FCC Makes Nearly $5 Billion Available for Rate-of-Return Carriers
The FCC on August 22, 2019, authorized more than $4.9 billion over the next decade to support and maintain rural broadband networks. The commission said the funds—targeted to rate-of-return carriers that agreed to accept the commission’s Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM)—would extend to 455,334 homes and businesses served by 171 carriers in 39 states and American Samoa, including 44,243 locations on Tribal lands.
“Our action today will help close the digital divide and is a win-win for rural Americans and taxpayers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Carriers get the predictable support they need to deliver broadband to their customers in these high-cost rural areas. And taxpayers, who fund this support through a fee on their phone bills, are getting more bang for their buck.”
Broadband carriers receiving support approved today are required to provide service of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream to more than 363,000 locations, including more than 37,000 locations on Tribal lands. Providers will be held accountable through an enforceable schedule for delivering improved and expanded service, with the first interim deployment obligation occurring in 2022. The authorizations provide support to the electing companies for a ten-year period beginning January 1, 2019.
A full list of states where companies will receive support, with 10-year support amounts and the number of homes and businesses supported, can be found here.
NTCA Discusses C-Band With Chairman Pai's Office
On Monday, August 19, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association met with Aaron Goldberger, Wireless and International Adviser to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to discuss concerns regarding the proposed reallocation of spectrum. This meeting followed NTCA comments filed on August 7 regarding 3.7–4.2 GHz C-Band spectrum. It pointed out that although the commission has sought comment on several industry proposals, those proposals are at odds with each other and there is no current consensus or understanding about which parts of the various proposals the commission means to act on.
NTCA also expressed concern with private parties or current license holders directing the transition to terrestrial use and the spectrum licensing process given the financial incentives to work with the largest, most well-financed providers. It stressed that its members are interested in midband spectrum opportunities and that all interested parties require a fair chance to purchase midband spectrum at reasonable prices.
NTCA urged the commission to consider any reallocation of spectrum licenses that would ensure small and rural providers have an opportunity to obtain spectrum to benefit telecommunications services in rural America. Finally, it expressed support for the joint proposal of ACA Connects–America’s Communications Association, Competitive Carriers Association and Charter Communications, Inc.
FCC Considering Increased Oversight of Low-Income Broadband Subsidies
On Monday, August 19, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai circulated a proposal to address perceived concerns in the administration of the Lifeline program, which provides financial assistance for low-income families to pay for voice and broadband services. The notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is billed as “administrative” and specifically does not tackle larger issues like placing an overall cap on the program. In the circulating order, the commission reportedly aims to eliminate duplicative enrollments, the indicating of vacant properties as current addresses, and using single-family homes to enroll multiple program participants.
The notice also aims to ban Lifeline carriers from using a commission structure to incentivize employees to enroll more beneficiaries and appeals for rules requiring that carriers take further steps to verify subscribers’ eligibility for the program. It also restores the role of the states in approving which carriers are eligible for program participation.
The proposal is not yet public and the timeline for a vote is undetermined.
Senators Echo NTCA Concerns Regarding T-Mobile/Sprint Merger
Over the past year, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association reiterated its opposition to the T-Mobile/Sprint merger in press releases, ex partes and in its original petition to deny filed in August of 2018. More recently, NTCA and the Rural Wireless Association filed a request for the commission to seek comment on recent developments and material changes in the merger proposal, including the proposed divestiture of certain spectrum assets to DISH Network Corp. and the DISH filing for waiver and extension of time to complete construction of certain spectrum licenses.
On Friday, August 16, a number of U.S. senators echoed those sentiments in a letter to the FCC imploring the commission to issue a public notice and seek public comment on the proposed merger. The letter was signed by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Ed Markey (D–Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.), Tom Udall (D–N.M.), Cory Booker (D–N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D–Conn.), Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.).
Notes in the News for August 22, 2019
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield issued a statement about the Anti-Robocall Principles put forth August 22 by state attorneys general.
The U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) announced on August 19 that it had identified 46 additional companies that are affiliated with Huawei Technologies Co. that are now included on the agency’s Entities List. As previously reported, the list requires U.S. companies to obtain licenses for export transactions with the Chinese firm. However, at the same time the DOC announced that it would extend the Temporary General License (TGL) authorizing specific, limited engagements in transactions involving the export, reexport, and transfer of items to Huawei and its non-U.S. affiliates that are subject to the Entity List. According to the DOC, the continuation of the TGL is intended to afford consumers across America the necessary time to transition away from Huawei equipment, given the persistent national security and foreign policy threat. This license will be effective on August 19, 2019 and last an additional 90 days.
NTCA Regulatory Counsel Tamber Ray gave a talk, “Proving Your Network—FCC Performance Measurements,” August 21, 2019, at Tri-State 2019 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano spoke August 20 on broadband policy in 2020 and beyond at the SDTA Annual Meeting and Conference in Spearfish, S.D.
NTCA Director of Industry and Policy Analysis Jesse Ward participated in a meeting of the DHS ICT Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force on August 20. The task force heard substantive updates from each of the working groups, discussed plans for an upcoming interim report, and received an update from DHS with respect to implementation of the May 15, 2019, executive order on securing the ICT supply chain.