Universal Service Fund

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will keynote “Legal Code: Reframing the Divide by Addressing Broadband Access Through Affordability and Inclusion”, a virtual event co-hosted by Kelley Drye and Silicon Flatirons on May 12th from 2:00-4:00 PM (ET) that will explore issues surrounding broadband affordability. The COVID-19 pandemic shined a spotlight on the Digital Divide and Digital Inequality, and with it, illuminated the broader issue of digital inclusion and internet access as a civil right. Over the last four years, efforts to close the Digital Divide have been geared largely toward access to networks in rural America, but pandemic related displacement is driving a shift in focus toward affordability in both rural and urban areas. This shift is most clearly evidenced by the recently adopted Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which gives broadband providers the unique opportunity to help fight Digital Inequality by offering subsidized discounts on robust Internet service and connected devices capable of helping low-income Americans connect to classrooms, jobs, and telehealth. Other recent efforts include the schools and libraries-focused Emergency Connectivity Fund, which aims to address a homework gap that transformed into a school-year-long remote learning gap.

This event will examine the pandemic’s impact on how we think about the digital divide and digital inequality, the new administration’s approach, and related activity in Congress, at the FCC, and at other federal agencies.

Click here for more information and to register.


Continue Reading Join Kelley Drye and Silicon Flatirons for a Discussion of the Digital Divide and Digital Inequality

On March 10, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 stimulus bill recently enacted by Congress. The Act allocates $1.9 trillion to provide relief to businesses and individuals that are struggling due to COVID-19. Importantly, it appropriates $7.17 billion for emergency support for remote learning and remote library services. This stimulus follows $3.2 billion appropriated for an Emergency Broadband Benefit for low-income consumers and caps over $13 billion in broadband funding provided in addition to the traditional Universal Service Fund programs.

The new Emergency Connectivity Fund (“ECF”) will reimburse schools and libraries for internet access and connected devices for students and teachers for remote learning and remote library services. The passage of this legislation has been welcomed by the FCC, with Chairwoman Rosenworcel stating, “the American Rescue Plan provides the FCC with new tools to support the millions of students locked out of the digital classroom.”

The legislation requires the FCC to issue rules within 60 days of enactment to provide funding to eligible schools and libraries. Here’s a look at what to expect in the new fund.


Continue Reading Biden Signs Stimulus Package: FCC Set to Establish a $7 Billon Emergency Connectivity Fund to Assist with Virtual Learning

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

As required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 (“CAA”), on February 25, 2021, the FCC adopted a Report and Order to officially establish the Emergency Broadband Benefit (“EBB”) Program. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a rise in virtual services and learning, access to broadband services has now become essential for most households. With this in mind, the program is designed to provide broadband services to help low-income households in particular stay connected. We have summarized the program and noted some key provisions and next steps for the FCC and potential participating providers. The program is temporary, and will expire when funds have been exhausted or 6 months after the Health and Human Services Secretary declares the end of the nationwide COVID-19 health emergency.

Continue Reading FCC Implements $50/Month Broadband Subsidy For Low-Income Households

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

On November 5, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) released a Public Notice announcing the opening of the Connected Care Pilot Program (“Connected Care Program”) 30-day application filing window, which opened on Friday, November 6 at 12:00 pm ET. The Public Notice provides additional details on the application window and guidance on the Pilot Program application process. The application window will close on Monday, December 7, 2020 at 11:59 pm ET.

Continue Reading FCC Announces Opening of Connected Care Pilot Program Application Filing Window

The Federal Communications Commission (“Commission” or “FCC”) has long been interested in the use of broadband-enabled telehealth services to make healthcare more accessible, particularly for veterans and low-income patients. On September 3, 2020 the Commission released a Public Notice (“Public Notice”) providing additional information about its Connected Care Pilot Program (“Connected Care Program”). The Connected Care Program will make available up to $100 million dollars, over a three year period, to defray the costs of broadband connectivity and other connected care information services for eligible health care providers (“HCP”). While the CARES Act allowed the Commission to quickly implement the short-term COVID-19 Telehealth Program supporting eligible HCP telehealth services during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Connected Care Program is a longer-term initiative, under Commission consideration since late 2018 and formally established in April 2020. The Connected Care Program is intended to provide much-needed financial support for telehealth services, particularly for veterans and low-income patients, and also to provide the Commission with data regarding how funding can support telehealth services in the future to treat the health needs of individuals that may lack sufficient – or any – mobile or residential broadband internet access services necessary for healthcare needs.

The FCC has not yet set a deadline for Connected Care Program applications but issued the recent Public Notice to enable HCPs to begin preparing to apply once the application filing deadline is established. If the Connected Care Program garners the same level of interest as the COVID-19 Telehealth Program – a $200 million fund that was depleted within 3 months of the Commission first accepting applications – HCPs seeking to participate in the Connected Care Program may want to consider how to prepare now to submit a timely application once the final application details and filing deadline are established. The Commission will be issuing a subsequent Public Notice identifying the final Connected Care Program application procedures and filing deadline.


Continue Reading FCC Provides Guidance on $100 Million Connected Care Pilot Program; Application Deadline Remains TBD

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact how Americans connect at work and home, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers, extensions, and other regulatory relief. Kelley Drye’s Communications Practice Group is tracking these actions and what they mean for communications service providers and their customers. CommLaw Monitor periodically provides updates to its analysis of the latest regulatory and legislative actions impacting your business and the communications industry. Click on the “COVID-19” blog category for previous updates.

If you have any urgent questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Communications Practice Group. For more information on other aspects of the federal and state response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as labor and employment and other issues, please visit Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center.


Continue Reading COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – October 5, 2020

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