Federal & State Regulatory

“Yes FCC, we meet again old friends” was the message comedian John Oliver had for the FCC on his show Last Week Tonight, when he devoted nearly 20 minutes to an in-depth criticism of “robocalls” and the FCC’s approach to regulating such calls. (Oliver had previously taken aim at the FCC in multiple segments about net neutrality – which included comparing then-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to a dingo – and he allegedly crashed the FCC’s comment system after encouraging his viewers to submit pro-net neutrality comments in the proceeding that led to the decision to revert back to light-touch regulation of broadband Internet access service.) He ended the March 10th segment by announcing that he was going to “autodial” each FCC Commissioner every 90 minutes with a satirical pre-recorded message urging them to take action to stop robocalls.

The irony of John Oliver making robocalls in order to protest robocalls is rather funny. But, it raises the question – are these calls legal? The fact that the calls appear to be lawful – and would be legal regardless of the action Oliver called for in the program – highlights that there is an important distinction between illegal calls and unwanted calls. In the end, Oliver’s segment demonstrates some of the problems with modern efforts to apply the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), a statute that was adopted well before the proliferation of cell phones in America, and seems to deter many legitimate calls while not sufficiently stopping scam calls.


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After multiple enforcement actions totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties against importers and retailers of LED signs last year, it appears that the message has not been fully received. To the contrary, the FCC is back at it in enforcing its equipment marketing rules against importers and retailers of LED signs in 2019. In a recent Enforcement Advisory, the FCC again warned companies marketing noncompliant LED displays that they may be subject to costly investigations and significant monetary penalties. As we previously reported, these warnings should put all importers and retailers of LED signs – many of whom may not know FCC rules apply to them – on notice that their products should be authorized, properly labeled, and contain the required user disclosures before being marketed in the United States. The FCC often uses Enforcement Advisories to set the stage for future enforcement action and the agency appears poised to move forward with another wave of enforcement actions in the coming months. It is therefore critical that companies assess their equipment marketing compliance procedures now to avoid Commission enforcement later.

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The FCC continues its efforts to improve rural call completion, teeing up a draft Fourth Report and Order (“Order”) that would adopt new service quality standards for intermediate providers (i.e. entities that carry, but do not originate or terminate calls) for consideration at its March 15, 2019 Open Meeting. The Order, which would further implement the Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017 (“RCC Act”), proposes intermediate provider service quality standards and related enforcement procedures, and sunsets existing call data recording and retention rules for covered providers. The Order also would deny two pending Petitions for Reconsideration of previous rural call completion orders. Although the proposed service quality standards would not take effect until the later of six months after the Order is released or 30 days after it is published in the Federal Register, intermediate providers will want to begin familiarizing themselves with the proposed new rules now in light of the significant potential enforcement penalties for noncompliance.

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Following on its 2017 Notice of Inquiry and proposals by several entities going back at least five years, the FCC is poised to consider establishment of a wireless broadband service in the 900 MHz band (896-901/935-940 MHz), a major change from its historical use for narrowband private land mobile radio. At its March 15 Open Meeting, the FCC will consider a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would propose to allot 60% of the spectrum for wireless broadband licensees’ use, subject to commercial mobile rules, while preserving the remainder for continued narrowband operations . The comments on the NPRM, assuming it is adopted, will follow publication in the Federal Register, but the length of the comment periods is not set out in the draft.

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Spectrum issues will once again take center stage at the FCC’s next open meeting scheduled for March 15, 2019. In a jam-packed agenda, the FCC plans to create a new category of experimental licenses for operations in spectrum above 95 GHz and potentially make more than 21 gigahertz available for unlicensed use in these so-called “spectrum horizons.” The agency also anticipates launching a rulemaking to permit broadband operations in a portion of the 900 MHz band that currently is used for two-way radio operations. In addition, the FCC expects to seek input on improving spectrum partitioning, disaggregation, and leasing arrangements. These spectrum proposals follow similar FCC actions designed to improve access to mid- and high-band frequencies, and could jump-start a new wave of innovation in next-generation, short-range technologies. Rounding out the major actions on the March agenda, the FCC plans to propose new wireless E911 location accuracy requirements and adopt service quality standards for intermediate service providers to improve rural call completion. If adopted, these proposals would impose significant obligations on carriers of all sizes and could potentially lead to serious fines in the event of noncompliance.

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


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At its March 15 Open Meeting, the FCC intends to vote on a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) in its Wireless E911 Location Accuracy Requirements proceeding that would consider adoption of a vertical, or z-axis, location accuracy metric. Currently there is no z-axis metric, despite proposals by the Commission going back to as early as 2014. The FNPRM, if adopted, would propose a z-axis metric of +/- 3 meters relative to the handset for 80 percent of wireless E911 calls, the same metric proposed in a Third Further Notice in the proceeding. The Commission deferred promulgation of a specific metric for lack of sufficient test data in a 2015 order that established benchmarks and timetables for the deployment of z-axis in the top 50 Cellular Market Areas (“CMAs”).

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Back for its 10th year, our most popular webinar offers an in-depth discussion on the federal Universal Service Fund for participants in USF programs and for contributors to the Fund. This webinar will address major developments in the four support funds and discuss the pressures on the USF contribution system in an era of 20% contribution rates. In addition, as usual, we will offer tips and insights into managing audits and investigations in these highly scrutinized programs.

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[Spencer Elg co-wrote this post]

The current and future definition of what qualifies as an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS” or “autodialer”) remains a hotly debated and evaluated issue for every company placing calls and texts, or designing dialer technology, as well as the litigants and jurists already mired in litigation under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). Last year, the D.C. Circuit struck down the FCC’s ATDS definition in ACA International v. FCC, Case No. 15-1211 (D.C. Cir. 2018). Courts since have diverged in approaches on interpreting the ATDS term.  See, e.g., prior discussions of Marks and Dominguez. All eyes thus remain fixed on the FCC for clarification.

In this post, we revisit the relevant details of the Court’s decision in ACA International, and prior statements of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai concerning the ATDS definition to assess how history may be a guide to how the FCC approaches this issue.


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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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On February 4, 2019, the FCC announced a plan to create a new division housed in its Enforcement Bureau, dedicated to prosecuting fraud in the agency’s Universal Service Fund (“USF”) programs. Citing to recent USF-related proposed fines and voluntary settlements, the FCC asserted that the creation of a specialized Fraud Division was necessary to combat misuse of funds under the High Cost, E-Rate, Lifeline, and Rural Health Care programs that make up the USF. The FCC’s brief, two-page Order leaves many questions unanswered about the proposed Fraud Division’s ambit and the status of the “USF Strike Force” that preceded it. However, the Order signifies that the FCC plans to redouble its fraud enforcement efforts in 2019 following recent setbacks on the USF rulemaking front. As a result, eligible telecommunications carriers and other recipients of USF support should keep a close watch as the scope and function of the new Fraud Division starts to take shape.
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