International Markets & Team Telecom

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.


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Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Industry & Security (BIS) added Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates to the U.S. Entity List. The move by the U.S. export control regulator broadly prohibits U.S. and non-U.S. persons from providing the listed Huawei entities with any “items” that are “subject to” BIS’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR).

The sanctions could have a serious impact on Huawei and on companies that supply and do business with the firm. Similar sanctions temporarily imposed on ZTE, another Chinese telecommunications firm, last year were referred to as a “death penalty” ban due to the crippling impact it had on ZTE’s operations.


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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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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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In a move certain to inflame the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China, Justice Department officials announced criminal charges against Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei, several of its affiliates, and its chief financial officer for alleged theft of trade secrets from U.S. telecommunications providers, bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and other violations. The two indictments issued on January 28, 2019, represent just the latest pushback against foreign telecommunications interests by U.S. officials, citing national security concerns and unfair trade practice claims. The FCC already proposed rule changes last year that would prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund support to purchase equipment or services from foreign companies deemed national security threats, primarily targeting companies from China and Russia. Congress also recently passed legislation prohibiting federal agencies and those working with them from using components provided by Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers. With the Trump Administration reportedly poised to issue an executive order effectively barring American companies from using Chinese-origin equipment in critical telecommunications networks, domestic service providers should keep a close eye on their supply chain security and potential liability when working with foreign entities. A criminal conviction on these charges could lead to broader restrictions on trade in U.S. export-controlled products with the company. Given the presence of encryption in telecom equipment, export controls on such products are relatively widespread
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International service providers likely celebrated when the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) eliminated the annual International Traffic and Revenue reporting requirement last year but may have forgotten about the Commission’s plan to issue targeted data requests, when necessary, to obtain information previously available from the annual report. Well the time has come and the Commission now is collecting the basic data that will allow it to tailor its information requests in the future. As required by Commission rule 63.22, international facilities-based service providers must file with the Commission, by November 14, 2018, lists of U.S.-international routes on which the provider has direct termination arrangements with a foreign carrier in the destination country (Route List).

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Almost six months after releasing its October 2017 Order streamlining, eliminating, and revising certain international reporting requirements, on April 25, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) published a public notice in the Federal Register announcing that the international reporting rule changes were effective on April 25, 2018.  While, in practice, a Commission rule waiver had the effect of implementing one of the reporting changes, the Commission’s recent Federal Register notice publication establishes the official effective date of the reporting rule changes.  
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Echoing concerns raised by other parts of the federal government over the past several years, the FCC, at its open meeting on April 17, 2018, adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider a rule which would prohibit Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support from being used “to purchase or obtain any equipment or services produced or provided by a company posing a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain.”  The NPRM seeks comment on issues such as how such a rule can be implemented and enforced, what types of equipment and services should be covered, and how manufacturers covered by the rule are to be identified and made known to USF recipients.  Although this is only the start of the proceeding, the FCC’s action could have a broad-reaching impact for some communications equipment manufacturers and create potential liabilities for entities participating in any of the federal USF programs.  All companies purchasing equipment from certain countries – principally China and Russia – may be affected, even if they don’t receive federal USF money.

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In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) initiated a rulemaking proceeding proposing changes to the process of reviewing certain Section 214 and submarine cable landing license applications, conducted by the group of Executive Branch agencies commonly referred to as “Team Telecom.”  That proceeding largely stalled after the comment cycle ended later that year.  However, a Statement issued earlier this week by FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly endeavors to reignite movement on the long-pending issue of Team Telecom review process reform.

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