#RuralisCool, Volume 1, Issue 44 | October 24, 2019


NTCA Advocates Up to the Last Minute on New Performance Testing Requirements in Advance of FCC Vote

The FCC will vote tomorrow on new performance testing requirements for companies that receive high-cost Universal Service funding. The item is on the agenda for the October FCC meeting scheduled to begin at 10:30 ET.

NTCA supports network testing as means of ensuring accountability in the receipt of USF support, but has highlighted the need to ensure testing protocols and penalties for non-performance will be reasonable and proportionate.

NTCA has recommended that providers test only those portions of the network that are actually supported by universal service funds and under the control of the operator and has also raised substantial concerns regarding how penalties would apply for testing failures both on its own and in collaboration with other associations


NTCA Continues to Advocate for Consumer Choice in Lifeline Program

Michael Romano and Tamber Ray of NTCA met with Nirali Patel, wireline advisor to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, on October 21 regarding NTCA’s pending request for a waiver of the Lifeline minimum service standards. NTCA 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.


Golden West CEO Urges Action on Retransmission Consent at Senate STELAR Hearing 

Denny Law, CEO of multi-play provider Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative (Wall, S.D.), urged members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation to take action on retransmission consent as they consider reauthorizing the STELAR Act, which requires local broadcasters to make content available to satellite video providers. 

In testimony for a hearing conducted by the committee, Law argued that current retransmission consent rules favor broadcasters and noted that the retransmission consent fees he pays local broadcasters for carrying their programming have increased at an average of more than 30% annually over the last 10 years. He said this is particularly galling considering that Golden West’s video service area includes rural areas that the broadcasters’ signals do not reach. \

Law’s recommendations to the committee included:

  • Prohibiting price discrimination within each designated market area (DMA)
  • Prohibiting broadcaster-imposed mandatory bundling or tying of additional non-network channels
  • Eliminating the requirements of a 1992 act that compel cable operators/multichannel video programming distributors to carry broadcast signals on their lowest service levels/basic tiers and that compel cable customers to purchase these lowest service levels/basic tiers before they can purchase any other service
  • Prohibit charging for broadcast channels that consumers are unable to receive over the air
  • Make the “good faith” negotiation requirement in current law more meaningful by expanding the types of negotiation practices that constitute bad faith practices

Mike Chappell, executive director of the American Television Alliance (ATVA), coalition of consumer groups, cable, satellite, telephone companies, and independent programmers of which NTCA is a member, also submitted a statement for the record. He noted that broadcasters have initiated 276 blackouts in 2019, breaking the previous annual record of 213.  These blackouts are sometimes initiated when broadcasters and MVPDs are unable to negotiate a new contract before the previous contract expires. Chappell cited the results of an ATVA poll that found that 56% of consumers believe broadcasters should not be permitted to pull their signal while negotiating retransmission fees.


ISPs Encouraged to Keep DMCA Agent Up to Date

The U.S. Copyright Office recently issued a reminder that some Internet providers will be required to renew their designation of an agent to receive notices of claimed copyright infringement this December.  The Copyright Office began requiring ISPs to electronically file their DMCA agent’s contact information in December 2016, and to renew that information every three years. Accordingly, any ISP who filed this information in December 2016, and has not already updated that information through the Copyright Office’s online system, must renew (and update if any information has changed) that designation this December.

ISPs are required to designate a DMCA agent in order to qualify for a “safe harbor” from copyright liability if a subscriber uses the ISP’s network to infringe a copyright owner’s work. Several court opinions have found ISPs ineligible for the safe harbor because the ISP changed its DMCA agent without updating the ISP’s website or the Copyright Office’s database. For more information or to update your registration, visit the Copyright Office’s website.


Notes in the News

The FCC Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau is seeking comment on the effectiveness of its tribal engagement guidance. The commission also wants to refresh the record on related petitions for reconsideration.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testified about oversight of the commission’s spectrum auctions program at a U.S. Senate hearing of the Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Committee on Appropriations.

NTCA filed reply comments regarding the FCC’s proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). In the comments, NTCA notes that the record supports the adoption of a longer-term perspective by the FCC for the RDOF and makes several recommendations about how to do that.

The USDA announced its first two awards through the ReConnect program, which will provide funding for rural broadband in unserved areas. The awards included a $2.85 million grant to Tennessee’s Forked Deer Electric Cooperative and a $9.75 million grant to Orangeburg County of South Carolina. 

The FCC opened its annual inquiry to assess the nation’s progress in deploying advanced telecommunications capability to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.