#RuralisCool Volume 1, Issue 22/May 16, 2019

Trump Issues Executive Order to Address Supply Chain Security

President Donald Trump on May 15 signed an “Executive Order on Securing the Information and Communications Technology and Services Supply Chain,” (EO) which directs the Secretary of Commerce to prohibit the purchase or use of any information and communications technology (ICT) developed, manufactured or supplied by entities controlled by “a foreign adversary” and likely to create an “undue risk of sabotage” or “catastrophic effects” to critical infrastructure.

The Department of Commerce, in consultation with a variety of other agencies including the FCC, has 150 days to promulgate new rules to provide for the implementation of the authorities outlined in the EO. To assist in this effort, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is tasked with assessing threats from dangerous technology, including producing an initial report within 40 days and annually thereafter. And the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) shall continue to assess and identify security vulnerabilities—including an evaluation of hardware, software or services that are relied upon by multiple ICT or service providers—with the first report scheduled for completion within 80 days and then again on an annual basis.

The EO provides a path forward for the federal government to prohibit Chinese-based suppliers, such as Huawei and ZTE, from selling to U.S.-based companies. However, the directive is also part of a larger, more holistic effort to manage the wide variety of risks inherent in the telecom supply chain.

Globalization has transformed how goods are developed and manufactured, but this trend has also created a tangled, opaque web of suppliers, making it difficult to identify and analyze the source of individual components—including the underlying coding—used within telecom equipment. As a result, multiple efforts are underway within the federal government to address and manage the risk to the ICT supply chain. 

In related news, on May 14 the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing, “5G: National Security Concerns, Intellectual Property Issues, and the Impact on Competition and Innovation.“  In his opening statement, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Christopher Krebs highlighted the DHS-led ICT Supply Chain Risk Management Task Force as a public-private partnership working to “identify and manage risks to the global ICT supply chain, to include the challenges 5G technology presents.” Director of Industry and Policy Analysis Jesse Ward serves as an executive committee member of the task force. 

Rural Broadband Central Focus at House Congressional Hearing on FCC Oversight

On May 15, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing to take account of FCC oversight and accountability efforts. All five FCC commissioners, including FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, acted as witnesses.

The commissioners reiterated their support for rural broadband deployment initiatives at the hearing. In his opening statement, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said, “One of the many things my fellow colleagues and I agree on is the critical importance of broadband infrastructure to the American people.” He continued, “Similarly, there is a consensus [that] all Americans—including those living in areas with challenging topography and sparse populations—should have the opportunity to access broadband internet.”

In his remarks, Pai outlined the many steps taken by the commission to close the digital divide—including reforming Form 477 mapping regulations, doing more to address robocalls, maximizing the impact of the Universal Service Fund and administering the Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction.

Multiple members of Congress on both sides of the aisle expressed their frustration with the lack of action by the FCC on increasing broadband mapping accuracy as well as the need for better coordination among agencies that oversee broadband programs.

There was a clear acknowledgement during the hearing of further work to be done. O’Rielly emphasized the need for federal agencies to coordinate deployment funding in order to avoid overbuilding, and for a robust challenge process and functional validation process for any broadband access map data.

FCC Chairman Pai Takes Further Steps to Address Scourge of Robocalls

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai this week announced several new measures in his ongoing efforts to combat spoofed robocalls. On May 13, Pai issued a statement saying he expects major phone companies to implement SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication standards this year.

On July 11, 2019, Pai will hold a robocall summit “to hear from them on the progress they’ve made toward meeting this goal,” he said. “I remain committed to taking regulatory action … if major carriers do not implement the SHAKEN/STIR framework this year.”

On May 15, the commission said that Pai had circulated a declaratory ruling that, if adopted, would allow phone companies to block unwanted calls to their customers by default. An accompanying further notice of proposed rulemaking would propose a safe harbor for blocking calls in certain defined circumstances.

“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” Pai said. He explained that this latest declaratory ruling will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to take preemptive action against spoofed numbers and robocalls.

NTCA issued a statement on Chairman Pai’s new initiatives earlier this week.

NTCA Calls for Prompt Action to Implement Rural Digital Opportunities Fund

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai May 9, 2019, applauding the commission on its announcement of intent to launch the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) and encouraging a data validation process as a way to ensure that resources for broadband deployment made available through that initiative will be directed and sustained where needed most.

Noting reports that the commission will launch the RDOF this year and hold an auction in 2020, the association said it supports such prompt action. It added that the approaching end of the Connect America Fund Phase II cost-model program means the commission should “seize this great opportunity and proceed promptly to award the next phase of support and drive the availability of even higher performance broadband services throughout rural America.” Key to doing so will be the use of a “robust challenge process” by which the commission can more accurately identify where support is needed.

“Even with the granular collection proposals on the table, it will be difficult to ensure the data accurately reflect served and unserved locations, especially for providers using network technologies where coverage and performance can be highly variable,” the association wrote. “Thus, even in the long run, a challenge process appears necessary to ensuring deployment data are accurate.”

The association concluded with a call for a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the RDOF. “We urge you to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking as soon as possible to develop rules for the new program and then complete action by later this year,” the association wrote.

ACA Connects and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association also signed the letter.

Clyburn Launches House Democratic Rural Broadband Task Force

U.S. House of Representatives Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D–S.C.) on May 14, 2019, announced the launch of a new House Task Force on Rural Broadband. Announced during Infrastructure Week, the task force launched after Clyburn said that he and President Donald Trump had agreed to “include significant funding for rural broadband” in any infrastructure package.

Clyburn added that the new task force will highlight success stories and innovative approaches in the rural broadband space; ensure that federal funding for rural broadband is spent effectively; work to ensure that the United States leads the world in universal broadband deployment; and pass legislation to advance a “transformative agenda” on rural broadband that “accomplishes the goal of affordable universal access by 2025.” 

South Dakota and Michigan Congressional Delegations Send Mapping Letter on Challenge Process to FCC Chairman Pai

The congressional delegations from South Dakota and Michigan have sent letters to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking for improved broadband-availability maps.

Current broadband availability maps are based largely upon whatever information may be received from providers,” the South Carolina delegation wrote. “Although the FCC’s database may represent the most complete repository of such information available today, there are several problems with the current maps. One example is that the maps are not granular enough.

While the writers stressed the need for more standardized granular reporting of broadband availability that balances the burdens of reporting for smaller operators, they also stressed the importance of ensuring the accuracy of that more granular data.

Reliance only upon self-reported data will not yield helpful information or good results,” the delegation wrote. “Therefore, we encourage the FCC to establish a meaningful challenge processes that will enable better validation of both fixed and mobile data prior to relying upon such data in making funding or financing decisions.”

The Michigan delegation’s letter cited “several problems with the current maps” and expressed concerns that the provider-originated reports used to compose the maps “are largely unvalidated.” They also encouraged the commission to work with other federal agencies to coordinate such efforts.

Earlier this month, the North Dakota and Kansas congressional delegations sent similar letters to the commission.

NTCA Supports Limited Changes in FCC Rules to Eliminate Access Arbitrage

On May 16, 2019, NTCA filed an ex parte letter with the FCC encouraging the commission to adopt rules that would eliminate clearly identified arbitrage resulting from transport charges as they apply specifically to access stimulation

Specifically, the association supported the commission’s “two-prong” proposal: (1) access-stimulating local exchange carriers (LECs) without direct connections to interexchange carriers (IXCs) “would bear all financial responsibility for applicable intermediate access provider terminating charges normally assessed to an IXC,” including tandem switching and transport costs; and (2) access-stimulating LECs would have “the option to offer to connect directly to the IXC or an intermediate provider of the IXC’s choice” but must then bill for their own transport charges.  

NTCA pointed out that these proposed rules must focus only on alleged “access arbitrage” and must not be included as part of any larger changes to interconnection rules applicable to all providers.

Notes in the News for May 16, 2019

The final rule eliminating the rate floor was published by the FCC in the Federal Register on May 7. The rule will take effect June 6, 2019.

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on May 15 marked up the Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act and Broadband Interagency Coordination Act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development staff will host three webinars over the next two weeks to discuss the financial, mapping and environmental components of the application process for the ReConnect Program.

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau will hold a webinar for small and rural communications providers regarding network resiliency on June 17, 2019.

Reps. Robert E. Latta (R–Ohio) and Peter F. Welch (D–Vt.) on May 9 introduced the Broadband Mapping After Scrutiny (MAPS) Act, which would require the FCC to establish a challenge process to verify broadband service coverage data.

The head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, David Redl, resigned May 9, according to various reports.

The FCC has authorized nearly $112 million in funding from the first round of the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction.

The Wireline Competition Bureau has announced it will begin to phase down legacy support for price cap carriers and fixed competitive eligible telecommunications carriers after its authorization of CAF Phase II auction support.

The FCC hosted a webinar May 15 to share consumer information with older Americans in recognition of Older Americans Month.

CAF II auction support for 2,025 winning bids is ready to be authorized by May 24, according to the FCC.

The FCC’s investigation into communications providers’ preparation for and response to Hurricane Michael found insufficient backhaul connectivity, inadequate roaming arrangements and a lack of coordination between service providers, municipalities and power crews to be three factors that contributed to an insufficient response to the disaster. 

Small Entity Compliance Guides have been released with guidance on removing barriers to infrastructure investment,use of spectrum bands above 24 GHzfor mobile radio services and requirementsfor hearing aid-compatible mobile handsets.

NTCA Director of Industry and Policy Analysis Jesse Ward participated in a conference call hosted by the  White House Office of Public Liaison, Wednesday, May 15, to hear an update from senior administration officials on communications infrastructure security.