2021 is well underway and the new leadership at the FCC is taking shape. While we don’t yet know who will fill the Chair on a permanent basis, the FCC under Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is proceeding without delay. So far, the Commission has tackled ongoing issues of bipartisan support, including broadband mapping, communications supply chain security and preventing 911 fee diversion. But the biggest challenges ahead are in the universal service fund and, specifically, efforts to bridge the digital divide.

In this post, we’re going to take a look at developments in the FCC’s $9 billion-per-year Federal Universal Service Fund and more recent pandemic-related efforts to address deficiencies in broadband access that have been exposed by our year of remote work, school and social activities.


Continue Reading The State of the Universal Service Fund in 2021

The FCC released the agenda for its December Open Meeting, scheduled for December 10, 2020 on November 19, 2020, but the agency has made several changes since. The last meeting of the year will lead with a Report and Order on securing the communications supply chain that would require Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (“ETCs”) receiving federal universal service funding to remove and replace equipment and services identified as a risk to national security from their networks. The supply chain rulemaking would establish procedures and requirements for affected providers to seek reimbursement of their removal and replacement costs. The Commission will also consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) that would propose to modernize the marketing and importation rules for regulated equipment. Additionally, the December meeting will include an Order that would amend the invoice filing deadline rule for the E-Rate Program, which supports communications services for schools and libraries, and an Order on Reconsideration clarifying the agency’s interpretation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), although the draft texts of these two items have not been released.

The December meeting may be the first attended by recently-confirmed Republican FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington, who will replace outgoing Commissioner Michael O’Rielly after today’s confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate. In addition, Chairman Pai recently announced that he intends to leave the FCC on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021. As a result, the January 2021 FCC open meeting will be his last meeting before the change in administration.

You will find more details about the most significant items on the December meeting agenda after the break.


Continue Reading FCC Wraps Up 2020 with December Meeting Focusing on Supply Chain Security and Equipment Marketing

Protecting the U.S. communications supply chain from national security threats has become a priority for the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) and the agency’s recent Communications Supply Chain Protection proceeding resulted in new rules restricting the use of universal service support funds for certain equipment and services and the designation of Huawei and ZTE as national security threats to the communications networks and supply chain. The recently enacted Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (“Secure Networks Act”) requires the FCC to adopt additional communications supply chain protection measures and the Declaratory Ruling (“Declaratory Ruling”) and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“Second FNPRM”), adopted by the FCC’s at its July Open Meeting, continues the Commission’s implementation of the Secure Networks Act. The Declaratory Ruling/Second FNPRM declares the Commission’s compliance with the Secure Networks Act’s federal funding prohibition requirement and seeks comment on the FCC’s proposed interpretation and implementation of other provisions including key definitions and the identification of equipment and services subject to federal funding prohibitions.

Comments on the Second FNPRM are due by August 31, 2020 and reply comments are due by September 14, 2020.


Continue Reading FCC Remains Focused on Communications Supply Chain Protection; Seeks Comment on Continued Implementation of Secure Networks Act

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) is acting swiftly on efforts to protect the communications supply chain from entities posing a national security threat. In a Public Notice (“Public Notice”) released yesterday, the FCC announced that U.S. telecommunications carriers receiving Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support, known as eligible telecommunications carriers (“ETC”), must report on their use of equipment and services from Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”).

The information collection is mandatory for all entities that were ETCs as of December 31, 2019, and includes the ETC’s subsidiaries and affiliates. The information filings, which must be submitted via the FCC’s online filing portal, are due by April 22, 2020.


Continue Reading FCC Continues Supply Chain Protection Efforts; ETCs to Report on Huawei and ZTE Use by April 22, 2020

In a strongly worded Report and Order, Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and Order (the “Order”) released on November 26, 2019, the FCC adopted several measures to protect U.S. communications networks from potential national security threats. Likely coming as no surprise to anyone following the proceeding or current news, the FCC identified Huawei Technologies Company (“Huawei”) and ZTE Corporation (“ZTE”), both Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturers, as national security threats based, in large part, on the companies’ close ties to the Chinese government. Adding to numerous recent federal actions addressing national security concerns, the Order takes three significant steps, within the context of the universal service fund (“USF”) program, to try to mitigate national security threats to the nation’s communications networks.

Continue Reading FCC Prohibits Carriers Receiving USF Support from Using Providers Deemed to Pose a National Security Risk; Further Notice to Explore Using USF to Replace Equipment Already Installed

The FCC plans to prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support to purchase equipment or services from foreign entities that it determines pose national security risks at its next meeting scheduled for November 19, 2019. As we previously reported, the ban may severely impact participants in all federal USF programs and involve a costly “rip and replace” process to remove foreign-made equipment from domestic telecommunications networks. The FCC also expects to move forward on its heavily-anticipated E911 vertical accuracy (i.e., z-axis) proceeding and adopt new requirements for wireless carriers to better identify caller locations in multi-story buildings. Rounding out the major actions, the FCC anticipates proposing new rules for suspending and debarring entities from participating in USF and other funding programs; removing longstanding unbundling and resale requirements for certain telecommunications services; and widening the contribution base for the Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (“IP CTS”) to include intrastate revenues.

The draft items cover the gamut of telecommunications issues, affecting everything from the construction of next-generation 5G networks to legacy intercarrier competition rules, and should be closely watched. You will find more details on the most significant November FCC meeting items after the break:


Continue Reading FCC to Address Public Safety Concerns at November Meeting

The FCC plans to bar a Chinese telecommunications provider from offering international telecommunications service between the United States and foreign points based on national security concerns at its next open meeting scheduled for May 9, 2019. Under a draft Order released last week, the agency would conclude that China Mobile International USA (“China Mobile USA” or the “Company”) is ultimately controlled by the Chinese government and subject to Chinese government exploitation, influence, and control that could undermine the security and reliability of U.S. networks. The denial of China Mobile USA’s application would mark the first time the FCC has rejected an application to access the U.S. market based on national security concerns raised by the group of federal Executive Branch agencies commonly known as “Team Telecom.” The denial also would represent another salvo in the FCC’s recent efforts to combat network security and corporate espionage issues involving foreign-owned carriers. While the proposed action against China Mobile USA likely will not affect foreign carrier investment or access to the U.S. telecommunications market overall, it serves as a reminder of the barriers foreign-owned telecommunications providers (and particularly those with ties to China) may face when dealing with the FCC.

Continue Reading FCC to Deny Chinese Telecom Provider Access to U.S. Market, Citing National Security Concerns

In a move certain to inflame the ongoing trade dispute between the United States and China, Justice Department officials announced criminal charges against Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer Huawei, several of its affiliates, and its chief financial officer for alleged theft of trade secrets from U.S. telecommunications providers, bank fraud, obstruction of justice, and other violations. The two indictments issued on January 28, 2019, represent just the latest pushback against foreign telecommunications interests by U.S. officials, citing national security concerns and unfair trade practice claims. The FCC already proposed rule changes last year that would prohibit the use of Universal Service Fund support to purchase equipment or services from foreign companies deemed national security threats, primarily targeting companies from China and Russia. Congress also recently passed legislation prohibiting federal agencies and those working with them from using components provided by Huawei and other Chinese manufacturers. With the Trump Administration reportedly poised to issue an executive order effectively barring American companies from using Chinese-origin equipment in critical telecommunications networks, domestic service providers should keep a close eye on their supply chain security and potential liability when working with foreign entities. A criminal conviction on these charges could lead to broader restrictions on trade in U.S. export-controlled products with the company. Given the presence of encryption in telecom equipment, export controls on such products are relatively widespread
Continue Reading U.S. Charges Huawei with Theft of Trade Secrets; Risks for Carriers Using Huawei Equipment Increase

Echoing concerns raised by other parts of the federal government over the past several years, the FCC, at its open meeting on April 17, 2018, adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to consider a rule which would prohibit Universal Service Fund (“USF”) support from being used “to purchase or obtain any equipment or services produced or provided by a company posing a national security threat to the integrity of communications networks or the communications supply chain.”  The NPRM seeks comment on issues such as how such a rule can be implemented and enforced, what types of equipment and services should be covered, and how manufacturers covered by the rule are to be identified and made known to USF recipients.  Although this is only the start of the proceeding, the FCC’s action could have a broad-reaching impact for some communications equipment manufacturers and create potential liabilities for entities participating in any of the federal USF programs.  All companies purchasing equipment from certain countries – principally China and Russia – may be affected, even if they don’t receive federal USF money.

Continue Reading Citing National Security, FCC Begins Proceeding to Bar the Use of Universal Service Monies for Equipment from Certain Countries