On Friday, May 31, 2019, the FCC released a much-anticipated notice of proposed rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider the adoption of an overall budget cap on the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), separate from any individual budgets for each of the four USF programs. The NPRM is in response to years-long advocacy on the part of Commissioner O’Rielly to impose budgets on USF spending, and it comes over dissent of the two Democratic Commissioners. While Commissioner O’Rielly justified the proposal as responsible stewardship of public money and said it would not limit funding in the near future, Commissioners Rosenworcel and Starks criticized the proposal as undermining the goals of Universal Service and, at worst, creating a “universal service hunger games” among the support programs.

The release of the NPRM was our first look at the specifics of a proposal that broke a month ago. The NPRM does not propose a specific budget, primarily raises questions about how to proceed, and does not contain any proposed rules. Nevertheless, opponents of the proposal have been most vocal since word of the NPRM came out, and we expect those USF stakeholders to continue in opposition to the approach. Meanwhile, proposals to reform USF contributions remain stalled (and lacking any consensus), while the contribution factor hovers around 20% of assessable revenues.


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At its April Open Meeting, the FCC approved a Fifth Report and Order (“R&O”) in the Spectrum Frontiers Proceeding that adopted sharing rules in two settings. The new rules will allow the federal government to deploy, in limited circumstances, additional station sites in spectrum to be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use in the 37.6-38.6 GHz frequency range (the “Upper 37 GHz Band”). The rules also will allow fixed satellite service (“FSS”) operators to individually license earth stations in the 50.4-51.4 GHz band (the “50 GHz Band”) while the FCC considers whether spectrum in the 50 GHz Band should also be auctioned for flexible mobile and fixed use. By acting now on these matters, the Commission intends to help provide Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service (“UMFUS”) providers with certainty regarding their potential future use of the spectrum before the auctions commence.

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The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), at its April 12, 2019 Open Meeting, voted to adopt a Public Notice that proposes application and bidding procedures for the single, simultaneous auction of three mmW spectrum bands—37 GHz (37.6-38.6 GHz), 39 GHz (38.6 GHz-40 GHz), and 47 GHz (47.2-48.2 GHz)—as we previously reported. The Public Notice lays the groundwork for the second-ever incentive auction (in the 37 and 39 GHz Bands) and continues the FCC’s intent to make more mmW band spectrum available for auction. The auction is scheduled to begin on December 10, 2019. Comments on the Public Notice are due by May 15, 2019 and reply comments are due by May 30, 2019.

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At its December 12 Open Meeting, the FCC adopted its first Communications Marketplace Report, which combines several separate reports into one and is meant to provide a comprehensive overview of the mobile wireless, fixed broadband, audio, video, and satellite communications markets. Congress directed the Commission to complete such a report biennially with its passage of

The FCC’s Spectrum Frontiers proceeding, which is focused on making millimeter wave (“mmW”) spectrum available for flexible commercial mobile and fixed use, seems poised to move into a new phase even as the current phase is playing out. At its next meeting on December 12, 2018, the agency will vote on rule changes to facilitate a consolidated auction of spectrum in three spectrum ranges designated in 2016 and 2017 for flexible mobile and fixed use:  the so-called Upper 37 GHz Band (37.6-38.6 GHz), the 39 GHz Band (38.6-40.0 GHz), and the 47 GHz Band (47.2-48.2 GHz). The FCC reportedly anticipates completing the auctions by the end of 2019, following the present auction of 28 GHz Band licenses (in 27.50-28.35 GHz) and the immediately-following auction of 24 GHz Band spectrum (in 24.25-24.45 and 24.75-25.25 GHz). A draft order has been made available to the public.

Of particular interest, the recently released draft item would lay the groundwork for the FCC’s second incentive auction (after the “inaugural” broadcast incentive auction completed in March 2017). A 39 GHz incentive auction would be structured quite differently than the 600 MHz broadcast incentive auction and attempt to reduce encumbrances in the 39 GHz Band by offering existing licensees the option to relinquish their licenses in exchange for payment. The FCC leadership appears bullish that the three auctions will draw significant interest from major service providers looking to support next-generation applications, including 5G wireless connectivity and the Internet of Things. Naturally, the first-in-time 24 and 28 GHz auctions may give some sense in advance of that interest. Through November 26, 2018, after 18 rounds, the 28 GHz Band auction had generated under $200 million in bids, albeit that spectrum is encumbered in many of the largest markets and in slightly more than 50% of all counties nationwide, including the most populous. The 24 GHz Band auction may prove a much better test of the appetite for participants to pay high prices for so-called “high band” spectrum.


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At its November 15 Open Meeting, the FCC intends to vote on a Report and Order (“Order”) to make some important changes to the requirements for wireless service providers to report on the number of hearing aid compatible (“HAC”) handsets they offer. The dual aims of the rule changes are to ease the burden of the reporting obligations while improving consumer access to information about HAC wireless handsets. Specifically, the FCC proposes to drop the requirement for service providers to file annual forms with HAC device information, and instead disclose detailed information on their websites and make an annual certification of compliance with the rules. Websites updated with the new required information and the first certification of compliance will be due 30 days after notice of Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval of the new rules is published in the Federal Register. If the Order is adopted at Thursday’s meeting, service providers should promptly begin working on website revisions and not wait for OMB approval.

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International service providers likely celebrated when the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission”) eliminated the annual International Traffic and Revenue reporting requirement last year but may have forgotten about the Commission’s plan to issue targeted data requests, when necessary, to obtain information previously available from the annual report. Well the time has come and the Commission now is collecting the basic data that will allow it to tailor its information requests in the future. As required by Commission rule 63.22, international facilities-based service providers must file with the Commission, by November 14, 2018, lists of U.S.-international routes on which the provider has direct termination arrangements with a foreign carrier in the destination country (Route List).

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The Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s” or “Commission’s”) vote at its open meeting on October 23, 2018 on a Report and Order regarding the 3550-3700 MHz band (“3.5 GHz Band”) was split along party lines. This was hardly surprising given the criticism of the original order in 2015 by the then-Republican minority. As the now-Republican majority approved changes sought by the commercial mobile industry to the Priority Access License (“PAL”) rules, the lone Democratic Commissioner, Jessica Rosenworcel dissented. Spectrum in and around the 3.5 GHz range is often touted as a lynchpin for initial 5G deployment internationally. The FCC, in response, seeks to promote greater investment in the band, by 5G proponents in particular by making PALs, which are to be auctioned, more attractive to commercial mobile service providers. The Order hopes to accomplish this by, among other things, increasing the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties, and extending license terms from three to ten years with a renewal expectancy. Commissioner Rosenworcel casts the action as a missed opportunity for spectrum policy that promotes innovation by favoring instead the same old, same old.

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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.

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