#RuralisCool, Volume 1, Issue 39 | September 19, 2019


Pai Visits North Dakota on Rural Broadband Tour







FCC Chairman Ajit Pai visited North Dakota this week, meeting with broadband providers and other broadband stakeholders such as students studying precision agriculture at South Dakota State University.  

Local media outlets covered his visit, including the following reports:


NTCA Petition to Grandfather Lifeline Service Gains Support

In reply comments filed with the FCC on September 13, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association re-iterated the key points of a petition NTCA filed with the FCC in July requesting that the FCC “grandfather” the minimum service standards for Lifeline subscribers, and noted that NTCA’s petition received strong support from commenters. 

NTCA’s petition noted that minimum service standards set to go into effect December 1 could have the unintended consequence of causing some Lifeline recipients to cancel service. The new standards would require low-income consumers to subscribe to broadband at speeds of at least 20/3 Mbps in order to obtain the monthly Lifeline discount, up from the current minimum of 18/2 Mbps.  Requiring Lifeline recipients to upgrade to a higher-cost service in order to retain their discount could make the service unaffordable, causing recipients to cancel their service altogether.

To avoid this result, NTCA asked the FCC to allow Lifeline subscribers the option of applying the Lifeline discount to either the current minimum service standards or to any future minimum service standards prescribed by the commission.

FCC September Meeting Agenda Includes CBRS Auction, Access Arbitrage

The FCC September open commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, September 26. Among the items on the agenda and scheduled for a vote are a public notice that would seek comment on procedures to be used for Auction 105 of priority access licenses in the 3550-3650 MHz (Citizens Broadband Radio Service or CBRS) band, along with a report and order that would adopt reforms aimed at eliminating “wasteful” access arbitrage schemes.

Michael R. Romano, senior vice president of industry affairs & business development for NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, and several rural carrier representatives met with staff from the office of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday, September 13, regarding access arbitrage. The RLEC representatives were from Golden West Telecommunications, Hargray Communications and Jenner & Block LLP.

NTCA noted that it supports the commission’s efforts to eliminate inefficient arbitrage but has repeatedly highlighted that any effort should take care to prevent unintended harms to local exchange carriers. NTCA proposed specific steps that the commission could take to eliminate access arbitrage while also avoiding those unintentional harms.

The RLEC representatives expressed concern in particular about a proposal that would cause RLECs to be considered access stimulators if they have a 6:1 ratio of terminating-to-originating interstate traffic, even if they are not actually engaged in access stimulation practices.

The RLEC representatives requested four modifications to the FCC draft order:

  • Adopting a rebuttable presumption to enable carriers to show they are not access stimulators despite the relaxed definition of that term;
  • Making clear that a LEC deemed to be an access stimulator is only financially responsible for the tandem switching and transport that it chooses for purposes of a subtending end office;
  • Using a different access stimulation definition for RLECs, given the structural disincentives for RLECs to engage in access stimulation; and
  • Periodically reviewing any changes to the definition of access stimulation to ensure it keeps pace with marketplace changes.

Notes in the News:

On September 12, the FCC authorized nearly $12.2 million in funding to winners in the Connect America Fund auction of rural broadband funding, including some NTCA members.

The FCC Office of Managing Director has recommended a Universal Service Fund contribution factor of 25% for the fourth quarter of 2019.

The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Office of Engineering and Technology approved five spectrum access system administrators to begin initial commercial deployments in the 3.5 GHz band, paving the way for rural service providers and others to deploy fixed broadband and other wireless communications technology in the band.

An automated connection between the FCC Lifeline National Eligibility Verified went live on September 17. According to the commission, the eligibility of up to 60% of the Lifeline-eligible population can now be confirmed automatically. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will hold a regional single-day workshop for those interested in the USDA Rural Development Broadband ReConnect Program on September 26 in Columbia, S.C. at the Clemson University Sandhill Research and Education Center. The workshop will run from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Ms. Belinda Nelson, chairperson for Gila River Telecommunications, Inc. of Chandler, Ariz. testified at a U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs oversight hearing on “GAO Report on Tribal Access to Spectrum: Promoting Communications Services in Indian Country” on September 18. 

Donald “DJ” LaVoy has been sworn in as the USDA’s new deputy under secretary for rural development.

Brian Ford, senior regulatory counsel for NTCA, is speaking today at an Oregon Telecommunications Association central office and information technologies seminar.