#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 21/May 9, 2019

Pai Lauds Rural Broadband Progress in Testimony Before Senate Appropriations Subcommittee

In remarks to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government during an FCC budget hearing, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai highlighted progress in the area of rural broadband and fielded questions from committee members about performance testing and other issues.

In his remarks before the committee, Pai said the commission’s efforts to close the digital divide were a top priority. Among the ways the commission has sought to “maximize … the impact” of the Universal Service Fund is the Connect America Fund Phase II auction, Pai said. “We didn’t want to fund overbuilding,” Pai said. “We also made sure the auction was open to providers of all types. … This ensured that there would be plenty of competition.”

Pai also highlighted the commission’s reforms to its Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM). “A total of 186 small, rural carriers participating in the A-CAM program have now accepted $65.7 million in additional annual support over the next decade to provide 106,000 more rural homes and small businesses with 25/3 Mbps broadband service,” Pai said. “This represents a 31.8% increase in the number of locations that will have high-quality service available through the FCC’s A-CAM program.”

In response to questions from senators, Pai said he expected the commission to address performance-testing “soon,” and he stressed the need for better broadband mapping.

Kansas Delegation Criticizes Broadband Mapping

U.S. senators and representatives from Kansas signed a letter this week to the FCC criticizing the commission’s broadband maps.

U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts (R) and Jerry Moran (R) and Reps. Roger W. Marshall (R), Ron Estes (R), Steve Watkins (R) and Sharice Davids (D) signed the letter.

The FCC’s current broadband availability maps, particularly in the context of fixed broadband access shown by the national broadband map, do not utilize data that is granular enough to adequately depict broadband availability in rural communities,” the group wrote. “Form 477 data collection policies dictate that an entire census block be considered served with broadband service even if that service is only offered to one location within the census block. Since census blocks in rural communities are larger than their urban counterparts, rural communities are particularly threatened by this policy.”

Kansas communities could be denied eligibility to participate in existing federal funding programs for broadband deployment regardless of their actual need, the legislators argued. “In the interest of effectively allocating federal resources to unserved and underserved communities, we urge the FCC to take immediate action to improve the granularity and accuracy of broadband availability maps, especially as new broadband funding initiatives like the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund are rolled out,” the legislators wrote.

They also called for “a challenge process that allows independent entities to participate,” calling such a process “vital to any data collection that affects the distribution of federal resources for broadband deployment.”

NTCA Encourages FCC to Deny Viasat’s Request to Modify Satellite Latency Requirements

On May 2, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed a letter with the FCC recommending the commission deny a request by Viasat Inc. to modify the rules requiring satellite providers that receive a license pursuant to the Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF II) auction to measure latency using a mean opinion score of 4 (MOS4). 

The association pointed out that to lessen or otherwise modify these requirements for one provider after the auction has concluded would undermine the auction process—and, more importantly, the modification would harm “real world” consumers who may subscribe to Viasat’s service then risk being unable to make or receive (or even just understand) voice calls at any given time. 

The association also stated that Viasat was well aware of the MOS4 requirement when choosing to bid in the CAF II auction. To seek to modify the rules after the auction has completed would be prejudicial to other providers that did not participate in the auction, the association said.  

USAC Budget Analysis Shows a Budget Control Factor of 0.37%

The Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) has posted its calculated budget control factor for 2019–2020. USAC’s numbers show an approximate 0.37% budget control for the upcoming 12-month period.

The new methodology reflected in USAC’s 2019–2020 Budget Analysis file represents an annual view for July 2019 through June 2020. The analysis shows what support amounts are estimated for high cost loop support and Connect America Fund broadband loop support over that period, as compared to the newly revised and recently increased budget for high cost loop support and Connect America Fund broadband loop support mechanisms. The ratio of the budget to the forecasted support amount is 0.9963389, which will translate to cost-based rural local exchange carriers receiving approximately a 0.37% reduction in their support over that 12-month period.

USAC noted that the numbers are projections and are subject to change.

NTCA Supports Silver Star, Pineland Petitions for Reconsideration on ACAM Extension, HCLS

In a comments filed with the FCC on May 6, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association said it supports two petitions for reconsideration filed March 21, 2019, with the FCC.

The Silver Star petition seeks reconsideration of provisions of the commission’s December 2018 report and order that declined to eliminate the High Cost Universal Service Fund (USF) High Cost Loop Support (HCLS) rural growth factor and freeze the HCLS cap. The Pineland petition seeks reconsideration of the report and order’s determination that carriers that accepted the initial or revised Alternative Connect America Model (ACAM) offers in 2016 are not eligible for ACAM II.

The association said it supports both petitions. “The Silver Star petition seeks to overturn the commission’s 2018 decision to retain the HCLS rural growth factor and cap ‘as is,’” the commission said. “As Silver Star correctly argues, the commission ignored substantial evidence that these provisions produce unpredictability and insufficiency with respect to High Cost support that damages the company’s (as well as similarly situated operators’) ability to invest in networks capable of offering both voice and broadband services.”

On the Pineland petition, the association said the company “correctly argues that extension of the ‘ACAM II’ offer to ACAM I electors would increase broadband speeds for many rural consumers.”

Grant of both petitions “would result in improved or extended broadband access to rural America and would therefore serve the public interest,” the association said.

NTCA Adds to Performance Testing Concerns in Letter to FCC

In a May 7, 2019, letter to the FCC, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association shared additional concerns related to the commission’s performance measurement testing rules. The association earlier expressed concerns about performance testing technical issues in a February 28, 2019 letter to the commission.

In its May 7 letter, the association said that the Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC)-administered HUBB-based process could be improved. “USAC has not yet acquired all of the specific information it needs through the designated customer location field in the HUBB,” the association wrote. “NTCA submits that the ‘Carrier Location ID’ field in the HUBB, which is currently a voluntarily-completed field, should not be repurposed to support subscriber location information for purposes of performance measurement testing requirements.”

NTCA also said its members also have expressed concern about the amount of time providers have between the provision of a randomly-selected sample pool and the beginning of tests. “NTCA recommends that USAC generate a pool of randomly selected locations that exceeds the minimum requirement so that companies can quickly identify an alternative random location if an initial ‘draft pick’ declines,” the association wrote.

Last, the association cautioned against the use of “inducements” to encourage customer participation in performance measurement testing, noting that such inducements could increase consumer reluctance to participate.

Notes in the News for May 9, 2019

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield and Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs & Business Development Michael Romano met with FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly on May 2 to discuss the importance of a sufficient and predictable Universal Service Fund budget and issues related to broadband mapping.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R–W.Va.) and Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) reintroduced the Economic Impact of Broadband Act on May 2. The legislation would require a study be conducted on the effects of broadband deployment and the digital economy.

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on May 8.

NTCA issued a statement May 2 on the FCC announcement regarding implementation of new Universal Service initiatives.

The FCC has released its assessment and collection of regulatory fees for fiscal year 2019.

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau has designated four Connect America Fund Phase II auction-winning bidders as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs).

At the FCC’s open meeting today, the commission: authorized Theia's satellite constellationsought comment on procedures for a toll-free number auction, and improved the translator interference complaint and resolution process.

Also at today’s open meeting, the commission proposed to reallocate spectrum in the 1675–1680 MHz band for shared use between incumbent federal users and new, nonfederal flexible-use wireless operations.


Last, the commission at its open meeting today denied China Mobile USA’s application to provide telecommunications services between the United States and foreign destinations. The commission said that promoting secure communications is a long-standing FCC priority and that its action “is the result of a careful review by the commission and close consultation with executive branch agencies having expertise in national security and law enforcement.”


NTCA Director of Government Affairs Michael Daniels gave a legislative and policy update at the ANMTA Spring Conference May 8 in Santa Ana Pueblo, N.M.

Director of Industry and Policy Analysis Jesse Ward presented virtually on May 8 on the NIST Cybersecurity Framework to the ICA CyberCon IV audience.