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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

In episode 9 of Kelley Drye Full Spectrum’s “Inside the TCPA” series, Partner Steve Augustino and Associate Chris Laughlin provide an update on the new FCC requirement for voice service providers to develop and implement robocall mitigation programs. Building on their Episode 7 discussion of the STIR/SHAKEN framework, Steve and Chris discuss when

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

In the latest episode of Full Spectrum’s Inside the TCPA series, Partner Steve Augustino and Associate Chris Laughlin discuss a series of FCC orders that require implementation of a call authentication framework called STIR/SHAKEN. They cover the FCC’s anti-robocall program, the specifics of STIR/SHAKEN, its implementation requirements and deadlines, and other implications for service providers,

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

At its September 30 Open Meeting, the FCC took new steps to address costs and service quality related to its IP Captioned Telephone Services (IP CTS) program in a Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. IP CTS, a form of telecommunications relay service (TRS), allows individuals who have difficulty hearing but are speech-capable to use a telephone with an IP-enabled device to communicate over the Internet by simultaneously listening to and reading real-time captions of what th other party is saying.

The item adopted by the Commission builds on its earlier efforts to promote sustainability of the TRS fund, address potential waste, fraud, and abuse in the IP CTS program, and improve IP CTS service quality for users. These efforts began in a June 2018 order where the FCC adopted a new methodology to set compensation rates for IP CTS services based on a calculation of the costs to provide the services and new measures to limit incidents of unnecessary IP CTS use. At the same time, the Commission adopted a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) seeking comment on potential new standards for the provision of those services. The FCC’s reforms continued in a November 2019 order, where the Commission expanded the TRS Fund contribution base for IP CTS to include intrastate, in addition to interstate, end-user revenues. Following that, in February 2019, the FCC created new rules requiring IP CTS providers to submit user registration information to the existing video relay service (VRS) Database to limit program access to only those determined to be eligible to use IP CTS. The instant Report & Order extends the compensation methodology adopted in June 2018 and the FNPRM proposes new standards to measure and test the quality of captioning based of the NOI responses and input from the Disability Advisory Committee.


Continue Reading FCC Sets New Rates for IP CTS Compensation and Proposes New Minimum Service Standards

At its July 16, 2020 meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“R&O and FNPRM”) to facilitate development of new broadband deployment maps and data sets. According to the R&O and FNPRM, the item furthers the Commission’s ongoing Digital Opportunity Data Collection (“DODC”) efforts and the requirements established in the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act (“Broadband DATA Act”) passed in March 2020.

As detailed in the R&O and FNPRM, the Commission will require fixed and mobile broadband providers to report more precise broadband availability and service information than required under the current FCC Form 477 filings. Separately, the Commission will create a nationwide database containing geocoded locations for all areas where broadband connections can be installed—the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (“Fabric”). The Commission will use the Fabric to create publicly-available maps showing areas across the country that are served and unserved by broadband service. Among the expected benefits, the new broadband deployment data collection and mapping framework will allow the Commission to better target Universal Service Fund support, which has been a hot-button issue since the agency mothballed Phase II of the Mobility Fund in 2018 after the accuracy of mobile wireless coverage maps was called into question.


Continue Reading FCC Maps Out Requirements for Broadband Deployment Data Collection Framework

A draft Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”), if adopted, would clarify the agency’s 2014 rules governing the process state and local governments use to review deployments of new antenna and equipment on existing wireless infrastructure and seek comment on a related proposal concerning excavations for such expansions. The clarifications, which are meant to speed the deployment of 5G infrastructure, largely mirror those sought in a pair of petitions for declaratory ruling filed by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (“WIA”) and CTIA in the fall of 2019. Those petitions allege that despite the 2014 rules, states and localities continue to erect barriers that slow their ability to add new facilities to existing infrastructure. In comments on the petitions, states and localities contend that they are substantially complying with the rules and that any delays are caused by applicants or their contractors. However, the FCC apparently plans to move forward with adopting most, though not all, of the industry group clarification requests.

For those who have been following the FCC over the past three years under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the draft item builds on the agency’s multifaceted effort to pave a clear path for the private sector to deploy 5G technologies. Prior efforts include repurposing low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum for mobile wireless operations, reducing the circumstances under which wireless infrastructure deployments must undergo federal historic preservation and environmental reviews, and preempting states and localities from using review processes to slow the deployment of small cells.

The agency is set to vote on the item at its June 9, 2020, open meeting.


Continue Reading Proposed Wireless Infrastructure Item Clarifies Rules Concerning Local Reviews to Speed 5G Deployments

In a move spurred by Twitter’s decision to fact-check a pair of President Trump’s tweets, the president recently signed a multi-pronged “Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship” with the claimed intention of stopping online platforms from making content moderation decisions that discriminate against particular viewpoints. The President, along with other conservative political figures and commentators, have frequently claimed that social media platforms have used content moderation practices to stifle conservative speech. The Executive Order (“EO”) evokes the First Amendment, calling online platforms the 21st century “public square,” where people go to express and debate different views, and saying the allegedly biased content moderation practices undermine that free expression.

The most controversial aspects of the order are its interpretation of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“CDA”)—the statutory provision that shields online service providers from liability for user-generated content and the decisions they make about how to moderate that content—and its attempt to prompt the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to adopt regulations further interpreting the law. Reform of Section 230 has been under consideration in Congress for years, with Republicans and Democrats both offering different—and mostly contrary—critiques about how online platforms have failed to act in accordance with the statute while also benefitting from the liability protections.

Other directives in the EO attempt to elicit other parts of the federal government to discipline online platforms for their content moderation practices. Absent Congressional action, the EO’s directives appear to stand on shaky legal ground and are likely to have limited legal impact.  However, the issuance of the EO alone may be unlawful, at least according to a complaint challenging the constitutionality of the EO filed with the U.S. District Court in D.C. by the Center for Democracy & Technology (“CDT”). According to the complaint, the EO violates the First Amendment, which strictly limits the government’s ability to abridge speech, by retaliating against Twitter for exercising its right to comment on the President’s statements and because it “seeks to curtail and chill the constitutionally protected speech of all online platforms and individuals” by demonstrating the government’s willingness to retaliate against those who criticize the government.


Continue Reading Section 230 Executive Order Strikes Back at Twitter, But Legal Impact Likely to be Limited

The FCC has proposed new rules to eliminate several obscure telecommunications charges that were either mandated or authorized for price regulated local exchange carriers and then mirrored by many competitive telecommunications providers. At its March 2020 Open Meeting, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would eliminate the FCC’s regulation of the Subscriber Line Charge, and several other end-user access charges largely created as cost-recovery mechanism during access charge reforms in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The NPRM also would prohibit all carriers from both listing these charges in their tariffs and breaking out these charges into separate line items on customer bills. These moves are touted by the Commission as relieving carriers of price regulation and increasing transparency for consumers.

Continue Reading FCC Initiates Rulemaking to Deregulate End-User Charges and Simplify Customer Bills