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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The FTC and FCC have taken a number of actions to stem unlawful robocalls generally and, during the COVID-19 pandemic, to stem harmful and deceptive calls that seek to exploit the COVID-19 crisis. Even amid the backdrop of their long-standing commitment, the agencies’ most recent action stands out as an aggressive new approach to unlawful calls. On April 3, 2020, the enforcement arms of each agency jointly sent warning letters to three Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) service providers allegedly facilitating the transmission of international scam telemarketing calls originating overseas. The letters make an unprecedented demand: block the traffic of specific allegedly unlawful actors or have all of your traffic blocked by other carriers. In this post, we’ll take a look at this new approach, and discuss its relationship to the broader provisions of the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement Act (“TRACED Act”), which institutes a number of measures designed to combat illegal robocalls.
Continue Reading FCC/FTC Stake out Aggressive Robocall Position, Tell Gateway VoIP Providers to Block COVID-19 Robocalls – or Be Blocked Themselves
Last week, in a major enforcement action, the FCC proposed $208 million in fines against the nation’s four largest wireless carriers—AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint—for allegedly selling access to their customers’ location information without taking “reasonable measures” to protect the information against unauthorized disclosure. The FCC argued that such actions violated its rules regarding the protection of customer data known as customer proprietary network information (CPNI).
This enforcement action marks a series of firsts. It is the first CPNI enforcement action since the pre-2016 CPNI regulations were reinstated following the repeal of the broadband privacy rules by Congress in 2017. This is also the first large consumer protection enforcement action under Chairman Pai’s leadership—up to now, Chairman Pai has eschewed the principle-based enforcement of his predecessor in favor of more clear-cut rules violations. The action also generated criticism both for being too soft (and too late) and for potentially being beyond the Commission’s jurisdiction.
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.