The FCC proposed sweeping reforms to its process for suspending and debarring entities from participating in its largest funding programs, including the four Universal Service Fund (“USF”) programs, at its meeting on November 22, 2019. If adopted, the proposed rules would mark a sea change in FCC enforcement, allowing the FCC to cut off funding more quickly and for a wider range of alleged misconduct. The FCC also would expand the scope of these rules to cover its Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) program and National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (“NDBEP”), in addition to the High-Cost, Lifeline, E-Rate, and Rural Health Care USF programs.

The proposed rules also would impose new disclosure obligations on support recipients and require them to verify that they do not work with suspended/debarred entities. In addition, the proposed rules would create a federal reciprocity system, in which entities suspended/debarred from participating in funding programs administered by other agencies similarly would be prevented from participating in the FCC’s programs (and vice versa). The proposed rules would impact nearly every USF participant and warrant close attention. The FCC has not announced comment deadlines on its proposals, but they will likely occur in early 2020. While the FCC’s proposals are just the first step towards actual rule changes, the agency has shown every indication that it will continue moving full speed ahead on USF reform in the coming year.


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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:

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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.

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After a year of heated debate between pole owners and service providers, the FCC is poised to adopt a one-touch make-ready (“OTMR”) process for the “vast majority” of pole attachments at its meeting on August 2, 2018. Late last week, the FCC released a draft Order and Declaratory Ruling that would implement a streamlined process for service providers to bypass certain pole owner requirements in order to gain access to poles to attach new facilities. Chairman Pai has touted the new procedure as hastening broadband deployment by allowing for faster, cheaper pole attachments. The FCC expects significant growth in pole attachments as service providers install the small cells necessary to support 5G technologies.

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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.


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iStock_000006131068MediumOn May 18, 2017, at its May Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order on a two-one vote, seeking comment on whether it should reform the so-called rural “rate floor” on basic voice service or eliminate it entirely.  The rural rate floor rule requires carriers receiving Connect America Fund support to charge rural customers a minimum monthly rate or risk losing subsidies.  The FCC imposed a two-year freeze on the rural rate floor to provide it with sufficient time to consider the proposed reforms.  The rulemaking is yet another reversal of a policy supported by former FCC Chairman Wheeler, which current Chairman Pai dissented from as a Commissioner, and represents another step by the Pai FCC to roll back its predecessor’s actions.

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fcc_equipEnding a decade-long examination of incumbent carrier special access and related services, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission or FCC), on April 28, 2017, released a Report & Order (the Order) setting forth a deregulatory framework for business data services (BDS).  The Commission found that, in most instances, BDS – “dedicated point-to-point transmission of data at certain guaranteed speeds and service levels using high-capacity connections” – exists in “a dynamic and increasingly competitive marketplace.”  The Order generally eliminates ex ante pricing regulation with the exception of end user channel termination services at DS1 and DS3 levels in counties that fail a competitive market test adopted in the Order, in the hope of stimulating growth and investment in new services.

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On March 31, 2016 at its Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) voted along party lines (3-2) to launch a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to establish privacy rules for broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs). As we explained in our blog post in anticipation of this vote, this rulemaking stems from the