At its November 15 Open Meeting, the FCC intends to vote on a Report and Order (“Order”) to make some important changes to the requirements for wireless service providers to report on the number of hearing aid compatible (“HAC”) handsets they offer. The dual aims of the rule changes are to ease the burden of the reporting obligations while improving consumer access to information about HAC wireless handsets. Specifically, the FCC proposes to drop the requirement for service providers to file annual forms with HAC device information, and instead disclose detailed information on their websites and make an annual certification of compliance with the rules. Websites updated with the new required information and the first certification of compliance will be due 30 days after notice of Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) approval of the new rules is published in the Federal Register. If the Order is adopted at Thursday’s meeting, service providers should promptly begin working on website revisions and not wait for OMB approval.

Continue Reading Commission Proposes to Ease Wireless Handset Hearing Aid Compatibility Reporting Obligations

Responding to demands by high tech companies for more so-called “mid-band” unlicensed spectrum to augment that already made available in the 5 GHz Band, which accommodates Wi-Fi, Internet of Things (“IoT”), and other Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) applications as well as Licensed Assisted Access and LTE-Unlicensed solutions, the FCC will vote on a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) at its October 26 Open Meeting to make up to 1200 megahertz of nearby spectrum available for similar purposes. The draft leaves no doubt that, to make the 5.925-7.125 GHz band (the “6 GHz Band”) available for unlicensed use, sophisticated sharing mechanisms will need to be in place. Various parts of this frequency range are already used by fixed, mobile, and satellite services, and the draft item commits to protecting these incumbents and allowing these services to grow while at the same time opening the band to increased numbers of unlicensed devices. To achieve this, the Commission is considering drawing upon its experience with white spaces and the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (at 3550-3750 MHz), and would seek comment on numerous subjects before adopting rules. The draft item would be a stepping stone to enabling unlicensed devices to operate with wider bandwidths and higher data rates, which the Commission hopes would set off a new wave of innovation in consumer devices complementing its recent moves to spur the rollout of next-generation 5G networks. The NPRM, when adopted, will be sure to generate a wave of comments from both equipment manufacturers and broadband providers hungry for more spectrum as well as incumbent public safety organizations, utilities, satellite companies, and various other fixed and mobile services licensees seeking to protect and hoping to expand their existing operations in the 6 GHz Band, particularly as relocation options for other similar spectrum are increasingly scarce.

Continue Reading FCC Aims to Open up 6 GHz Band for Unlicensed Use While Protecting Incumbents through Automated Sharing Features and Other Restrictions

Wireless carriers are a major step closer to using unlicensed spectrum to ease network congestion and boost speeds following the FCC’s authorization of the first LTE-Unlicensed (“LTE-U”) devices on February 22, 2017.  LTE-U technology allows carriers to deliver mobile traffic over unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band already occupied by Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other technologies.  The recipients of the equipment authorizations are Ericsson and Nokia.  The certifications by the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (“OET”) mean that the devices in question satisfy the technical criteria of the FCC designed to prevent harmful interference to radio communications services.  Those rules stipulate that unlicensed devices must accept any harmful interference they receive from any source.  Unlicensed devices have been certified for decades.  The announcement of the certifications of the LTE-U devices represents an important milestone in the FCC’s recent focus on spectrum sharing and broadband deployment because these devices are specifically designed to support broadband and work in an integrated fashion with commercial mobile broadband providers’ networks.  In short, this is not just a pumped up version of Wi-Fi offload, which carriers have used for years to relieve congestion on mobile networks.  These devices mean that the hundreds of megahertz of 5 GHz spectrum that the cable and unlicensed communities fought for years to gain access to – the so-called Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (“U-NII”) bands – will now be available for LTE technologies.

Continue Reading FCC Authorizes First LTE-U Devices

Cable TVThe Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing rules requiring the installation of broadband infrastructure during construction of HUD-financed multi-family rentals, or apartments, recognizing the cost-savings when incorporated into the initial planning stages.  Building on its ConnectHome initiative to extend affordable broadband access to families living in HUD-assisted housing in 28 communities nationwide, HUD is seeking comments on a proposed rule that will require the installation of broadband infrastructure at the time of new construction or substantial rehabilitation of multi-family rental housing that is funded or supported by HUD.  The release of this proposed rule also follows more than a year of work since President Obama released the presidential memorandum, Expanding Broadband Deployment and Adoption by Addressing Regulatory Barriers and Encouraging Investment and Training, highlighting that “access to high-speed broadband is no longer a luxury, but it is a necessity for American families, businesses and consumers.”

Continue Reading Housing Department Proposes Rules Requiring Installation of Broadband Infrastructure in HUD-Financed Housing

Wi-Fi management or blocking practices have once again seized the enforcement spotlight at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).  On November 2, the FCC released a Notice of Apparent Liability (Dean NAL) proposing  a $718,000 penalty against M.C. Dean, an electrical contracting company, for allegedly blocking Wi-Fi hotspots at the Baltimore Convention Center.  That same day, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau (Bureau) released an NAL proposing a $25,000 fine against Hilton Worldwide (Hilton NAL) for its apparent refusal to comply with a Bureau Letter of Inquiry (LOI) investigating the company’s Wi-Fi management practices.  That investigation continues.

The new releases highlight several items of interest: 1) the FCC’s continued focus on Wi-Fi management resulting in blocking activities and alleged malicious interference, 2) the debate among the Commissioners regarding the FCC’s ability to fine companies for such activities under current law and FCC regulations, and 3) the potential expansion of Bureau investigations into the activities of the subsidiaries, affiliates and possibly franchisees of the investigation’s initial target.

Continue Reading FCC Issues NAL in First Contested Enforcement Proceeding Involving Wi-Fi Blocking

On August 18, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a $750,000 settlement with Smart City Holdings, Inc.  (Smart City) to resolve an investigation into the company’s blocking consumer Wi-Fi hotspots at multiple convention center locations across the United States.  To settle the case, Smart City agreed to cease all Wi-Fi blocking, implement a compliance plan and pay a civil penalty.  This is the second time the Commission has imposed a large fine for Wi-Fi blocking at large venues.  Last year the agency reached a similar settlement with Marriott International, Inc.

Continue Reading FCC Issues Another Fine for Wi-Fi Blocking: Smart City Fined $750,000 for Blocking Mobile Hotspots

On October 3rd, the FCC announced a settlement with Marriott International, Inc. and Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. to resolve an investigation into the hotel operator’s use of a Wi-Fi monitoring and blocking system.  In the investigation, the Commission concluded that an operator cannot use such a system to prevent users from connecting to the Internet via their own personal Wi-Fi networks, rather than being limited to the hotel’s own Wi-Fi network, when these users did not pose a threat to the security of the hotel operator or its guests.  This consent decree reminds hotel operators and property owners, as well as other property owners that, while they may control the deployment of fixed radio stations on their property, they may not interfere with communications, including Internet wireless access, that occur on their property using mobile devices.  As part of the consent decree, the hotel operator agreed to pay $600,000 in “civil penalties” and to implement an extensive three-year compliance plan, with quarterly reporting, focusing on the hotel operator’s access point containment features at all of its U.S. properties, including properties owned and/or operated by the company. Continue Reading More Enforcement Action at the FCC: Enforcement Bureau issues $600,000 Penalty for Wi-Fi Blocking

The Commission recently released its first update to the E-Rate Map of Fiber Connectivity which shows fiber deployment to America’s public schools and libraries.  The update comes just one week after the FCC issued a Public Notice encouraging E-rate stakeholders including states, districts, schools and libraries to submit connectivity data to the Commission.   Parties wishing to submit additional information can file comments to the E-Rate Modernization Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proceeding or can email the Commission directly at schoolfibermap@fcc.gov or libraryfibermap@fcc.gov.

The E-rate Map of Fiber Connectivity is broken down into two sections, “School Districts” and “Libraries.”  The “School District” map allows users to mouse-over a geographic area and see the total number of students in a particular school district as well as the percentage of schools with or without fiber access.   The “Libraries” map allows users to mouse-over a geographic area and see the total number of annual visits to a particular library system.

We encourage service providers to take a look at the available data and to review the FCC’s recently released Staff Report which was jointly authored by the Wireline Competition Bureau and the Office of Strategic Planning & Policy Analysis.  For additional information about the E-rate Modernization Order, please visit our previous blog post.

Almost two weeks after the FCC adopted new E-rate rules, the order became available to the public.  As we wrote earlier, the E-rate rules allocate a significant amount of new funding for wireless connections and further focus the program on improving broadband services in schools and libraries across the country.  With the Order out, we finally have some of the details that will affect applicant requests and service provider business models.  There is a lot of information packed into the 141 pages of text and rules, so here is a quick study guide, if you will: Continue Reading E-rate Reform Order: The Study Guide

At its Open Meeting today, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new E-rate rules, despite strong objections from Commissioners Pai and O’Reilly.  As predicted, the new E-rate rules direct a significant, short-term boost of funding for wireless connections to schools and further focus E-rate funding on broadband services.  While the Chairman lauded the Commissioners for approving the new rules, Commissioners Pai and O’Reilly lamented the “missed opportunities” of the new rules, and making special mention of the lack of bipartisanship during the rulemaking process.  Among the dissenting Commissioners, Pai was most concerned with how the E-rate program would continue to receive funding, and repeated assertions that the Chairman intended to raise the E-rate cap later this year.  Commissioner O’Rielly asserted that there was “no long term plan” for the program and complained that many changes were “short-sighted.”

According to the Commission’s press release, the new E-rate rules will bring digital learning benefits to 10 million students across the country in 2015 alone.  The new rules also phase-out support for voice services and lower the maximum discount for schools from 90% to 80%, meaning that for every $1 that is spent by a school, $4 will be contributed by the USF. Continue Reading FCC’s New E-Rate Rules Expose a “Digital Divide” Among Commissioners