Federal & State Regulatory

The FCC plans to bar a Chinese telecommunications provider from offering international telecommunications service between the United States and foreign points based on national security concerns at its next open meeting scheduled for May 9, 2019. Under a draft Order released last week, the agency would conclude that China Mobile International USA (“China Mobile USA” or the “Company”) is ultimately controlled by the Chinese government and subject to Chinese government exploitation, influence, and control that could undermine the security and reliability of U.S. networks. The denial of China Mobile USA’s application would mark the first time the FCC has rejected an application to access the U.S. market based on national security concerns raised by the group of federal Executive Branch agencies commonly known as “Team Telecom.” The denial also would represent another salvo in the FCC’s recent efforts to combat network security and corporate espionage issues involving foreign-owned carriers. While the proposed action against China Mobile USA likely will not affect foreign carrier investment or access to the U.S. telecommunications market overall, it serves as a reminder of the barriers foreign-owned telecommunications providers (and particularly those with ties to China) may face when dealing with the FCC.

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Since its adoption, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) has periodically been attacked as unconstitutional on grounds that it violates the First Amendment right to free speech due to its content-based restrictions. Until today, those attacks have generally failed, leaving defendants with the threat of potentially crippling statutory damages. Today, the Fourth Circuit announced that part of the TCPA, an exemption for calls to collect government debts, is unconstitutional and will be stricken from the Act.

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The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), at its April 12, 2019 Open Meeting, voted to adopt a Public Notice that proposes application and bidding procedures for the single, simultaneous auction of three mmW spectrum bands—37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6 GHz-40 GHz), and 47 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz)—as we previously reported. The Public Notice lays the groundwork for the second-ever incentive auction (in the 37 and 39 GHz Bands) and continues the FCC’s intent to make more mmW band spectrum available for auction. The auction is scheduled to begin on December 10, 2019. Comments on the Public Notice are due by May 15, 2019 and reply comments are due by May 30, 2019.

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Among the items being considered at the upcoming April 12, 2019 Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) open meeting is possible regulatory forbearance of certain legacy regulatory and structural requirements applicable to Bell Operating Companies (“BOCs”), price cap local exchange carriers (“LECs”), and independent rate-of-return carriers (“RoR carriers”). Acting on a nearly year-old USTelecom petition, the FCC’s draft Memorandum Opinion and Order (“Order”) proposes to forbear from enforcement of three regulatory requirements: (i) that independent RoR carriers offer in-region long distance service through a separate affiliate (“structural separations”); (ii) that BOCs and price cap LECs do not discriminate in service provisioning intervals and that they file special access provisioning reports; and (iii) that BOCs provide nondiscriminatory access to poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way (collectively, “pole attachments”). However, the draft Order declines to decide on USTelecom’s request for forbearance from certain network unbundling and resale requirements. The Commission’s deferral on the unbundled network elements (“UNE”)/resale issue is not surprising in light of the significant industry and consumer opposition to this aspect of USTelecom’s petition. With the exception of the few comments supporting USTelecom’s petition, the vast majority of comments were relatively silent regarding the other forbearance requests. If adopted, the draft Order will be effective upon release.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) for consideration at the agency’s next open meeting on April 12, 2019 to expand protections for over-the-air reception devices (“OTARD”) to include hub and relay antennas that are part of the infrastructure needed for 5G deployments nationwide. The draft was released on March 25th and so far there have been no meetings on the draft reported in the docket, so it remains to be seen whether local governments or homeowners’ association groups, for example, will resist this action.

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A new report from the Wall Street Journal on FCC robocall enforcement set off a minor scrum over the effectiveness of the FCC’s TCPA efforts under Chairman Pai. The report claimed that, despite recent eye-popping enforcement actions and policy proposals aimed at curbing unwanted calls, the FCC collected only a fraction of those fines so far. Out of $208.4 million in fines issued since 2015 for violations of the FCC’s robocalling and associated telemarketing rules, the agency collected just $6,790, or less than one-hundredth of one percent. None of the over $200 million in robocall-related fines imposed under Chairman Pai’s leadership have been collected to date, including the record-setting $120 million penalty issued last year against a robocalling platform and its owner for placing over 96 million “spoofed” marketing robocalls.

This report prompted commentary from Commissioner Rosenworcel, who tweeted that these “measly efforts” were “not making a dent in this problem” and called for carriers to provide free call blocking tools to consumers. In our view, however, the report really doesn’t relate to the vigor – or alleged lack thereof – of FCC robocall enforcement efforts. Instead, the small amount of assessed fines that are actually collected starkly demonstrates the internal and external hurdles faced by the FCC, which impact all types of enforcement actions, not just robocalls. The report likely will rekindle Congressional criticism of FCC enforcement processes and calls for more systematic solutions to the problem of unwanted calls.


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In February 2019, the FCC issued an Enforcement Advisory warning marketers of LED signs that their products must be authorized, properly labeled, and contain the required user disclosures before being marketed in the United States. The Enforcement Advisory followed a slew of enforcement actions in 2018 totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties against

On March 15, 2019 the FCC adopted its Fourth Report and Order (“Order”) establishing rural call completion service quality standards for intermediate providers.  While the Order remains largely unchanged from the draft circulated prior to the FCC’s March Open meeting (see our prior post) for more details on the draft Order), the FCC made one significant change that should interest intermediate providers handling calls destined for termination outside of the United States. The adopted Order clarifies that the new rules do not apply to non-U.S. intermediate providers on calls terminating outside of the United States. As a result, the Order eases compliance requirements for the final U.S. intermediate provider in a call path destined for foreign termination.

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The FCC plans to adopt an order eliminating the controversial rural “rate floor” that restricts the amount of Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support received by some carriers to build and maintain networks in underserved areas at its next meeting scheduled for April 12, 2019. The rural rate floor, which requires carriers receiving Connect America Fund (“CAF”) support to charge a minimum monthly rate or risk losing subsidies, has been a longstanding target of criticism by Chairman Pai as well as consumer groups, Tribal authorities, and rural carriers. The proposed order follows a nearly two-year freeze in the rate floor implemented soon after Chairman Pai assumed leadership and would avoid an almost 50% increase in the rate floor scheduled to take effect in July 2019. Rate floor elimination would provide significant regulatory relief to rural carriers by increasing flexibility over service rates, while reducing associated reporting and customer notification requirements.

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