At its January 30 Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would require wireless handset manufacturers to comply with the 2019 version of the American National Standards Institute (“ANSI”) technical standard for hearing aid compatibility. With the proposed changes, wireless handset manufacturers and wireless service providers, including resellers, would be required to offer hearing aid compatible (“HAC”) handsets designed to comply with the new standard as part of their product portfolio. Comments on the NPRM will be due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and replies will be due 45 days after publication, which has not yet occurred.
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At its Open Meeting on January 30, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) making video relay service (“VRS”) calls that use communications assistants (“CAs”) that work from home (as opposed to at a call center) eligible for compensation from the Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) Fund. According to the FCC, this change will afford VRS providers more flexibility in the type of CAs they can employ, which will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of this service for consumers with hearing or speech disabilities. All VRS providers must comply with new safeguards and any applicants to be a VRS provider will need to request authorization to use at-home CAs and include a proposed compliance plan.

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The FCC proposed sweeping reforms to its process for suspending and debarring entities from participating in its largest funding programs, including the four Universal Service Fund (“USF”) programs, at its meeting on November 22, 2019. If adopted, the proposed rules would mark a sea change in FCC enforcement, allowing the FCC to cut off funding more quickly and for a wider range of alleged misconduct. The FCC also would expand the scope of these rules to cover its Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) program and National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (“NDBEP”), in addition to the High-Cost, Lifeline, E-Rate, and Rural Health Care USF programs.

The proposed rules also would impose new disclosure obligations on support recipients and require them to verify that they do not work with suspended/debarred entities. In addition, the proposed rules would create a federal reciprocity system, in which entities suspended/debarred from participating in funding programs administered by other agencies similarly would be prevented from participating in the FCC’s programs (and vice versa). The proposed rules would impact nearly every USF participant and warrant close attention. The FCC has not announced comment deadlines on its proposals, but they will likely occur in early 2020. While the FCC’s proposals are just the first step towards actual rule changes, the agency has shown every indication that it will continue moving full speed ahead on USF reform in the coming year.


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At its November Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Report and Order (“Order”) that expands the contribution base for IP captioned telephone service (“CTS”), supported by the telecommunications relay service (“TRS”) Fund, to include intrastate voice communications services. Currently, only interstate voice providers (telecommunications and VoIP) are required to contribute a portion of their end-user revenues to support the TRS Fund. The Order extends that responsibility to providers with intrastate revenues. This rule change, which will be effective for the TRS Fund Year 2020-21, is intended to address an imbalance in the financial obligation on interstate versus intrastate voice providers to support IP CTS costs, which has experienced an approximately $745 million increase from 2013 to the current funding year.

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The FCC plans to prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support to purchase equipment or services from foreign entities that it determines pose national security risks at its next meeting scheduled for November 19, 2019. As we previously reported, the ban may severely impact participants in all federal USF programs and involve a costly “rip and replace” process to remove foreign-made equipment from domestic telecommunications networks. The FCC also expects to move forward on its heavily-anticipated E911 vertical accuracy (i.e., z-axis) proceeding and adopt new requirements for wireless carriers to better identify caller locations in multi-story buildings. Rounding out the major actions, the FCC anticipates proposing new rules for suspending and debarring entities from participating in USF and other funding programs; removing longstanding unbundling and resale requirements for certain telecommunications services; and widening the contribution base for the Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) to include intrastate revenues.

The draft items cover the gamut of telecommunications issues, affecting everything from the construction of next-generation 5G networks to legacy intercarrier competition rules, and should be closely watched. You will find more details on the most significant November FCC meeting items after the break:


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In a unanimous decision at its February open meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) further reforming its IP Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) program, which is part of the telecommunications relay service (“TRS”). After the IP CTS program grew to 80 percent of the costs covered by TRS, last June the FCC approved a package of reform measures to control costs by imposing interim compensation rates to bring compensation closer to FCC determined actual average provider costs. In the instant Order, the FCC takes steps (over the objections of the IP CTS providers) to address potential waste, fraud and abuse by requiring IP CTS providers to submit user registration information to the existing video relay service (“VRS”) Database to limit program access to only those determined to be eligible to use IP CTS. The Commission also granted waivers of its emergency call handling requirements to reduce the requirements on IP CTS providers to relay certain information to PSAPs and initiate reconnection of a disconnected 911 call. The FNPRM proposes additional changes, including making permanent the emergency call handling requirement changes granted by waiver. Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register and reply comments will be due 45 days after publication.

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Just before suspending most operations due to the ongoing partial federal government shutdown, the FCC announced its tentative agenda for its next open meeting, scheduled for January 30, 2019. While the January agenda is brief compared to the jam-packed meetings that typified 2018, the FCC plans to adopt items to advance new anti-spoofing measures combating manipulated caller ID information and take further action to address the management and handling of 911 calls for the IP Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) that aids communication by those with hearing loss. Rounding out the notable meeting items, the FCC would adopt a mechanism to phase down legacy high-cost support for price cap carriers as well as competitive carriers previously subject to the “identical support rule” and transition such support to the winners of the recent Connect America Fund (“CAF”) Phase II auction.

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


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The FCC issued a Public Notice on December 26, 2018 seeking input on a petition from General Motors Holding LLC (“GM”) that requests partial waiver of the interoperability functionalities for accessible real-time text (“RTT”) technology, as defined by the FCC. GM intends to launch an autonomous vehicle (“AV”) ride-hailing service in the near future that will include real time voice communication capability that riders can use to communicate with customer support. GM will also use RTT for such communications and GM seeks to be exempted from certain required RTT interoperability features based on planned limitations of the communications.

Comments on the Public Notice are due by January 25, 2019; and reply comments are due by February 11, 2019.


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At its November 15 Open Meeting, the FCC intends to vote on a Report and Order (“Order”) to make some important changes to the requirements for wireless service providers to report on the number of hearing aid compatible (“HAC”) handsets they offer. The dual aims of the rule changes are to ease the burden of the reporting obligations while improving consumer access to information about HAC wireless handsets. Specifically, the FCC proposes to drop the requirement for service providers to file annual forms with HAC device information, and instead disclose detailed information on their websites and make an annual certification of compliance with the rules. Websites updated with the new required information and the first certification of compliance will be due 30 days after notice of Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval of the new rules is published in the Federal Register. If the Order is adopted at Thursday’s meeting, service providers should promptly begin working on website revisions and not wait for OMB approval.

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