#RuralisCool, Volume 1, Issue 62 | March 12, 2020


Broadband DATA Act Passes Senate, Awaits President Trump’s Signature

The U.S. Senate has passed the Broadband DATA Act, which is designed to improve the accuracy of the maps that detail broadband availability. The legislation now awaits President Trump’s signature.

The act, introduced in July 2019, includes measures:

  • Requiring the FCC to collect granular service availability data from wired, fixed wireless and satellite broadband providers.
  • Setting strong parameters for service availability data collected from mobile broadband providers to ensure accuracy.
  • Permitting the FCC to consider whether to collect verified coverage data from state, local and tribal governments, as well as from other entities.
  • Creating a process for consumers, state, local and tribal governments and other groups to challenge FCC maps with their own data, and requiring the FCC to determine how to structure that process without making it overly burdensome on challengers.
  • Establishing a crowdsourcing process that allows the public to participate in data collection.
  • Strengthening enforcement against providers that knowingly or recklessly submit materially inaccurate broadband data.
  • Requiring the FCC to use the newly created maps when making new awards of broadband funding.

The Broadband DATA Act was sponsored by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

In a statement, Shirley Bloomfield, chief executive officer of NTCA, said, “NTCA welcomes the advancement of legislation to improve the broadband mapping process to more accurately represent deployment. This bill takes several important steps toward improving broadband mapping – including more granular data collection and the establishment of a challenge process. Better maps will help inform important policy and investment decisions related to rural broadband deployment.”

NTCA, NRECA Urge FCC to Ensure RDOF Bids Are Capable of Delivering

The FCC should ensure that service providers will be capable of delivering on the promises they make when bidding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, said representatives of NTCA and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) at a meeting with representatives of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau on March 5.

The FCC should undertake reasonable efforts to ensure that operators have realistic plans to construct and operate networks capable of performing in the tiers they would intend to bid for in the auction, NTCA and NRECA advised. The rural representatives said that if a particular technology is not being used to offer commercial service today in rural areas on a comparable scale to the bids it would support, that service should be ineligible for a bid in the auction at such a level.

The NTCA and NRECA representatives also urged the commission to consider in more detail the ways in which the RDOF program and other federal and state programs might be leveraged in tandem to achieve better and faster broadband deployment than might otherwise occur without such collaborative efforts.

NTCA Raises 8YY Transition Concerns with FCC

In a meeting with a senior counsel to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on March 5, Mike Romano, senior vice president of industry affairs and business development for NTCA, raised concerns about the potential transition to a bill-and-keep approach for 8YY access charges.

Romano highlighted the importance of explicit cost recovery mechanisms for rural local exchange carriers (RLECs) that depend on those revenues to deliver universal service in rural areas. He recommended that if the commission determines that it must change rates in order to address arbitrage in the 8YY marketplace without modifying existing alternative cost recovery mechanisms to accommodate originating 8YY revenue impacts, the agency should ensure that this does not set a negative precedent for reasonable cost recovery efforts in the future.

NTCA Recommends Updates to Environmental Policy Act Requirements to Encourage Broadband Deployment

In comments filed with the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), NTCA requested updates to the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The updates are aimed at improving broadband service, which will in turn improve rural economies, while also protecting the environment, NTCA said.

The updates that NTCA requested include:

  • CEQ should adopt a government-wide categorical exclusion for the installation of broadband facilities in rights-of-way or on or near previously disturbed federal lands.
  • CEQ should ensure that agencies’ efforts to streamline the NEPA review process do not overlook small entities’ permit applications, which often do not meet the threshold for streamlined treatment.
  • CEQ should adopt recommendations made by the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee Streamlining Federal Siting Working Group.

Notes in the News

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has extended the deadline to apply for the ReConnect Pilot Program to March 31, 2020.

The FCC released a public notice stating that short-form applications for the CBRS PALs auction are due April 9, 2020.

The FCC released a public notice proposing bidding procedures for Phase 1 of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction which is expected to start in October.

The FCC released a tentative agenda for the March open commission meeting scheduled for March 31.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed mandating carriers implement SHAKEN/STIR to combat robocalls.

The next meeting of the FCC Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee was announced for March 27.