Federal & State Regulatory

At its April Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Fifth Report and Order (“R&O”) in the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding that adopted sharing rules in two settings. The new rules will allow the federal government to deploy, in limited circumstances, additional station sites in spectrum to be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use in the 37.6-38.6 GHz frequency range (the “Upper 37 GHz Band”). The rules also will allow fixed satellite service (“FSS”) operators to individually license earth stations in the 50.4-51.4 GHz band (the “50 GHz Band”) while the FCC considers whether spectrum in the 50 GHz Band should also be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use. By acting now on these matters, the Commission intends to help provide Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (“UMFUS”) providers with certainty regarding their potential future use of the spectrum before the auctions commence.

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The FCC is requiring fixed-satellite service (“FSS”) operators to provide the Commission with information about their current use of the 3.7-4.2 GHz band (“C-Band”) by May 28, 2019, according to a Public Notice released jointly earlier this month by the FCC’s International Bureau, Wireless Bureau, and Office of Engineering and Technology. The FCC will use the information to consider potential rules that allow new commercial terrestrial services in the Band while protecting incumbent satellite and earth station operators. The Band is currently allocated to FSS and the fixed service, but the Commission has proposed adding a mobile, except aeronautical mobile, allocation, which would allow commercial wireless providers to operate 5G services in the Band. The amount of spectrum to be reallocated or shared, the extent of protection for incumbents, and the means of protection for incumbents are all, as yet, undetermined, and they are topics of substantial debate among stakeholders.

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Continuing to implement the FCC’s rules to improve service to rural areas, the FCC announced that all “intermediate providers” (i.e., entities that carry, but do not originate, long distance traffic) must register with the agency by May 15, 2019. The registration requirement stems from rules adopted by the FCC last summer designed to increase

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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