#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 32/August 1, 2019

‘Compelling and Immediate Need' Spurs New Broadband Mapping Data Collection

Citing a "compelling and immediate need to develop more granular broadband deployment data," the FCC today created the Digital Opportunity Data Collection—a new process for collecting fixed broadband data to better pinpoint where broadband service is lacking.

"This geospatial data will facilitate development of granular, high-quality fixed broadband deployment maps, which should improve the FCC's ability to target support for broadband expansion through the agency's Universal Service Fund programs," the commission said.

A report and order also "adopts a process to collect public input on the accuracy of service providers' broadband maps, facilitated by a crowd-sourcing portal that will gather input from consumers as well as from state, local, and Tribal governments." The report and order also "makes targeted changes to the existing Form 477 data collection to reduce reporting burdens for all filers and incorporate new technologies," the commission said.

A second further notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeks comment on "possible additional technical standards for fixed broadband providers that could ensure greater precision for the Digital Opportunity Data Collection deployment reporting and ways the commission can incorporate location-specific fixed broadband deployment data in this new data collection." The NPRM will also seek comment on how the collection of "more accurate, reliable mobile wireless voice and broadband coverage data" can be incorporated  into the Digital Opportunity Data Collection." Last, the NPRM seeks comment on sunsetting use of Form 477 to collect broadband deployment information following full implementation of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection.

NTCA released a statement about today's FCC action.

FCC Adopts Rural Digital Opportunity Fund NPRM

Also today, the FCC adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to establish the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The commission said the new fund would make more areas eligible for support and would require faster broadband speeds than did last year's Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction.

The commission said the RDOF would focus on areas currently served by price cap carriers and on areas not won in the CAF Phase II auction, as well as other areas that do not currently receive any high-cost Universal Service Fund support. The commission's RDOF NPRM also seeks comment on the higher broadband deployment requirements—25/3 Mbps, with incentives for faster speeds, under the RDOF, in contrast to the CAF's 10/1 Mbps minimum.

The NPRM also proposes a two-phased approach for implementation of the fund, with Phase I targeting "wholly unserved census blocks, using existing FCC data collection," and Phase II targeting unserved locations in partially unserved census blocks, "using new, more granular data being developed by the Digital Opportunity Data Collection, along with areas not won in Phase I."

NTCA released a statement about today's FCC action.

Justice Department, Five AGs Reach Settlement in T-Mobile, Sprint Merger

The U.S. Department of Justice and attorneys general for five states reached a settlement July 26, with T-Mobile that paves the way for a merger between the two wireless companies.

The new T-Mobile said that, under terms of the settlement, it would divest Sprint's prepaid businesses and Sprint's 800 MHz spectrum assets to DISH Network Corp., which will become a wireless provider. 

"Additionally, upon the closing of the divestiture transaction, the companies will provide DISH wireless customers access to the New T-Mobile network for seven years and offer standard transition services arrangements to DISH during a transition period of up to three years," T-Mobile said. It added that DISH will also have an option to take on leases for certain cell sites and retail locations that are decommissioned by the New T-Mobile, subject to any assignment restrictions.

Attorneys general in Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Kansas were part of the settlement, but several other attorneys general have sued to stop the proposed merger.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association has opposed the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

Following the settlement, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement, as did Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

In Comments to FCC, NTCA Rejects USF Cap

In comments submitted to the FCC on July 29, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association rejected an overall cap on the Universal Service fund (USF), calling such a cap "contrary to both law and policy" and saying it "would place at risk the complementary missions of universal service as Congress intended and articulated in the Telecommunications Act of 1996."

A cap, the association said, would be inconsistent with the Telecommunication Act's directive for specific, predictable and sufficient support.

"Rural carriers today operate with the knowledge that each component of the High-Cost program budget—including that program's Budget Control Mechanism and specific model-based support amounts made available to A-CAM recipients—is tied directly to a specific set of policy goals, buildout obligations and other provisions that the commission chose deliberately to apply only to RLEC High-Cost program recipients with a budget commensurate to those goals and obligations," the association said. "An overall USF budget cap, in contrast, will reintroduce the lack of predictability and sufficiency that plagued the program for several years and that the commission just took steps to eliminate."

An overall cap is unnecessary because the commission can achieve a sustainable, sufficient USF through "a periodic review of USF budgets to ensure that each program is contributing meaningfully over time toward the goals of universal service and delivering appropriate payback for the resources devoted to it," the association said. "This would ensure that funds are used for the purposes for which Congress intended but would avoid sacrificing the predictability that is so vital to beneficiaries."

NTCA Asks FCC to Waive Mandatory Service Speed and Data Plan Increase for Lifeline Subscribers

On July 29, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed a petition for waiver with the FCC asking the commission to refrain from requiring low-income consumers who subscribe to fixed broadband internet service using Lifeline support to purchase a minimum of 20/3 Mbps service beginning December 1. 

NTCA demonstrated that any increase in internet speed is likely to be accompanied by an increase in the monthly subscription rate, which could cause some subscribers who are dependent upon the Lifeline discount to be forced to discontinue their service due to inability to afford the increased monthly rate.  Instead, NTCA asked the commission to permit existing Lifeline subscribers to have the option of applying their Lifeline discount to either their existing service level as of December 1, or to an increased level that is at or above 20/3 Mbps. 

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association also filed comments with the FCC on July 31 supporting a petition for waiver filed by CTIA, and public interest, consumer and civil rights organizations seeking to suspend the commission's requirement that Lifeline subscribers upgrade to a wireless data plan capable of approximately 9.5 GB per month or lose their Lifeline support on December 1. Petitioners noted that, without a waiver, Lifeline subscribers will be forced to increase their data plan by nearly 500%, up from the current 2 GB per month requirement.

NTCA noted that non-Lifeline customers are not forced to upgrade their service and that forcing Lifeline customers to do so may result in those customers having to disconnect their service due to the inability to afford the higher monthly fee that often accompanies higher wireless data plans. Such a result, NTCA stated, is inconsistent with the commission's goals of ensuring all consumers have access to the same public safety, education, employment and health opportunities that wireless and fixed services make available.


Notes in the News for August 1, 2019

The Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency this week released a report,"Overview of Risks Introduced by 5G Adoption in the United States," laying out the opportunities and challenges for 5G. "Its implementation will introduce vulnerabilities related to supply chains, deployment, network security, and the loss of competition and trusted options," the report said.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association late last week applauded the introduction of the Modern Television Act of 2019, which aims to reform outdated video laws governing the retransmission of broadcast signals. The bill was introduced by Reps. Steve J. Scalise (R–La.) and Anna G. Eshoo (D–Calif.).

The U.S. Senate on August 1, 2019, passed a budget agreement that increases topline spending levels for the next two fiscal years and suspends the debt limit through July 2021. The vote was 67–28, and the legislation now heads to the president's desk for his signature.

The FCC's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has announced the effective date of certain Emergency Alert System rules. It also has offered guidance to improve the accuracy of reporting for the nationwide Emergency Alert System test on August 7, 2019.

The FCC is seeking nominations to fill three Tribal vacancies on the Native Nations Communications Task Force.

The FCC's Office of Economics and Analytics and the Office of the Managing Director this week updated the commission's Information Quality Guidelines as required by the Data Quality Act, with guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.

Before its August 1, 2019, open meeting, the FCC deleted from the agenda an item on improving low-power FM radio service.

At that meeting, the commission also announced reforms to its Rural Health Care Program that it said would "ensure limited program funds are disbursed efficiently and equitably, promote transparency and predictability in the program's administration, and strengthen safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse."

The commission also set December 17, 2019, as the date for bidding in its experimental auction of certain sought-after toll free numbers in the 833 code, and it adopted rules to help ensure that people who call 911 from multi-line telephone systems can reach 911 and be quickly located by first responders.

The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau has announced comment dates for an NPRM on improving competitive broadband access to multiple tenant environments.



NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Director of Government Affairs Adam Jorde spoke July 30, 2019, at the Missouri Telecom Industry Association Summer Conference.

NTCA Director of Industry Affairs Brian Ford attended the SITA Annual Meeting July 28–30, 2019, in Dodge City, Kan.