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.


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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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On September 12, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s (Commission) Office of the Managing Director (OMD) released a Public Notice proposing a universal service fund (USF) contribution factor of 18.8% for fourth quarter 2017.  This proposed contribution factor would be the highest rate since the USF program’s inception and likely reflects the impact of the declining USF contribution base.
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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.


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Below is Kelley Drye’s preview of the items under consideration at the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s or Commission’s) upcoming monthly Open Meeting, to be held on August 3, 2017. Consistent with the trend since he took over the Commission, Chairman Ajit Pai continues to schedule a large number of items.  Indeed, for the seventh month in a row, the Commission has six or more items on its agenda.  This month, the agenda consists of eight items and has several items taking concrete steps to resolve proceedings or important questions presented to the Commission.  The areas covered skew heavily toward broadband deployment, with a CAF Phase II item, a Mobility Fund item and several spectrum items.  In addition, the Commission again has enforcement items on the agenda:  one (unidentified) item on the regular agenda and a one-item consent agenda involving an additional (unidentified) enforcement action.

The most significant agenda items are summarized below. Note: these brief summaries are based on draft items, which may differ from the final items released following the Open Meeting.  Please check with Kelley Drye after the meeting for more information on the items below.


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Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter this week to Chris Henderson, CEO of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) expressing concern about flaws in USAC’s administration of the E-Rate Productivity Center (EPC), the online application and account portal. In the letter, Chairman Pai noted his support for E-Rate as

By an Order issued late last week, the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) provided important insight regarding determining the jurisdictional classification of private line revenues.  In ruling on long-pending petitions for reconsideration of Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) audit findings regarding the classification of private line revenues, the Bureau explained that the longstanding Ten Percent Rule does not establish any presumption that a private line is jurisdictionally either intrastate or interstate.  Instead, the Bureau clarified that it is the jurisdictional nature of the traffic carried over private lines, not the existence (or nonexistence) of a customer certification, that determines the appropriate jurisdictional classification.  Moreover, carriers must conduct a good faith inquiry into the nature of the traffic carried on the private line when determining the jurisdiction of those line revenues.  Carriers that provide private line services should be sure to review the Order to ensure their private line jurisdictional classification methods will withstand any Bureau or USAC scrutiny.

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iStock_000006131068MediumOn February 23, 2017, during the second open meeting under Chairman Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or the Commission) unanimously approved an order launching the long-awaited second phase of the Mobility Fund.  The Mobility Fund offers financial support to service providers to preserve and extend mobile broadband and voice services in unserved and underserved areas.  The FCC’s order will provide up to $4.53 billion over the next decade to expand 4G LTE coverage to areas currently lacking that level of service, with $340 million reserved for Tribal areas.  This order is one component of Chairman Pai’s focus on bridging the digital divide.  The full text of the FCC’s order and further notice of proposed rulemaking has not been released.
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At the February 2017 Open Meeting, the Federal Communications Commission (Commission) approved an Order finalizing bidding rules for the upcoming Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction where service providers will compete for up to $1.98 billion in financial support in areas where the incumbent provider declined cost-model funding. This Order is the next stage in an ongoing effort by the Commission to revise aspects of the high cost program of the universal service fund (USF) to encourage the extension of voice and broadband communications services to rural and high cost areas of the country. As of this writing, the Commission has yet to release the text of the order.

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*J. Bradford Currier co-authored this post.

The FCC retracted actions related to net neutrality, network security, media ownership, and other hot-topic issues in a series of orders issued late Friday. The orders represent the first major salvo in Chairman Pai’s promised rollback of actions undertaken during the final days of former Chairman Wheeler’s tenure. Chairman Pai called the overturned actions examples of “midnight regulations” that were not supported by the new Republican-majority FCC. The action signals a significant pivot in the approach and substantive priorities following the change in Presidential administrations.


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