The FCC plans to take aim again at unwanted texts and robocalls at its next meeting scheduled for December 12, 2018. Unwanted robocalls and texting consistently top the list of complaints received by the FCC and that has driven much regulatory attention by the agency in recent years. Specifically, at its December meeting, the FCC intends to classify most text messaging as an “information service” to preserve service providers’ ability to block robotexts and other unsolicited messages. The FCC’s anticipated action comes after years of debate regarding the proper regulatory treatment for text messaging and could have far-reaching impacts by exempting such services from the standard “common carrier” rules applicable to most legacy telecommunications. The FCC also plans to order the creation of a reassigned numbers database that would allow robocallers and others to check in advance whether a particular number still belongs to a consumer that has agreed to receive prerecorded calls. Rounding out the major actions, the FCC released draft items that would: (1) set the stage for the next Spectrum Frontiers auction of high-band spectrum; (2) offer additional funding to rural broadband recipients of Connect America Fund money if they increase high-speed offerings; and (3) issue the FCC’s first consolidated Communications Marketplace Report, providing a comprehensive look at industry competition. The December items cover many priority Pai FCC topics and would affect service providers of all sizes while tackling longstanding consumer protection and broadband deployment issues. You will find more details on the significant December items after the jump:
Nearly a year after it ordered sweeping deregulation of the business data services (“BDS”) market, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) proposed new rules that would allow certain small rural carriers to move from longstanding rate-of-return regulation to price cap regulation for their BDS offerings. The transition would reduce the regulatory obligations of such carriers, including the need to prepare and file complex cost studies, which the FCC stated would allow carriers to rededicate resources to building and maintaining networks in underserved areas. The FCC also proposed removing pricing restrictions on lower-speed BDS offerings in areas with sufficient competition and sought input on whether pricing restrictions for higher-speed DBS offerings also should be eliminated.
Unlike prior BDS actions, where the issue was hotly contested for years and deregulation passed on a party-line vote, the proposed rulemaking was supported by all five Commissioners, at least for purposes of gathering a record. It’s not clear if this unanimity will hold throughout the proceeding, but the FCC may be on the verge of turning a page in its focus on these services, which are a bedrock for both retail offerings and for competitive carriers extending their networks.
At its August Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a Public Notice (“Notice”) that addresses the procedures for its upcoming Connect America Fund (“CAF”) Phase II auction (“Auction” or “Auction 903”), scheduled to begin in 2018. Auction 903 will be a competitive reverse auction wherein service providers will compete for up to $1.98 billion in financial support as part of an ongoing effort by the FCC to revise the high cost universal service support program. The Notice seeks comment on the FCC’s proposed process for how an applicant can become qualified to participate in the Auction, how bidders will submit bids, and how bids will be processed to determine winners and assign support amounts. Comments are due by September 18, 2017 and reply comments are due by October 18, 2017.
The Auction is the second part of CAF Phase II. The initial part of CAF Phase II occurred in 2015, when ten price cap carriers accepted offers of support calculated by a cost model in exchange for the providers’ commitment to deploy and maintain voice and broadband service in high cost areas. Service providers that seek to participate in the Auction will bid on providing service to eligible high cost areas including those areas where incumbent price cap carriers declined the support calculated by the cost-model. In 2016, the FCC adopted the Phase II Auction Order, which established the rules for the Auction’s bidding process including the bidder performance obligations, application mechanism, bidder eligibility criteria, eligible areas, and post-auction obligations. More recently, in March 2017, the FCC adopted bidding weights for the different performance category tiers for Auction 903 (as previously discussed here). The Notice takes final steps towards executing the Auction by resolving specific details of the mechanics established in these earlier proceedings.
The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced today the availability of $11.7 million under its Community Connect Grant Program (Community Connect), which provides grants for deploying broadband service to unserved, low-income and rural areas. Grant awards range from $100,000 to $3 million for FY 2016.
Today, the FCC adopted a series of steps intended to solicit proposals from communications providers to conduct service-based experiments to explore the transition to all-Internet Protocol (“IP”) networks. Chairman Wheeler described today’s actions as “a big deal” and “an important moment.” He and the other Commissioners emphasized that the experiments would be completely voluntary, will focus on impact to consumer expectations, are not technology trials, and will not answer the controversial policy, legal, or regulatory issues raised by the transition to all-IP networks — such as whether the incumbent local exchange carrier interconnection and unbundling obligations under Section 251(c) of the Communications Act apply equally to all-IP networks. While Chairman Wheeler stated that the FCC will “need to protect the enduring value of competition,” the Commissioners’ comments at the open meeting confirmed that the FCC will tackle these issues in the future, in part with the data generated by the experiments announced today. While the order and other items have not yet been published, the FCC Staff outlined the key provisions of the order at the FCC open meeting, and the process by which the FCC will evaluate applications to conduct IP experiments (due February 20, 2014), including the value of the data the proposed experiments will generate and the ease by which consumers involved in the trials will be able to provide feedback.
The FCC will invite carriers and other providers to submit proposals to provide IP-based services in discrete geographic areas and for particular services. Following the proposals, the FCC will solicit comments from interested parties (due March 31, 2014) and confer with state regulators and tribal leaders, with a decision on which experiments will be accepted to be issued at the FCC’s May 15, 2014 meeting. Commissioner Rosenworcel likened the trials to a separate “sandbox” within a playground, where carriers and providers could test services and IP-based networks without interfering with the existing networks within a geographic region. The Commissioners and staff emphasized that the trials would focus on impact to consumer expectations and the FCC’s core values of public safety, universal service, consumer protection, and competition.
To better understand the transition to all-IP networks, the FCC also announced that it will be conducting a series of workshops in the spring to examine issues on rural broadband, numbering, broadband access to persons with disabilities, and public safety. For example, the FCC announced it will hold a workshop in April 2014 to examine how IP networks can be used to deliver next generation 911 services, taking into account the differences between TDM networks and fiber networks. The Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Admiral David Simpson, noted that his office is also focusing on the ability of all IP-networks to deliver continuity of communications during crises.
As a component of today’s actions separate from the experiments described above, the Commission announced it would conduct rural broadband trials funded by the Connect America Fund (“CAF”) that would be held in parallel, and would not interfere, with the allocation of Phase II CAF funds to price cap LECs in unserved areas. The Commissioners announced that all Americans must benefit from the transition. The rural trails would focus on connecting anchor community institutions to their neighboring communities. Non-binding expressions of interest for the rural experiments will be due on March 7, 2014. There will be a further notice from the FCC addressing budget matters and selection criteria, and additional actions leading to an order later in the year adopting the final framework for this component of today’s actions.
The actions taken today will also address telephone number assignment in all-IP environments, improvement of the TRS system – the FCC announced $3 million in research funding — and access for persons with disabilities in an all-IP world.
The text of the order, notice of proposed rulemaking, and a notice of inquiry in this matter adopted today are expected tomorrow or early next week.