#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 31/July 25, 2019

House Overwhelmingly Passes Robocall Legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 24, 2019, passed H.R. 3375, the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act by a vote of 429–3.

The bill was introduced by House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank J. Pallone, Jr. (D–N.J.), Ranking Member Greg P. Walden (R–Ore.), Communications & Technology Subcommittee Chairman Mike F. Doyle (D–Pa.) and Ranking Member Bob E. Latta (R–Ohio).

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield thanked those who led the bill through its House passage. “Voice providers in areas across the country, rural and urban alike, receive large numbers of consumer complaints about unwanted robocalls,” she said. “We are pleased that Congress is moving forward with a solution that allows providers to eliminate illegal robocalls while attempting to care for the sorts of burdens that might preclude the participation of smaller providers or have unintended negative consequences on rural consumers.”

Following the vote, Pallone, Walden, Doyle and Latta released a statement: “Today, the House of Representatives voted to restore Americans’ confidence in the telephone system and put consumers back in charge of their phones.  We’re proud of the strong support our bipartisan Stopping Bad Robocalls Act received this afternoon and look forward to working with our colleagues in the Senate to produce a bill that the president can sign into law.  The American people are counting on us to help end the robocall epidemic, and we will deliver for them.”

Broadband DATA Act Advances in the Senate 

The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act advanced by a voice vote during a July 24, 2019, executive session of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. 

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield thanked the legislators for their efforts

"NTCA thanks Chairman Roger F. Wicker (R–Miss.) and the other sponsors of the Broadband DATA Act for their continued leadership to make meaningful reforms to our federal broadband mapping systems and their efforts to engage those small businesses that deliver rural broadband in crafting solutions,” Bloomfield said. “Providing high-speed broadband in rural territories presents unique challenges, including the role mapping plays in the distribution of critical resources needed to build and sustain broadband in rural America.” 

Bloomfield said that maps currently show services as available “where consumers cannot get them at all,” and elsewhere show speeds available “at levels that cannot consistently be delivered.”

“It is a serious concern when 'false positives' can result in a denial of funding, while 'false negatives' can result in a waste of funding on duplicative networks,” Bloomfield explained. “By improving these maps, we ensure that public resources and private investment efforts can be better focused on the mission of closing the digital divide.”

The bill—sponsored by Sens. Roger F. Wicker (R–Miss.), Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.), Shelley Moore Capito (R–W.Va.), Cory S. Gardner (R–Colo.), Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Jerry Moran (R–Kan.), Gary C. Peters (D–Mich.), Jacklyn S. Rosen (D–Nev.) and John Thune (R–S.D.)—now goes to the full Senate for approval.

NTCA Comments on Call Blocking and Implementation of SHAKEN/STIR 

In comments filed with the FCC July 24, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association made several points about implementation of SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication. 

“While additional challenges must be overcome, the single most important step that the commission can take to ensure that RLECs can participate in the SHAKEN/STIR ecosystem as soon as possible on either a mandated or voluntary basis is the facilitation of IP interconnection agreements under reasonable terms and conditions,” the association said. “Absent clear ‘rules of the road’ that establish reasonable network edges comparable to those in place today for rural operators, larger providers could quite easily shift to these small carriers the costs of transporting voice calls between rural operators’ local network edges and distant points of interconnection.”

The association said resolution of that issue “is no more complicated than a narrow, simple and straightforward ‘hold harmless’ provision for IP interconnection limited to agreements for the exchange of voice traffic between RLECS and other operators.”

The association made several other points in its filing, including that the commission should:

  • Exempt providers using TDM facilities from any SHAKEN/STIR mandate.
  • If it considers a mandate necessary, grant rural carriers compliance time frames that “recognize that these providers will need additional time to obtain solutions from vendors and to then invest substantial resources in bringing SHAKEN/STIR to rural America.”
  • Adopt a safe harbor limited to permitting terminating providers to block calls for which SHAKEN/STIR attestation is available and for which that provider has some indicia of a maliciously altered or inserted certificate.
  • Require—and not merely “encourage”—voice providers that choose to voluntarily avail themselves of the call blocking authority granted by the draft declaratory ruling or any provisions that emerge as a result of the instant notice to establish a process by which a party (or their provider if they so choose to offer such a service to their customers) can rapidly correct a false positive.

In Meeting With FCC, NTCA Raises RDOF, Mapping Concerns

During a July 19, 2019, meeting with Randy Clarke, wireline legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, and Matt Tettelbach, a legal intern in Starks’ office, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association raised concerns about the establishment of rules for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction and about the commission’s draft item on broadband mapping.

On the RODF auction, the association urged the commission to include commentary and ask questions in the RDOF notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would promote investments in networks with capabilities that will outlast the initial 10-year term of auction support wherever possible. The association also suggested the commission should specifically ask whether alternatives to a pro rata adjustment (where fewer locations are found to exist in supported areas than the model-generated buildout obligations depict) are appropriate in light of basic network economics. Last, the association encouraged better technical vetting of network plans and bidder capabilities upfront so that RDOF auction resources are not wasted.

On the commission’s draft report and order and second notice of proposed rulemaking on broadband mapping, the association cautioned the commission against treating crowdsourced reports precisely the same as general consumer complaints, given that individual crowdsourced reports could contain mistaken readings based upon anything from human error to aged devices or poor choices for location testing. The association also asked the commission to clarify that crowdsourcing will be considered as a complement to, and not a substitute for, “robust and meaningful evidentiary challenge processes that should be used in considering new awards of universal service support or the denial of universal service support.”

Last, the association said any required reporting with respect to fixed voice service availability should be at the same level of granularity as would be compelled for broadband availability reporting.

NTCA Reiterates Need to Make USAC’s Location Determination Guidance Consistent With Commission Rules

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed reply comments July 25, 2019, with the FCC pointing out that those who filed comments in the proceeding unanimously supported the request by Northeast Iowa Telephone Co. (Monona, Iowa) and Western Iowa Telephone Association for clarification or modification of the Universal Service Administrative Co.’s (USAC) guidance regarding whether residential locations that are co-located with a business count as two separate locations for purposes of complying with the commission’s service requirements. 

NTCA noted that the “record unmistakably demonstrates that carriers have been relying upon the [commission’s] definition of serviceable locations … in determining whether to elect A-CAM support” and “changing the rules midstream would be detrimental to carriers that relied upon” that definition.  NTCA also commented that USAC’s guidance creates “uncertainty among carriers” and adds “unnecessary costs and delays to customers seeking to subscribe to broadband service in rural areas” due to the conflicting statement that carriers must install separate equipment to any business location that shares the same property as a residence.

NTCA Files Comments in A-CAM Location Adjustment Proceeding

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed comments with the FCC on July 19, 2019, encouraging the commission to decline to adopt a pro rata approach to reducing carriers’ funding pursuant to the Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) if the carrier is willing to commit to providing service throughout its supported areas.  

NTCA pointed out that this approach is consistent with industry practice and the method used to develop A-CAM support because providers deploy infrastructure throughout service areas—and conduct the engineering studies, obtain any necessary permits, etc. necessary to install network facilities—regardless of the precise number of locations to be served. Likewise, the model used to identify the amount of A-CAM support needed is based upon the cost of deploying facilities to large swaths of geographic territory, not the cost of deploying service to every location individually.  

Notes in the News for July 25, 2019

Jamie Susskind, chief of staff and legal adviser to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, has stepped down from that role, and Joseph Calascione has joined Carr’s office as acting legal adviser for wireline and consumer issues. In other staffing news, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks announced the appointment of Alisa Valentin as his special adviser. She comes to the commission from Public Knowledge, where she was a Communications Justice Policy Fellow, focusing on broadband deployment and access issues.

The commission also has announced the topics and chairs of the six working groups that will assist the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC) VII in carrying out its work. The commission currently is seeking applications for membership to these working groups.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a “Member Day Hearing” July 25 during which all House members could highlight specific legislation or issues of importance to them, their constituents and districts.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week presented his colleagues with new proposals he said would modernize and streamline agency processes: one to fully transition the agency’s Universal Licensing System from paper to electronic format, the other to expedite the commission’s hearing processes by expanding the use of written hearings.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the FCC, will conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System on August 7, 2019. 

During a July 24, 2019, markup, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee advanced the United States 5G Leadership Act, sponsored by Sens. Roger F. Wicker (R–Miss.), Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D–Ill.), Ed Markey (D–Mass.), Jerry Moran (R–Kan.) and Dan S. Sullivan (R–Alaska).