FCC to Vote on RDOF January 30; NTCA Continues to Advocate for Forward-Looking Speed Objectives
The FCC announced this week that it will vote on rules for the proposed Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) at the monthly open commission meeting scheduled for January 30. In a blog post this week, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai explained the rules would establish a two-phased process to award funding targeting areas where broadband service is not available at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.
Phase I would target $16 billion to areas where there is no 25/3 Mbps service at all. Phase II would target remaining unserved locations based on the Digital Opportunity Data Collection. Funding in both phases would be awarded through a reverse auction process, similar to that utilized in the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II program. In a seemingly positive development, however, Pai noted that, in response to the call of Congress "to fund sustainable and forward-looking networks that will stand the test of time," the FCC will consider a proposal to adopt an auction construct where, at the "clearing round," the bidder promising the highest speed will prevail in the auction and receive support. This would differ from the structure of the CAF Phase II auction (where bidding drove both support and speeds realized by rural consumers lower in many cases).
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association was among just a handful of parties who expressly supported this approach in comments and meetings over the past several months, in the face of substantial opposition from certain parties and associations urging the FCC to promote instead the deployment of networks that would deliver lower speeds for the promise of a lower upfront cost.
In addition to previously reported advocacy, NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Mike Romano joined representatives of three other broadband associations in a December 19 meeting with a rural broadband advisor to Pai to discuss the weighting system proposed for bids in the RDOF auction. Other organizations represented were ACA Connects – America’s Communications Association, the Fiber Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association.
The representatives noted that although each of their organizations had proposed slightly different weighting and tiering structures for the RDOF, all the organizations advocate increasing the spread of weights between tiers proposed in the RDOF notice of proposed rulemaking, explaining that this will be the best way to maximize participation in the auction from bidders across all tiers of service and to effectively use the available budget to advance the mission of universal service. Romano and the other representatives also discussed the importance of fulfilling the statutory mandate for reasonable quality of service, as well as the essential interplay between the RDOF auction and the commission’s 5G objectives.
Subsequently, two other broadband associations – USTelecom and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA)– submitted ex parte letters to the FCC advocating to cut the upload speed for the 100 Mbps tier in half, from 20 Mbps to just 10 Mbps. USTelecom also advocated for the addition of an intervening 50/5 Mbps tier. These changes would reduce deployment costs and enable RDOF funding to be spread over more locations, the association argued.
Both USTelecom and WISPA also expressed opposition to NTCA’s suggestion that the FCC offer a bidding bonus to companies that commit to deploying service at symmetrical speeds. End users typically wouldn’t need upload speeds to be as fast as download speeds, the associations said.
In a January 6 letter to the FCC, NTCA and ACA Connects responded to these proposals. The organizations argued that cutting upload speeds in half and introducing a new, lower speed bidding tier would be backsliding from the CAF Phase II auction. NTCA and ACA Connects also noted that such service levels would not be reasonably comparable with those in urban areas. In addition, the associations argued that concerns raised about broadband wireless equipment availability run counter to the goal of making the RDOF technologically neutral. NTCA raised further objections to these proposals in a separate January 7 letter to the FCC, observing that the approaches advocated by USTelecom and WISPA would make it even more difficult than in the CAF Phase II auction for bidders at the Gigabit tier to prevail in the RDOF proceeding.
NTCA anticipates working in coming weeks to support Chairman Pai's RDOF proposal and urge its adoption.
DHS Shares Info on Possible Iranian Network Activity
As a result of NTCA’s participation in the Communications Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), the association has received information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about possible Iranian activity on U.S. telecommunications networks. The information cannot be posted to the web but was sent to NTCA members by email. Members are advised to look for emails from NTCA containing this information.
Additional insights from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) about the potential for retaliatory aggression against American networks as a result of recent Iran-U.S. tensions are available on the agency’s website.
NTCA will continue to share information with members about potential threats as it is made available.
More NTCA Members Win ReConnect Funding
Three more NTCA members in North Dakota and Virginia were awarded rural broadband funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program this week.
Polar Communications (Park River, N.D.) was awarded $21.2 million in a loan and grant combination to build a fiber-to-the-premises network encompassing 1,870 square miles. The service is expected to be available to 2,237 households, six educational facilities, one health care center and one critical community facility.
Daktel Communications (Carrington, N.D.) will receive a $1.8 million grant to make broadband available to 406 households and three educational facilities over 354 square miles.
Wilkes Telephone Membership Corporation (Wilkesboro, N.C.) will use a $48 million ReConnect program loan to construct a fiber-to-the-premises network encompassing 1,847 square miles. The service area is expected to reach 22,604 households, 19 educational facilities, eight critical community facilities and one health care center.
USDA has announced several ReConnect workshops and webinars in coming months for parties interested in learning more about the program. A full listing of events is available on USDA's website.
Jury Awards $1 Billion in Online Copyright Infringement Lawsuit
On December 19, a jury awarded Sony $1 billion in damages against Cox Communications after concluding Cox failed to protect its network against copyright infringement by the ISP’s subscribers. The case follows an earlier court opinion in which the court ruled Cox was not entitled to the safe harbor available to ISPs under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) because Cox had not “reasonably implemented” a policy for terminating repeat infringers.
The court proceedings against Cox are not unique; similar court proceedings are currently underway against Charter, Bright House Networks, RCN and Grande Communications. The U.S. Copyright Office also recently issued a reminder for ISPs to make sure they have a current DMCA registered agent on file with the Copyright Office. NTCA encourages members to review the U.S. copyright office reminder to ensure compliance.
FCC Commission Brendan Carr visited New Mexico and Texas yesterday to meet with leaders of Mescalero Apache Telecom, Inc. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.
The FCC Wireless Telecommunications Bureau announced procedures for the 2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window.
The FCC Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau announced the comment date on the initial designation of Huawei Technologies and ZTE as covered companies in the national security supply chain proceeding. In a related development, the FCC Wireline Competition Bureau announced the comment dates for further notice in the same proceeding.
January 15 is the deadline for submitting hearing aid compatibility certifications of compliance (Form 855) for the 2019 reporting period and subsequent years.