Universal Service Fund

The FCC released a full agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for September 30, 2021. The agency will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to improve the Wireless Network Resiliency Cooperative Framework (“Framework”) and outage reporting. The FCC will next address an Order on Reconsideration to vacate a 2020 order that permits states to lease spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (designated for public safety use) to third parties for non-public-safety use and a Further NPRM (“FNPRM”) to adopt a nationwide framework for the 4.9 MHz band that would allow for public safety and non-public safety uses. The FCC will also consider adopting a Public Notice that would describe the process for the Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) to approve automated frequency coordination (“AFC”) systems, which must be used when performing certain unlicensed operations in the 6 GHz band. Rounding out spectrum issues, the FCC will consider a Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) focused on whether there is adequate spectrum to support the Internet of Things (“IoT”). The FCC will then shift its attention to two FNPRMs regarding robocalls. One FNPRM would propose that voice service providers block autodialed calls to numbers on the Public Safety Answering Points (“PSAP”) Do-Not-Call registry and seek alternative ways to protect PSAPs from robocalls and security threats. The other robocall-related FNPRM would propose that gateway providers take action to prevent robocalls that originate outside of the U.S. on U.S. numbers. Next, the FCC will address another NPRM to clarify that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive support under the E-rate program. The FCC will close its meeting by considering a Second Report and Order that would adopt standard questions to be answered by applicants with reportable foreign ownership that seek the Commission’s approval to obtain or modify certain licenses or to complete transactions involving those licenses.

You will find more information about the items on the September meeting agenda after the break:


Continue Reading The FCC’s Packed September Meeting Agenda Includes Focus on IoT Spectrum and Robocall Prevention

At its June 17 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted a Second Report and Order for its Connected Care Pilot Program, which provides administrative guidance that will enable award recipients to begin their pilot projects. On the same day, it announced its second set of projects awarded support through the Pilot Program.

The Connected Care Pilot was established in April 2020 to make up to $100 million in Universal Service Fund support available over three years for selected projects to defray costs for projects that will bring broadband connectivity and other connected care information services to eligible health care providers. The program is primarily aimed at supporting services that will benefit veterans and low-income patients. It is a longer term initiative than the short-term COVID-19 Telehealth Program designed to provide financial support for telehealth services, which are expected to remain in demand after the pandemic fully abates.


Continue Reading FCC Provides Guidance for Connected Care Pilot Program, Selects Additional Projects

The FCC released the agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for June 17, 2021. The meeting will first consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) to broaden the secured communications supply chain beyond the FCC’s universal service programs. Specifically, the NPRM would propose to prohibit all future authorizations for equipment on the FCC’s Covered List, revoke current equipment authorizations for equipment on the Covered List, and require certifications from future FCC auction participants that they will not rely on financial support from any entities designated as a national security threat. The FCC also tees up a Report and Order that would allow for expanded marketing and importation of radiofrequency devices prior to certification, with certain conditions to prohibit sale or operation of those devices prior to authorization. The agency will next consider a Report and Order and FNPRM that would improve and streamline the agency’s Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (“WEA”) Systems, as initially proposed in a March 2021 NPRM. The FCC will also consider a Report and Order that would streamline private entity reporting of robocalls and spoofed caller ID by creating a direct reporting portal to the Enforcement Bureau, along with a Report and Order providing additional guidance and clarity on the agency’s telehealth-driven Connected Care Pilot Program. Lastly, the meeting agenda includes items that would explore spectrum options for maritime navigations systems and modify existing low power FM rules.

You will find more information about the most significant items on the June meeting agenda after the break:


Continue Reading FCC June Meeting Agenda Includes Broadened Supply Chain Measures, Improved Emergency Alerts and Robocall Reporting, and Expanded Telehealth Guidance

The FCC Open Meeting, scheduled for May 20, 2021 and led by Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, includes four agenda items and two enforcement actions. First, the FCC will consider a Third Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Fifth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) that will lower interstate rates and charges, limit international rates, and seek comment on further reforms to the FCC’s calling services rules for inmate calls. Second, the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Order to set Telecommunications Relay Services (“TRS”) Fund compensation rates for video relay service (“VRS”). Third, the FCC will consider a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to combat robocalls by accelerating the date by which small voice service providers that originate an especially large amount of call traffic must implement the STIR/SHAKEN caller ID authentication framework. Fourth, the FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration to allow certain affiliates of merging companies that receive model-based and rate-of-return universal service support to be excluded from a “mixed support” merger condition cap.

You will find more details about these items on the May meeting agenda after the break.


Continue Reading FCC’s May Open Meeting Addresses Prison Phone Rates, Video Relay Service Rates, Robocall Restrictions, and Mixed Universal Service Fund Support Transaction Conditions

On May 10, 2021, the FCC unanimously adopted final rules in a Report and Order to implement the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (“ECF Program”). The ECF Program is a fund that enables “schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The ECF Program was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Biden in early March. Along with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBB Program”), the ECF provides significant, pandemic-related expenditures addressing the digital divide, funded outside of the existing federal Universal Service Fund programs.

With these rules, the FCC sets in motion a process for schools and libraries to receive funding for 100% of purchases to provide remote learning and remote library services during the pandemic.  This fund will be a significant one-time opportunity for applicants and service providers and is expected to see high demand for funding.


Continue Reading FCC Meets Statutory Deadline, Adopts Report and Order Establishing Emergency Connectivity Fund Program Rules

The application window for Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program opened today at 12PM ET and will close at 12 PM ET on Thursday, May 6, 2021. As we have covered, the first round of funding was quickly distributed to over 200 applicants in over 40 states, with all funding exhausted by July 2020. Then, in December 2020, Congress authorized additional money to support telehealth services provided by non-profit and public healthcare organizations during the pandemic.

Continue Reading Ding, Ding: Round 2 of the Telehealth Program Begins

After nearly four months of work, the FCC announced today that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (“EBBP”) will launch on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. Providers participating in the EBBP can begin enrolling eligible households into the program to receive supported service. Nearly 750 providers are qualified to offer EBB-supported services, with service discount reimbursements

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will keynote “Legal Code: Reframing the Divide by Addressing Broadband Access Through Affordability and Inclusion”, a virtual event co-hosted by Kelley Drye and Silicon Flatirons on May 12th from 2:00-4:00 PM (ET) that will explore issues surrounding broadband affordability. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the Digital Divide and Digital Inequality, and with it, illuminated the broader issue of digital inclusion and internet access as a civil right. Over the last four years, efforts to close the Digital Divide have been geared largely toward access to networks in rural America, but pandemic related displacement is driving a shift in focus toward affordability in both rural and urban areas. This shift is most clearly evidenced by the recently adopted Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which gives broadband providers the unique opportunity to help fight Digital Inequality by offering subsidized discounts on robust Internet service and connected devices capable of helping low-income Americans connect to classrooms, jobs, and telehealth. Other recent efforts include the schools and libraries-focused Emergency Connectivity Fund, which aims to address a homework gap that transformed into a school-year-long remote learning gap.

This event will examine the pandemic’s impact on how we think about the digital divide and digital inequality, the new administration’s approach, and related activity in Congress, at the FCC, and at other federal agencies.

Agenda
Introduction & Opening Remarks

  • Amie Stepanovich, Executive Director, Silicon Flatirons

Keynote

  • Ron Wyden, U.S. Senator for Oregon

Panel: Conceptualizing and Navigating Paths to Affordability and Inclusion

  • John J. Heitmann (Moderator), Partner, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
  • Chris M. Laughlin (Moderator), Associate, Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
  • Kate Black, Acting Chief Policy Advisor, Federal Communications Commission
  • Jose Cortes, Chair, Regulatory and Government Affairs Committee, National Lifeline Association
  • Claire Park, Policy Program Associate, New America’s Open Technology Institute
  • Trinity Thorpe-Lubneuski, Senior Director, Internet Essentials, Comcast

Click here for more information and to register.


Continue Reading Join Kelley Drye and Silicon Flatirons for a Discussion of the Digital Divide and Digital Inequality

On March 10, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 stimulus bill recently enacted by Congress. The Act allocates $1.9 trillion to provide relief to businesses and individuals that are struggling due to COVID-19. Importantly, it appropriates $7.17 billion for emergency support for remote learning and remote library services. This stimulus follows $3.2 billion appropriated for an Emergency Broadband Benefit for low-income consumers and caps over $13 billion in broadband funding provided in addition to the traditional Universal Service Fund programs.

The new Emergency Connectivity Fund (“ECF”) will reimburse schools and libraries for internet access and connected devices for students and teachers for remote learning and remote library services. The passage of this legislation has been welcomed by the FCC, with Chairwoman Rosenworcel stating, “the American Rescue Plan provides the FCC with new tools to support the millions of students locked out of the digital classroom.”

The legislation requires the FCC to issue rules within 60 days of enactment to provide funding to eligible schools and libraries. Here’s a look at what to expect in the new fund.


Continue Reading Biden Signs Stimulus Package: FCC Set to Establish a $7 Billon Emergency Connectivity Fund to Assist with Virtual Learning

2021 is well underway and the new leadership at the FCC is taking shape. While we don’t yet know who will fill the Chair on a permanent basis, the FCC under Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is proceeding without delay. So far, the Commission has tackled ongoing issues of bipartisan support, including broadband mapping, communications supply chain security and preventing 911 fee diversion. But the biggest challenges ahead are in the universal service fund and, specifically, efforts to bridge the digital divide.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at developments in the FCC’s $9 billion-per-year Federal Universal Service Fund and more recent pandemic-related efforts to address deficiencies in broadband access that have been exposed by our year of remote work, school and social activities.


Continue Reading The State of the Universal Service Fund in 2021