Photo of Steven A. Augustino

Email
(202) 342-8612
Bio

Protecting the U.S. telecommunications networks from security threats has long been an area of strong agreement at the FCC. Following several actions by the Pai Commission to ban Huawei and ZTE equipment deemed to pose a national security threat, Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel has continued the effort. Indeed, in February, at the first meeting she led as acting chair, Rosenworcel called on the FCC to “revitalize” its approach to network security “because it is an essential part of our national security, our economic recovery, and our leadership in a post-pandemic world.”

At the FCC Open Meeting on June 17, 2021, the FCC took its most visible step yet toward Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s vision. The Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) to further address national security threats to communications networks and the supply chain. The NPRM and NOI sets its sights on the Commission’s rules relating to equipment authorization and competitive bidding. The Commission’s proposals have seeds of a much broader focus on Internet of Things (“IoT”) devices, cybersecurity and RF fingerprinting, to name a few. All participants in the telecommunications ecosystem should take notice.


Continue Reading FCC Begins Proceeding to Broaden its National Security Protections Beyond Universal Service Disbursements; IoT, Cybersecurity in its Sights

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

The FCC Open Meeting, scheduled for April 22, 2021 includes several items of interest. During the April meeting, the third meeting led by Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC will consider seven agenda items plus an enforcement order. The items include two emergency service items — a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) to examine expanding the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to support text messaging to 988 — and a Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to promote public safety by ensuring that 911 call centers and consumers are notified of disruptions to 911 service in a timely manner. The FCC will also consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to permit licensed wireless microphone users to operate a new wireless microphone technology called Wireless Multi-Channel Audio System (“WMAS”) technology on frequencies already available for Part 74 licensed wireless microphone operations in certain bands. Finally, the Commission will consider an enforcement item at its meeting, but, as is the custom with enforcement actions, the subject of the enforcement and the nature of the action is not disclosed prior to the vote on the item.

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


Continue Reading FCC’s April Open Meeting Focuses on Emergency Services and Wireless Microphones

On April 1, 2021, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the definition of an automatic telephone dialing system (“ATDS”) under the TCPA is limited by the plain grammar of the statute itself. The Court, in a decision authored by Justice Sotomayor, held that a device must have the capacity to use a random or sequential number generator in either storing or producing a telephone number, to qualify as an ATDS under the TCPA. Facebook, Inc. v. Duguid et al., Case No. 19-511 (2021).

Our preview of the Supreme Court’s consideration of Duguid can be found here and our analysis of the oral argument can be found here. The Court’s decision is discussed below, and its opinion can be found here.


Continue Reading Supreme Court Defines ATDS Under The TCPA

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

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

Following weeks of speculation about a potential role for Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu in the Biden Administration, the White House announced on March 5 that Wu has been named Special Assistant to the President for Technology and Competition Policy. As an official housed in the National Economic Council (“NEC”), Wu will not directly command staff within federal agencies or set the agencies’ enforcement or regulatory agendas. Instead, Wu will most likely focus on coordinating federal agencies’ efforts to identify and address competition issues. Given his history, Wu could seek to have particular influence on the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) as they shape their Biden Administration agendas.

Continue Reading Competition Policy Gets a Top Spot in the White House