Continuing its focus on broadband infrastructure deployment for 5G technologies, the FCC announced that it plans to eliminate regulatory impediments that delay and increase the cost of wireless deployments at its next meeting, scheduled for September 26, 2018. The item would alter the balance of power between wireless broadband providers and state/local governments concerning control over rights of way and deployment fees. The FCC also anticipates initiating a rulemaking aimed at improving 911 dialing and location accuracy for multi-line telephone systems (“MLTS”), potentially imposing new compliance obligations on office building, hotel, and other large facility managers. Rounding out the major actions, the FCC released draft items that would: (1) permit toll free numbers to be auctioned and sold on the secondary market and (2) consolidate rules and expand the spectrum available for so-called Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”) that provide high-speed broadband service to vehicles, aircraft, and vessels. The proposed items will generate input from all corners of the communications industry as well as real estate interests. You will find more details on the significant September FCC items after the jump:
On August 28, 2018, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau announced a Consent Decree with Marriott International, Inc. (“Marriott”) to resolve an investigation into unauthorized transfers of wireless radio licenses in connection with Marriott’s acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. (“Starwood”). The civil payment levied against Marriott and the other conditions set forth in the Consent Decree serve as a reminder to companies that may not normally be subject to the FCC’s jurisdiction to thoroughly review the regulatory implications of mergers, acquisitions, or other corporate transactions as part of any due diligence conducted before a deal is reached.
After almost two months of anticipation, the Federal Register is expected to publish the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) concerning the future use of 3.7-4.2 GHz (the “4 GHz Band”) by the mobile, fixed, and satellite services released by the FCC on July 13, 2018. The August 29 publication in the Federal Register will establish the comment and reply comment dates as Monday, October 29, and Tuesday, November 27, 2018.
There will be plenty for interested parties to comment on, as we discussed in an earlier blog post providing an overview of the draft NPRM, which was largely retained in the document finally adopted. The FCC is considering myriad options to restructure that spectrum to introduce commercial flexible mobile use and fixed point-to-multipoint operations while protecting incumbent fixed satellite service uses and grandfathered point-to-point licenses. The 4 GHz Band is commonly recognized by the mobile industry, the FCC, and others, as a key mid-spectrum band for next-generation networks and applications, including 5G and the Internet of Things.
As summer begins to wind down, the FCC will begin considering whether to revise or eliminate decade-old regulations, including certain rules related to the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), equipment authorization procedures, and disabilities access. The FCC kicked off its review with a Public Notice under the Regulatory Flexibility Act, which requires federal agencies to reexamine regulations within 10 years of their adoption to assess the continued need for the rules, the rules’ complexity, and whether the rules overlap or conflict with other federal regulations. The purpose of the review is to ensure that older, unnecessary rules do not remain on the books, lowering the compliance burden for smaller businesses. Although the FCC rarely eliminates a rule outright as part of this review, the comments received can help the agency identify improvements for future rulemakings or flag potential compliance issues.
The FCC recently reached a $5.25 million settlement with AT&T to resolve investigations into two 911 service outages that resulted in thousands of failed emergency calls. This edition of Full Spectrum’s series on FCC enforcement discusses the unexpected settlement and its implications on carrier network practices and the FCC’s enforcement priorities. Partner Steve Augustino and Associate Brad Currier also cover LED sign enforcement, which has recently become an area of focus for the Pai FCC as the signs interfere with communications services. Finally, they cover a rare amateur radio settlement involving both the FCC and the Department of Justice. To listen to this episode, click here and click here to subscribe on iTunes.
In June, the FCC approved a package of regulatory measures – Report and Order, Declaratory Ruling, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”), and Notice of Inquiry (“NOI”) – directed at reforming the IP Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) program to address concerns about its sustainability. IP CTS is a form of telecommunications relay service (“TRS”) that enables people with hearing loss to communicate by speaking while listening with any remaining hearing ability and reading real-time captions. IP CTS is paid for by the FCC through its TRS Fund and has experienced significant usage growth, now representing almost 80 percent of the costs covered by the Fund. The FNPRM and NOI, which propose fundamental reforms to the IP CTS program, were published in the Federal Register on July 17, 2018, which set the upcoming comment deadlines. Comments on the FNPRM are due by September 17, 2018 and replies by October 16, 2018. Comments on the NOI are due by October 16, 2018 and replies by November 15, 2018.
In a move affecting nearly every type of dispute brought to the agency, the FCC adopted a Report and Order (“Order”) at its July meeting establishing a streamlined set of formal complaint rules. The new rules cover complaints against common carriers, pole attachment complaints, and complaints involving accessibility for people with disabilities. The revised procedures impose a uniform deadline for answering complaints, eliminate a number of procedural requirements, expand the discovery process, and establish a “shot clock” for FCC decisions. The reforms aim to lower the overall burden on complainants, potentially opening the door to the resolution of more disputes with the FCC instead of in court or elsewhere.
“Inside the TCPA” offers a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode will tackle a single TCPA topic or petition that is in the news or affecting cases around the country. In this episode, partner Steve Augustino and associate Jenny Wainwright discuss the consent issues before the FCC in the agency’s remand proceeding after the 2018 D.C. Circuit decision in ACA International. In addition, Steve and Jenny examine three other petitions pending before the agency that could be resolved with the remand proceeding. To listen to this episode, click here.*
Two years after the first Spectrum Frontiers report and order, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) is completing the final set of preliminaries before commencing the first mmW auction. With the release of a draft Public Notice (“Notice”) on July 12, 2018, the Commission gave a sneak preview of the application and bidding procedures for upper microwave flexible use service (“UMFUS”) licenses in the 28 GHz and 24 GHz band. The Commission will vote on these procedures at its next Open Meeting, scheduled for August 2, 2018. The auction will be an important milestone in the Commission’s efforts to make high band spectrum available for next-generation applications, including 5G wireless connectivity.
As we enter the dog days of summer, the FCC continues to turn up the heat on equipment marketing enforcement. But while million dollar fines for marketing noncompliant devices capture the spotlight, the FCC also quietly issued a number of equipment marketing actions focused on a single type of device: LED signs. In just the last three months, the FCC has settled over ten investigations involving the marketing of LED signs used in digital billboards for commercial and industrial applications without the required authorizations, labeling, or user manual disclosures. Each action involved an entity that either manufactured or sold (or both) LED signs. The agency’s recent actions should be a shot across the bow to any retailer of LED signs to ensure that their devices are properly tested and authorized prior to sale. Otherwise, these companies may face significant fines and warehouses of unmarketable devices.