The FCC released a streamlined agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for December 14, 2021. The agency will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) and Notice of Inquiry regarding how to improve the clarity and accessibility of Emergency Alert System (“EAS”) visual messages to the public, including persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, and to seek comment on other EAS improvements, such as redesigns to enable matching visual and audio alert content (“EAS NPRM”). The FCC will next address an Order and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would grant a petition for rulemaking filed by Space Exploration Holdings, LLC (“SpaceX”) to amend the spectrum sharing rules applicable to non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service (“NGSO FSS”) systems (“Satellite Spectrum Sharing NPRM”). The commissioners will close the meeting by considering a NPRM that would propose to establish a central bidding portal through which service providers would submit their bids to the E-Rate program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) (“E-Rate NPRM”).

You will find more information about the items on the December meeting agenda after the break:


Continue Reading FCC’s December Meeting Agenda Includes Emergency Alerts, Satellite Broadband and E-Rate Items

The Rural Health Care Program (“RHCP”) is sure to face increased scrutiny in the wake of a $18.7 million proposed fine issued by the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) at its January meeting against a telecommunications reseller for allegedly defrauding the program.  The FCC claims that DataConnex, one of the top five recipients of RHCP funding, violated the program’s competitive bidding rules and submitted falsified documents to increase the support it received.  The FCC recently ramped up enforcement involving the RHCP and proposed significant reforms last month aimed at improving oversight and deterring fraud.  The FCC’s actions potentially foreshadow additional restrictions on the use of RHCP consultants and the amount of available funding.


Continue Reading Does the Rural Healthcare Program Need a Check-Up? Program Under Microscope Following $18.7 Million Proposed Fine for Fraud

At its last open meeting in 2017, the five FCC Commissioners unanimously voted to adopt a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and Order regarding the Commission’s Rural Health Care (RHC) Program, a 20-year old initiative aimed at improving rural health care provider access to first telecommunications services and later an array of communications services, including Internet access, dark fiber, and business data services.  This item is part of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s overall initiative to close the “digital divide,” and proposes to increase the $400 million spending cap for the first time since 1997.  The NPRM also proposes to change how the FCC handles demand beyond the cap, from general proration to prioritization based on rurality or remoteness.  As such, all interested stakeholders should carefully monitor and consider participating in the rulemaking process.  Comments will be due 30 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register (which usually takes a few weeks) and reply comments will be due 60 days after publication.

Continue Reading FCC Votes on Possible Changes to the Rural Health Care Program

With the e-rate program pressing against its cap in funding, the FCC seems to be clamping down on its competitive bidding procedures.  For the fifth time this month, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau denied a school’s e-rate appeal because it failed to comply with the competitive bidding procedures.

In this case, the applicant

Shortly after I posted an entry noting the FCC’s denial of e-rate appeals for competitive bidding violations, the Wireline Competition Bureau issued another decision along the same lines.  In this case, however, the focus was on the conduct of the service provider during the bidding process. 

This case involves a Missouri service provider, Synergetics

Earlier this month, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau denied three appeals by school districts seeking funding under the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund.  In all three decisions, the Bureau found that the school had failed to follow the Commission’s competitive bidding rules for such requests, and therefore, the USAC had properly denied funding of the request.

The decisions highlight three elements of the competitive bidding rules:  (1) that the selection of vendors be based on the bid process itself, (2) that all information be disclosed to all potential bidders and (3) that price be the primary factor in selecting vendors. 

Collectively, the cases serve as a reminder to schools and service providers alike that the bid process must be fair and open in order to receive funding from the program.  Both school districts and service providers need to be vigilant to avoid inadvertent violations of the e-rate program’s competitive bidding rules.


Continue Reading Three E-rate Appeals Denied for Failures in Competitive Bidding