilitate the auction of the spectrum next year. The FCC contends that the 2.5 GHz Band, which represents the largest contiguous block of mid-band spectrum considered for auction to date, has largely gone unused and should be opened up for commercial use. Second, the FCC would adopt application and bidding procedures for the auction of spectrum at 37.6-38.6 GHz (“Upper 37 GHz Band”), 38.6 GHz-40.0 GHz (“39 GHz Band”), and 47.2-48.2 GHz (“47 GHz Band”). This auction would be the FCC’s third auction of high-band spectrum, following the recent auctions of 24 GHz band and 28 GHz band spectrum. As we previously noted, this auction is complicated by the presence of incumbent licensees in the 39 GHz Band, who would be offered incentive payments to accept modified licenses or leave the Band under the FCC’s plan. Rounding out the major July actions, the FCC expects to seek comment on establishing a three-year, $100 million universal service pilot program to support telehealth services as well as eliminate pricing regulation and other restrictions on certain legacy data transport services offered by price cap carriers.

You will find more details on the most significant July meeting items after the break:


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