Universal Service Fund

Join us on Wednesday, April 8th as we discuss the FCC’s response to the COVID crisis, the communications elements in the CARES Act, compliance with state stay-at-home orders, and pending proposals for more relief. We will provide you with a concise download on and quick analysis of these fast moving developments. Click here to register.

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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers and actions. Kelley Drye’s Communications practice group is tracking these actions and provides this overview of the key actions impacting enterprise and small business customers of communications services. For additional information on these and other FCC actions, follow Kelley Drye’s CommLaw Monitor, where we post regular updates of the latest regulatory and legislative actions impacting the communications industry.

If you have any questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Communications Practice Group. For more information on labor, advertising, and other issues, visit Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center.


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As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers and actions. Kelley Drye’s Communications practice group is tracking these actions and what they mean for communications service providers. CommLaw Monitor will provide regular updates to its analysis of the latest regulatory and legislative actions impacting your business. Subscribe to receive these alerts.

If you have any questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Communications Practice Group. For more information on labor, advertising, and other issues, visit Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center.


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Please join us on March 10, 2020 for Kelley Drye’s annual webinar discussing the state of the federal Universal Service Fund. This webinar, back for its 11th year, provides an in-depth look at all four USF programs and the USF contribution mechanism, highlighting major developments in the last year and trends for the upcoming year.

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.


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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.

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The FCC proposed sweeping reforms to its process for suspending and debarring entities from participating in its largest funding programs, including the four Universal Service Fund (“USF”) programs, at its meeting on November 22, 2019. If adopted, the proposed rules would mark a sea change in FCC enforcement, allowing the FCC to cut off funding more quickly and for a wider range of alleged misconduct. The FCC also would expand the scope of these rules to cover its Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) program and National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (“NDBEP”), in addition to the High-Cost, Lifeline, E-Rate, and Rural Health Care USF programs.

The proposed rules also would impose new disclosure obligations on support recipients and require them to verify that they do not work with suspended/debarred entities. In addition, the proposed rules would create a federal reciprocity system, in which entities suspended/debarred from participating in funding programs administered by other agencies similarly would be prevented from participating in the FCC’s programs (and vice versa). The proposed rules would impact nearly every USF participant and warrant close attention. The FCC has not announced comment deadlines on its proposals, but they will likely occur in early 2020. While the FCC’s proposals are just the first step towards actual rule changes, the agency has shown every indication that it will continue moving full speed ahead on USF reform in the coming year.


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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:


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The FCC adopted an Order on Reconsideration at its October 25, 2019 meeting modifying the broadband performance testing requirements for service providers receiving Connect America Fund (“CAF”) high-cost support. Under the Order, the FCC will delay the start of testing for many CAF recipients to better align with network deployment deadlines. The FCC also will create a “pre-testing” period to allow CAF support recipients time to assess how their networks and testing equipment perform without penalty before official testing begins. In addition, the FCC will provide more flexibility for certain testing procedures to reduce the burden on smaller service providers. The Order impacts every CAF program and deserves a close look, not only by service providers that currently receive CAF support but also by those that plan to seek such support through future programs like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. The Order is just the latest in a long line of reforms to the CAF since its creation nearly a decade ago and shows that the FCC still is willing to tinker with its high-cost programs to meet its broadband deployment goals.
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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:


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