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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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From smart homes and self-driving vehicles to drones and healthcare monitoring, Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities are a hot topic for both manufacturers and consumers. The most recent episode of Kelley Drye’s Full Spectrum podcast spotlights one of the key areas for everyone involved – maintaining security of IoT devices. Partners John Heitmann and Steve

After a long road that included questions over the scope of FTC and FCC jurisdiction, AT&T finally settled one of two cases challenging the unlimited data plans it offered to consumers.   On Tuesday, November 5, 2019 the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) moved to settle its October 28, 2014 complaint against AT&T Mobility, LLC (“AT&T” or “Company”) in which the FTC asserted that the Company was reducing the data speeds of customers grandfathered into unlimited plans after they had used a certain amount of data. The stipulated order, approved 4-0 by the FTC and awaiting final approval from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, will require AT&T to dole out $60 million to eligible customers and prohibit the Company from portraying the amount or speed of mobile data in its plans, including unlimited, without disclosing any material restrictions accompanying such plans.

As we covered extensively in several previous blog posts, one of the primary consequences of the case were questions about the limits of the FTC’s jurisdiction. The case mirrored a time when the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) took opposing positions in successive administrations regarding whether mobile data services and other Broadband Internet Access Services (“BIAS”) were subject to FCC regulation. One of the central questions underlying the case was which agency, the FCC or the FTC, could regulate AT&T’s mobile data practices. After the FTC won a Ninth Circuit decision that its jurisdiction reaches to non-common carrier activities of common carriers (and the FCC concluded that mobile BIAS was not a common carrier service), AT&T agreed to settle the FTC case. However, so long as the jurisdiction of particular services remains in doubt, or is subject to changing FCC positions, service providers will face potential overlapping enforcement activities by the two agencies.


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In this two-part edition of Full Spectrum’s recurring series on FCC enforcement, Partner Steve Augustino and Senior Associate Brad Currier highlight a recent trend and cover some of the most interesting late-summer enforcement items.

Part one of this episode focuses on the significance and implications of Commissioner-led investigations, such as Commissioner O’Rielly regarding E-Rate overbuilding

FCC regulatory fees for FY 2019 must be paid by September 24, 2019, under an order issued by the agency earlier this week. Federal law requires the FCC to assess regulatory fees each year to cover its operating costs (thus, the agency is largely self-funding). The FCC plans to collect a total of $339 million in fees for FY 2019, representing about a 5 percent increase from FY 2018. Beyond providing the specific fees due, the order offers important guidance for entities seeking fee waivers or dealing with bankruptcy or license transfers. While most services saw only slight fee increases, the significant fee jump for certain industry sectors led Commissioner O’Rielly to push for new restraints on agency spending. As the FCC collects its regulatory fees across all regulated services, any decline in fees for one service necessarily means increased fees for others. In light of this “zero sum” game, all service providers should carefully examine the impact of the order on their business and the potential for future reforms.

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At the end of July, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (“NIST”) released draft cybersecurity guidance for IoT device manufacturers. The document, titled Core Cybersecurity Feature Baseline for Securable IoT Devices: A Starting Point for IoT Device Manufacturers, is intended, according to NIST, identify the cybersecurity features that IoT devices should have “to make them at least minimally securable by the individuals and organizations who acquire and use them.” The NIST document is not a rule or requirement for IoT devices, but rather is a continuation of NIST’s effort to foster the development and application of voluntary standards, guidelines, and related tools to improve the cybersecurity of connected devices.

NIST is seeking comment on the document through September 30 of this year and it held a workshop in August for interested parties to discuss the document. In a prior post, I blogged on takeaways from that workshop. Now, it’s time to take a closer look at the NIST document itself.


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Connected devices already are making headway into business and consumer markets. “Smart” speakers, video doorbells, remote programmable thermostats and other devices are increasing in popularity in homes across the United States. Major automakers and startups are pursuing self-driving cars and the “passenger economy.” Businesses are using IoT capabilities to enhance preventive maintenance, to track assets through the production cycle and to gain insights into consumer behavior.

Now, the federal government is trying to provide resources for businesses engaged in the Internet of Things (“IoT”) economy. Building on guidelines it established for cybersecurity generally and IoT cybersecurity specifically, the National Institute for Standards and Technology (“NIST”), a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, held a workshop for manufacturers on securing IoT devices. I attended the workshop and these are my principal takeaways from the meeting.


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At its August Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) implementing portions of two recent statutes—Kari’s Law and the RAY BAUM’s Act—that address ensuring greater access to 911 and emergency services for members of the public. Kari’s Law requires multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”), like those in hotels and offices, to have the capability for a user to dial 911 directly without having to press “9” (or some other access code) first to call out.  Section 506 of the RAY BAUM’s Act requires the FCC to consider adopting rules to ensure a 911 caller’s dispatchable location is properly conveyed from an MLTS to the public safety answering point (“PSAP”). The Commission took the opportunity of implementing these two Acts to also expand 911 dialing requirements for certain VoIP, TRS and mobile text-to-911 services.

With these new requirements, the FCC continues its trend of expanding the availability of emergency services calling to newer technologies. As these new forms of communication become more mainstream – and as they grow as replacements for, rather than complements to, traditional telecommunications services – the FCC has been inclined to make emergency services a “must have” feature of the service. Providers of new communications technologies should carefully review their service offerings to determine how to handle customer attempts to reach emergency services.


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On August 13, 2019, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced that it settled a nearly three-year long investigation into whether CenturyLink included unauthorized charges from third-party service providers on customer bills. Also known as “cramming,” the assessment of unauthorized charges is a major source of consumer complaints and frequent focus of FCC enforcement actions. The CenturyLink Consent Decree follows in the wake of a handful of enforcement actions for cramming when accompanied by unlawful carrier switches (“slamming”) and the FCC’s adoption of new rules codifying its longstanding ban on cramming in 2018. The settlement underscores the responsibility borne by carriers for the chargers they place on customer bills – even for services they do not provide – and the need to maintain safeguards to ensure such charges are authorized.

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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.


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