FCC Poised to Act on Performance Measurements
On October 4, the FCC released a draft Order on Reconsideration addressing performance measurement obligations for high-cost universal service fund recipients. This order is scheduled for a vote at the FCC's October 25 open meeting.
The FCC originally released an order in 2018 setting forth a methodology for tests that would be required to demonstrate compliance with network performance obligations. NTCA filed an Application for Review and Request for Clarification soon thereafter and has visited the FCC regularly during the past year to advocate on behalf of members and to raise questions about these obligations.
The draft reconsideration order recognizes NTCA's recommendations to defer implementation deadlines until suitable testing equipment is available in the marketplace, and further provides time for "testing of the testing" during which providers will be required to test and report information but without risk of support reductions for non-compliant results.
The proposed revised schedule for RLEC implementation is:
|Program||Pre-Testing Start Date||Testing Start Date|
|Alaska Plan||January 1, 2021||January 1, 2022|
|ACAM I||January 1, 2021||January 1, 2022|
|ACAM I, Revised||January 1, 2021||January 1, 2022|
|ACAM II||January 1, 2022||January 1, 2023|
|Legacy Rate of Return||January 1, 2022||January 1, 2023|
If adopted, this rescheduling would represent a significant victory for the industry, particularly as this schedule will both allow members and vendors to continue to refine their solutions and enable larger providers that are farther along in their broadband buildout obligations to "go first and work out any bugs." The draft order would also maintain strict testing requirements for latency, as supported by NTCA over the opposition of representatives of larger price cap carriers and fixed wireless and satellite operators.
The draft order also contains, however, several provisions that remain of apparent concern. First, the FCC retains the requirement that small carriers test to distant Internet exchange points, despite having little to no control over significant portions of the networks between the funded last mile network and those points. Second, the order penalizes providers for failed performance tests not only by withholding universal service fund support, but ultimately by treating any locations for which a test fails as "unserved" for purposes of the separate broadband buildout obligation. Third, the draft order maintains the requirement to temporarily upgrade customer locations if the randomly-selected locations are not currently purchasing speeds to which the carrier must test. NTCA has completed a first meeting with the FCC on this point and is scheduled for additional meetings next week.
NTCA Joins Letter Seeking Funding Support for USDA ReConnect Program
On October 7, NTCA, in conjunction with a diverse group of stakeholders representing rural interests, sent a letter to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees seeking funding support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Broadband program for Fiscal Year 2020.
The letter voiced concerns over a potential lapse in appropriations and urged lawmakers to continue financial support of broadband deployment in rural America.
USDA Awards $152 Million in Rural Broadband Grants and Loans
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it has awarded $152 million in grants and loans for 20 projects to provide or improve rural broadband service in 14 states.
The investments are being made through the Community Connect Grant Program, the Telecommunications Infrastructure Loan Program and the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program.
A complete list of companies receiving the loans and grants, along with descriptions of the projects can be found in this spreadsheet.
Lifeline Changes Should be Driven by Consumer Choice, NTCA Says
Mike Romano and Tamber Ray of NTCA met with representatives of the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau on October 7 regarding proposed NTCA’s pending request for a waiver of the Lifeline minimum service standards.The NTCA representatives voiced support for the notion that Lifeline customers should have the same choices as all consumers when it comes to voice and broadband services, and expressed concerns that any changes to the program should be driven by consumer choice rather than regulatory mandate.
NTCA noted that unless the commission grants NTCA’s previously filed Petition for Waiver in the Lifeline reform proceeding, current Lifeline subscribers to fixed broadband service will be forced to upgrade to a higher speed tier than they may need, want, or can afford. The net result is that Lifeline fixed broadband subscribers will have to stretch their budgets or may be compelled to cease buying broadband altogether.
To prevent this, NTCA suggests the commission specify in response to NTCA’s petition that if a provider’s Form 477 or any successor form lists a speed at or above the minimum standard as being available in the customer’s area, the provider would be required to make the minimum speed available to all Lifeline subscribers in that area – but existing fixed broadband subscribers would have the option of upgrading to the minimum standard or maintaining their current service tiers for purposes of applying the Lifeline discount.
Notes in the News
On October 7, NTCA filed reply comments on Establishing the Digital Opportunity Data Collection and Modernizing the FCC Form 477 Data Program proceedings.
The FCC released a list of 29 companies that submitted complete applications to bid in Auction 103 of spectrum in the 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands. The commission also released a list of 10 companies that submitted incomplete applications to bid in the auction but who have until October 22 to submit complete applications. The auction is scheduled to begin December 10.
The FCC enforcement bureau launched a new interference complaint intake portal for use by public safety and enterprise service providers.
NTCA and other stakeholders filed a petition with the FCC asking the commission to pause its review of the Sprint- T-Mobile merger while Sprint’s apparent violation of Lifeline program rules is investigated. The petitioners also urged the commission to seek public comment on waiver requests by DISH Network related to the merger.