Universal Service Fund

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
  • 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

The FCC released the agenda for its December Open Meeting, scheduled for December 10, 2020 on November 19, 2020, but the agency has made several changes since. The last meeting of the year will lead with a Report and Order on securing the communications supply chain that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (“ETCs”) receiving federal universal service funding to remove and replace equipment and services identified as a risk to national security from their networks. The supply chain rulemaking would establish procedures and requirements for affected providers to seek reimbursement of their removal and replacement costs. The Commission will also consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would propose to modernize the marketing and importation rules for regulated equipment. Additionally, the December meeting will include an Order that would amend the invoice filing deadline rule for the E-Rate Program, which supports communications services for schools and libraries, and an Order on Reconsideration clarifying the agency’s interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), although the draft texts of these two items have not been released.

The December meeting may be the first attended by recently-confirmed Republican FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, who will replace outgoing Commissioner Michael O’Rielly after today’s confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate. In addition, Chairman Pai recently announced that he intends to leave the FCC on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021. As a result, the January 2021 FCC open meeting will be his last meeting before the change in administration.

You will find more details about the most significant items on the December meeting agenda after the break.

Continue Reading FCC Wraps Up 2020 with December Meeting Focusing on Supply Chain Security and Equipment Marketing

The FCC recently took a major step in promoting deployment of 5G networks in rural and hard-to-serve areas by adopting a Report and Order establishing the 5G Fund for Rural America (5G Fund) support program. The program, which is effectively the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), will offer up to $9 billion over ten years to support the deployment of mobile voice and 5G broadband in these areas. It replaces Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed in 2018 after questions arose about the accuracy of wireless coverage data reported by carriers, which was meant to determine which areas are eligible for funding. Half of the 5G Fund budget also comes from repurposing the $4.53 billion that the Commission had originally allotted for 4G LTE deployments under Mobility Fund Phase II. The 5G Fund auction may not occur until 2023 because the Commission opted to wait until it can collect new data on existing deployments to identify areas eligible for support. In the meantime, recipients of legacy mobile high-cost support will be required to start using those funds for 5G networks beginning in 2021.

Continue Reading FCC Creates Framework to Fund 5G Deployments in Rural Areas

On November 5, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) released a Public Notice announcing the opening of the Connected Care Pilot Program (“Connected Care Program”) 30-day application filing window, which opened on Friday, November 6 at 12:00 pm ET. The Public Notice provides additional details on the application window and guidance on the Pilot Program application process. The application window will close on Monday, December 7, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET.

Continue Reading FCC Announces Opening of Connected Care Pilot Program Application Filing Window

The upcoming election will bring changes to the FCC, regardless of which party wins the White House. In this episode of Kelley Drye’s Full Spectrum, the Communications group is joined by Dana Wood, co-chair of Kelley Drye’s Government Relations and Public Policy (GRPP) practice, for a discussion of the potential organizational and policy changes

The FCC announced the agenda for its last Open Meeting before the upcoming 2020 general election, scheduled for October 27, 2020. The FCC first plans to respond to the remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on its Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The Commission will address three issues sent back to the agency for further consideration and largely reiterate its original conclusions regarding the impact of its reforms on public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline program. The Commission also plans to finalize its proposed 5G Fund with a two-phase reverse auction to target support for the deployment of 5G networks in rural areas, establishing a ten-year support term and a $9 billion overall budget. The October meeting will also consider allowing unlicensed white space devices to operate on broadcast television channels, as well as streamlining the state and local approval processes for wireless tower modifications. Lastly, the FCC plans to eliminate certain unbundling and resale requirements for incumbent local exchange carriers.

Unlike most monthly Commission meetings, none of the items on the October agenda initiate new proceedings or propose new rules. Instead, the items focus on implementation of a number of policies prioritized under Chairman Pai. FCC regulatory activity will likely slow in the aftermath of the election. As a result, the October agenda may represent the FCC’s final push for any major reforms in the near-term. However, on October 15, Chairman Pai did announce his intention to move forward with a rulemaking to interpret the meaning of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. You will find more details on the significant October meeting items after the break:

Continue Reading FCC Plans to Finalize Internet Reform, 5G Fund, and TV White Spaces at October Open Meeting

The Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) has long been interested in the use of broadband-enabled telehealth services to make healthcare more accessible, particularly for veterans and low-income patients. On September 3, 2020 the Commission released a Public Notice (“Public Notice”) providing additional information about its Connected Care Pilot Program (“Connected Care Program”). The Connected Care Program will make available up to $100 million dollars, over a three year period, to defray the costs of broadband connectivity and other connected care information services for eligible health care providers (“HCP”). While the CARES Act allowed the Commission to quickly implement the short-term COVID-19 Telehealth Program supporting eligible HCP telehealth services during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connected Care Program is a longer-term initiative, under Commission consideration since late 2018 and formally established in April 2020. The Connected Care Program is intended to provide much-needed financial support for telehealth services, particularly for veterans and low-income patients, and also to provide the Commission with data regarding how funding can support telehealth services in the future to treat the health needs of individuals that may lack sufficient – or any – mobile or residential broadband internet access services necessary for healthcare needs.

The FCC has not yet set a deadline for Connected Care Program applications but issued the recent Public Notice to enable HCPs to begin preparing to apply once the application filing deadline is established. If the Connected Care Program garners the same level of interest as the COVID-19 Telehealth Program – a $200 million fund that was depleted within 3 months of the Commission first accepting applications – HCPs seeking to participate in the Connected Care Program may want to consider how to prepare now to submit a timely application once the final application details and filing deadline are established. The Commission will be issuing a subsequent Public Notice identifying the final Connected Care Program application procedures and filing deadline.

Continue Reading FCC Provides Guidance on $100 Million Connected Care Pilot Program; Application Deadline Remains TBD