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.
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.
In the first action of its kind, on June 7, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) issued an amendment to a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture and Order (“NAL”), for alleged violations of the rules governing the Universal Service Rural Health Care Program (“RHCP”). The FCC found that the fine proposed in the initial NAL was not based on the correct violations and included violations beyond the agency’s one-year statute of limitations. However, by changing the type of conduct found to violate the RHCP rules and increasing the proposed fine, the FCC’s amendment presents its own statute of limitations concerns and raises questions about the use of amendments in enforcement actions. The amendment also is the first foray by Chairman Pai into Universal Service enforcement matters since he assumed the chairmanship in January of this year.