#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 25/June 6, 2019

NTCA Expresses Concerns Over USF Budget Cap Proposal

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association expressed concerns over the FCC’s release of a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on whether the Universal Service Fund’s overall budget should be capped.

“While each of the constituent USF programs are capped or operating under a targeted budget, the commission has not examined the programs holistically to determine the most efficient and responsible use of these federal funds,” the commission wrote in its NPRM. “A cap could promote meaningful consideration of spending decisions by the Commission, limit the contribution burden borne by ratepayers, provide regulatory and financial certainty, and promote efficiency, fairness, accountability and sustainability of the USF programs.”

NTCA Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield, in a statement, called the commission’s proposal “to impose an additional cap atop all of the collective universal service programs … unnecessary and contrary to the statutory design of the programs.”

Bloomfield added, “The proper way to fulfill this mandate is not to impose an overall cap on the programs that bears no relation to their respective missions at any given point in time, but rather to be diligent in evaluating each universal service program’s respective needs and operations and to adopt an individual budget for each program that will be sized responsibly to provide sufficient funding for that program’s specific statutory mission. Furthermore, to the extent that there is concern about how universal service is paid for, it is time for a meaningful conversation about how those benefiting from increased capability of communications networks must contribute to the availability and sustainability of those networks—this is real fiscal responsibility, and essential as a matter of equity.

Michael O’Rielly, Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks issued statements about the NPRM.

FCC Takes Action on Unwanted Robocalls and Adopts SHAKEN/STIR NPRM

During its open meeting on June 6, 2019, the FCC approved a declaratory ruling that allows voice service providers to block unwanted calls, based on “reasonable call analytics.”

“While many phone companies now offer their customers call blocking tools on an opt-in basis, the declaratory ruling clarifies that they can provide them as the default, thus allowing them to protect more consumers from unwanted robocalls and making it more cost-effective to implement call blocking programs,” the commission said.

During the meeting, the commission also adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that proposes requiring voice service providers to implement the SHAKEN/STIR caller ID authentication framework—if major voice service providers fail to do so by year’s end.

The NPRM also seeks comment on a possible safe harbor for “providers that block calls that are maliciously spoofed so that caller ID cannot be authenticated and that block calls that are ‘unsigned.’”

Deployment Obligations, ICC Concerns Raised in NTCA Meetings With WCB

In recent meetings with various officials from the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Economics and Analytics, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association urged the commission to adopt both prongs of the pending proposal to curb terminating access arbitrage in the intercarrier compensation (ICC) systems, and discussed matters related to identification and reporting of locations where voice and broadband services are made available for purposes of compliance with deployment obligations.

First, in a May 31, 2019, meeting with WCB officials and representatives from the commission’s Office of Economics and Analytics, the association discussed the commission’s two-pronged proposal to curb terminating access arbitrage in the intercarrier compensation systems, explaining that the first prong should be implemented with appropriate safeguards to protect innocent local exchange carriers that do not engage in access stimulation. On prong two, the association highlighted the benefits of the commission’s proposal in establishing proper economic incentives for interconnection and the exchange of access stimulation traffic. Last, the association encouraged the commission to retain revenue sharing as a component of the definition of access stimulation so that innocent carriers would not be captured within the scope of the rule.

Next, in a June 3 meeting with WCB officials, the association raised the following matters related to identification and reporting of locations where voice and broadband services are made available for purposes of compliance with deployment obligations:

  • The logistics whereby recipients of cost-based Universal Service Fund (USF) support can demonstrate compliance with deployment obligations to the extent that they were capable of delivering 25/3 Mbps broadband to all or substantially all of the locations in their service area prior to May 25, 2016 (the date the FCC has set as a benchmark for determining compliance with deployment obligations).
  • A request for near-term confirmation and clarification of the process whereby recipients of USF support can identify to the commission a possible discrepancy in the locations that can be found in eligible areas subject to deployment obligations, such that providers can obtain reduced support to the extent that fewer locations are identified without threat or overhang of further penalty.
  • A discussion of how business locations in rural areas should be counted for purposes of compliance with deployment obligations.

NTCA Supports Rules Encouraging Large Carriers to Partition/Disaggregate/Lease Unused Spectrum

On June 3, 2019, NTCA filed comments supporting the FCC’s proposal to create rules that would encourage large providers to partition/disaggregate/lease unused portions of their spectrum to small, rural carriers. Specifically, NTCA recommended establishing construction benchmarks and penalties for missing those benchmarks for all licenses covering geographic areas that are the size of partial economic areas or larger. 

NTCA also recommended implementing “use it or lose it” requirements for existing licensees that have held their licenses for at least 10 years, which would provide for any areas within the licensed geographic area that remain unserved after a reasonable period of time to be automatically returned to the FCC. Licensees could avoid penalties for failing to meet construction benchmarks or the return of their unconstructed areas by partitioning or disaggregating portions of their licenses to small, rural carriers prior to the FCC-established deadlines.

Notes in the News for June 6, 2019

At its open meeting June 6, the FCC adopted rules regarding leased access, which require cable operators to set aside channel capacity for commercial use by unaffiliated video programmers.

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau has issued corrected Alternative Connect America Model II (A-CAM II) offers to 37 companies and extended the election deadline to July 17, 2019.

The FCC completed its implementation of the Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act of 2017 with a final rule effective July 5.

The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing, The State of the Television and Video Marketplace,” on June 5.

On June 4, the Communications and Technology Subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing, “STELAR Review: Protecting Consumers in an Evolving Media Marketplace.

Rep. Jason Crow (R–Colo.) co-signed a bipartisan letter to the FCC asking for immediate action to address data inaccuracies with regard to broadband availability maps. Sens. Michael F. Bennet (D) and Cory S. Gardner (R), along with Reps. Ed G. Perlmutter (D), Kenneth R. Buck (R), Scott R. Tipton (R) and Joseph D. Neguse (D), all from Colorado, also signed on.

U.S. Sen. Roger F. Wicker (RMiss.) will convene a hearing of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on June 12, 2019, to discuss FCC oversight.

The U.S. Senate passed the Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act of 2019on June 5. 


NTCA Regulatory Counsel Tamber Ray and Director of Industry Affairs Brian Ford spoke June 6 at the Oregon Telecom Association/Washington Independent Telecom Association Joint Annual Conference in Gleneden Beach, Ore.

NTCA Senior Vice President of Industry Affairs and Business Development Michael Romano took part in a Washington Scene panel June 5 at the Indiana Broadband and Tech Association Summer Convention in French Lick, Ind.

NTCA Senior Director of Government Affairs and Grassroots Advocacy Scott Lively took part in a Washington-update panel June 4 at the Oklahoma Telephone Association/Arkansas Telecom Association Summer Conference and Supplier Showcase in St. Louis, Mo.

NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann spoke June 4 at the Tennessee Broadband Association meeting in Franklin, Tenn.