For decades, parts of the Federal government have examined transactions that introduce and increase foreign investment in United States telecommunications businesses. Transactions that implicate reviews by the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security (collectively, “Team Telecom”) and/or by the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (“CFIUS”) can face procedural hurdles and delays
For years, there have been critiques about the lack of procedures surrounding the review, by a group of Executive Branch agencies commonly referred to as “Team Telecom”, of applications before the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) for licenses and transaction approvals involving foreign ownership, including the absence of timeframes for completing reviews. The FCC tried to implement limited changes within its jurisdiction by launching a rulemaking, but that never progressed to a conclusion. Now, by Executive Order (“EO”) on April 4, 2020, President Trump established a framework to govern such reviews and clearly include reviews of existing licenses and authorizations even where there are no current mitigations. There are still a lot of unknowns regarding the new “Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector” (the “Committee”). It is too soon to know whether the Committee will bring a welcome measure of regularity to a previously unshackled process or will prove to be an even greater bane to applicants and licensees than the Team Telecom process its work will replace.
Continue Reading President Formalizes Executive Agency Review of FCC Applications and Licenses; Quick Action on FCC License Revocation
The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is acting swiftly on efforts to protect the communications supply chain from entities posing a national security threat. In a Public Notice (“Public Notice”) released yesterday, the FCC announced that U.S. telecommunications carriers receiving Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support, known as eligible telecommunications carriers (“ETC”), must report on their use of equipment and services from Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”).
The information collection is mandatory for all entities that were ETCs as of December 31, 2019, and includes the ETC’s subsidiaries and affiliates. The information filings, which must be submitted via the FCC’s online filing portal, are due by April 22, 2020.
In a strongly worded Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order (the “Order”) released on November 26, 2019, the FCC adopted several measures to protect U.S. communications networks from potential national security threats. Likely coming as no surprise to anyone following the proceeding or current news, the FCC identified Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”), both Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers, as national security threats based, in large part, on the companies’ close ties to the Chinese government. Adding to numerous recent federal actions addressing national security concerns, the Order takes three significant steps, within the context of the universal service fund (“USF”) program, to try to mitigate national security threats to the nation’s communications networks.
Continue Reading FCC Prohibits Carriers Receiving USF Support from Using Providers Deemed to Pose a National Security Risk; Further Notice to Explore Using USF to Replace Equipment Already Installed
Editor’s note: CommLaw Monitor primarily addresses developments in communications and technologies in the United States. We provide this special update regarding new regulations in Germany for the benefit of U.S. and foreign service providers alike. The security issues discussed below may have implications for all service providers.
The German Federal Network Agency, Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA), recently launched a final public consultation on its new draft Catalogue on security requirements for telecommunications service providers and operators of public telecommunications networks. The draft is revamped significantly, but follows the same vein as its predecessors to prevent disruptions and manage security risks, by requiring providers and operators to implement technical security measures and safeguards for operating telecommunications and data processing systems. The deadline for comments on this version 2.0 of the Catalogue is 13 November 2019, but the BNetzA is unlikely to make fundamental changes at this late stage. Consequently, stakeholders should consider the draft as a reliable indicator of the official version, and assess how to best satisfy the requirements.
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:
On Friday, October 4, 2019, Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a draft Report and Order (“Order”) that would adopt two uncontroversial changes to the FCC’s tariff filing requirements. Specifically, a 2018 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Interim Waiver Order (“Notice”) teed up the potential elimination of the requirement to file annual short form tariff review plans (“short form TRP”) and of the prohibition on tariff cross-references. That 2018 Notice also granted an interim waiver of the tariff cross-reference prohibition while the short form TRP has been the subject of separate waivers for each of the past few years. As a result, the proposed Order essentially would simply be codifying the regulatory status quo.
Continue Reading Federal Communications Commission Moves to Adopt Rules Easing Certain Tariff Filing Requirements
Last week, the FCC announced its tentative agenda for its upcoming October 25, 2019 open meeting and released drafts of the items on which the commissioners will vote. There is a notable lack of a spectrum item on the agenda, as Chairman Pai does not appear ready yet to address the pending mid-band spectrum proceedings (including C-Band and 6 GHz). In addition, while the items will address themes that have been consistent throughout Ajit Pai’s chairmanship, like bridging the digital divide and removing unnecessary regulatory burdens, there does not appear to be a particular common theme among the items on the agenda. We have not been able to come up with a way to weave a Halloween theme into the agenda either, but at least the Chairman’s blog did take time out to wish the Nationals good luck in their series with the Dodgers. Those well wishes appear to have paid off!
You will find more details on some of the most significant October meeting items after the break:
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.
Continue Reading FCC Regulatory Fees for FY 2019 Due September 24th, O’Rielly Urges Agency Belt-Tightening
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.