We attended the Audit Committee meeting at USAC’s quarterly business meeting this morning. While much of the discussion concerned internal controls USAC has in place to oversee its functions, the business update portion of the meeting gave us a snapshot into contributor and beneficiary audit activity at USAC. The presentation gave us some insight into a likely increased amount of activity over the next few months.
Although FCC actions concerning commercial mobile radio and unlicensed spectrum grab the big headlines, the Commission is addressing the needs of other radio users, too. On October 23, 2018, the Commissioners will vote on plans to make available additional channels for, and remove or reduce other requirements applicable to, private land mobile radio (“PLMR”) operations in the 806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz bands (the “the 800 MHz Band”) and, to a lesser extent, the 450-470 MHz band. These frequencies are relied upon by, among other entities, public safety agencies, state/local governments, commercial security operations, utilities, and manufacturers for internal radio communications. While the FCC has worked for years on re-banding and other measures designed to increase utilization of fallow spectrum, it is now intent on addressing a number of rule changes to makes these frequencies more readily accessible by a larger number of PLMR entities. Many PLMR rules have remained unchanged since the 1990s or earlier, and eligible entities for years have sought changes to current regulations to foster greater deployment of new equipment and services. The FCC’s draft item made available to the public earlier this month would address a number of these pending proposals.
Responding to demands by high tech companies for more so-called “mid-band” unlicensed spectrum to augment that already made available in the 5 GHz Band, which accommodates Wi-Fi, Internet of Things (“IoT”), and other Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) applications as well as Licensed Assisted Access and LTE-Unlicensed solutions, the FCC will vote on a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) at its October 26 Open Meeting to make up to 1200 megahertz of nearby spectrum available for similar purposes. The draft leaves no doubt that, to make the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) available for unlicensed use, sophisticated sharing mechanisms will need to be in place. Various parts of this frequency range are already used by fixed, mobile, and satellite services, and the draft item commits to protecting these incumbents and allowing these services to grow while at the same time opening the band to increased numbers of unlicensed devices. To achieve this, the Commission is considering drawing upon its experience with white spaces and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (at 3550-3750 MHz), and would seek comment on numerous subjects before adopting rules. The draft item would be a stepping stone to enabling unlicensed devices to operate with wider bandwidths and higher data rates, which the Commission hopes would set off a new wave of innovation in consumer devices complementing its recent moves to spur the rollout of next-generation 5G networks. The NPRM, when adopted, will be sure to generate a wave of comments from both equipment manufacturers and broadband providers hungry for more spectrum as well as incumbent public safety organizations, utilities, satellite companies, and various other fixed and mobile services licensees seeking to protect and hoping to expand their existing operations in the 6 GHz Band, particularly as relocation options for other similar spectrum are increasingly scarce.
At its open meeting on September 26, 2018, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) unanimously voted to adopt a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to consolidate the agency’s rules governing three different types of mobile earth stations that operate in the Fixed Satellite Service (“FSS”) and communicate with geostationary satellites (“GSOs”). The consolidated rules will apply to all categories of Earth Stations in Motion (“ESIMs”). More importantly, the Commission extended the frequency bands on which ESIMs can operate on a primary basis into the conventional Ka-band. It also seeks comment in the FNPRM on expanding ESIMs operations into additional spectrum in the Ku-band and Ka-bands, potentially on a secondary or unprotected basis. However, the Commission left addressing ESIM operations with non-geostationary satellite orbit (“NGSO”) FSS systems for a separate NPRM.
At last week’s 5G summit at the White House, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology (“5G FAST Plan”). The first of the three components of the Chairman’s announced strategy is making more spectrum available for 5G services by expanding licensed and unlicensed opportunities. To those ends, the FCC announced this week that the Commissioners will vote at its next meeting on October 23, 2018, on three items that would launch a proceeding to consider more unlicensed operations, make rule changes designed to increase the value of mid-band spectrum, and expand channels for land mobile radios primarily used by government agencies and businesses. Specifically, the FCC proposes allowing unlicensed devices to operate in the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) to support next-generation unlicensed technologies, including Wi-Fi. The agency also anticipates recrafting the licensing rules related to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.550-3.700 GHz band (the “3.5 GHz Band”), with an emphasis on the Priority Access Licenses (“PALs”) it will auction. In addition, the FCC expects to increase, through various methods, the number of channels available for private land mobile radio (“PLMR”) operations in the 806-824 MHz and 851-869 MHz bands (the “the 800 MHz Band”).
Rounding out the major actions that will be voted on later this month at the Open Meeting, the FCC released a draft item that would offer regulatory relief to rate-of-return carriers providing Business Data Services (“BDS”). The proposed items are sure to impact every sector of the communications industry, from the largest wireless carriers to the smallest broadband providers and device manufacturers to business, industrial, and public safety radio users, while potentially transforming large-scale data transport services. Continue Reading
After more than twenty years, VoIP’s unclassified status may be coming to an end. Last month, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Charter Advanced Services LLC v. Lange in which it considered whether an interconnected VoIP service offered by Charter can be regulated like a telecommunications service by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (“MPUC”). The court recognized that the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has repeatedly failed to resolve the issue of VoIP service regulatory classification. However, the Eight Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that Charter’s VoIP service is an information service that is federally preempted from state regulation based on its interpretation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (the “Act”) and FCC orders.
In this edition of Full Spectrum’s recurring series on FCC enforcement, Partner Steve Augustino and Associate Brad Currier address the legal dangers facing entities that may be unfamiliar with telecommunications regulation. Steve and Brad focus on a multi-million dollar DOJ fraud prosecution involving the E-rate fund and a settlement of inadvertent transfers of FCC licenses occurring as a result of a transaction between two entities that are not traditionally seen as communications entities (in this case, two hospitality companies). They also look ahead to two enforcement items on the agenda for the FCC’s September 26, 2018 Open Meeting. Click here to listen to this episode and click here to subscribe on iTunes.
In an event sure to garner significant attention from tech, consumer protection, and government stakeholders, oral argument on the consolidated appeals of the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order (“Order”) will take place on February 1, 2019, at the D.C. Circuit. As we previously discussed, the Order largely reversed the FCC’s own 2015 rulemaking to reclassify broadband internet access services (“BIAS”) as telecommunications services subject to a host of Title II common carrier obligations. The Order re-reclassified BIAS as information services subject to “light-touch” Title I regulations, while retaining pared-down transparency requirements on BIAS providers. The challengers allege that the FCC failed to adequately explain its changed regulatory approach, relied on faulty data, and ignored consumer complaints when issuing the Order. The oral argument will provide our first indication of which way the D.C. Circuit, which handled the last three appeals of FCC net neutrality rules with varied results, may go in this latest challenge.
Full Spectrum’s “Inside the TCPA” podcast series offers a deeper focus on TCPA issues and petitions pending before the FCC. Each episode tackles 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 efforts by the FCC and private industry to limit the number of illegal calls that reach consumers’ phones. In particular, they give an overview of a 2017 FCC order that authorized carriers to block certain types of calls, discuss the basics of private industry call blocking and call labeling services, and review suggestions from both industry and consumer groups on how to address this issue going forward. Click here to listen to this episode and click here to subscribe on iTunes.
Our “Spectrum Update” podcast series takes a close look at hot topics and issues in wireless spectrum. In this episode, Partners Chip Yorkgitis and Josh Guyan discuss the hotly contested changes that are proposed and ongoing in the spectrum between 3.1 and 4.2 GHz in the U.S. There appear to be potential opportunities for commercial mobile to share these bands with current uses, but there are also calls for greater use of the bands for unlicensed and fixed wireless services. In many countries in Europe and Asia, in particular, these bands have been identified for 5G use already and the FCC is considering doing the same in the U.S. Click here to listen to this episode and click here to subscribe on iTunes.