#RuralisCool Volume 1, Issue 26/June 13, 2019

Pai Announces Upcoming Broadband Mapping Report and Order

During an FCC oversight hearing before the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 12, 2019, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC will, at its August 2, 2019, open meeting, circulate a report and order for consideration to improve broadband mapping.

Pai’s announcement follows letters from numerous state congressional delegations to Pai requesting that the commission address problems with its current broadband maps. The chairman in May had told senators that the commission planned to take up the matter soon.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association has laid out its own recommendations for addressing broadband mapping challenges. Additionally, Mike Oblizalo, vice president and general manager of NTCA member company Hood Canal Communications (Union, Wash.), testified April 10, 2019, before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee during a hearing, “Broadband Mapping: Challenges and Solutions.”

NTCA Signs Joint Statement Opposing Overall USF Budget Cap Proposal

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association joined more than 60 groups in issuing a statement about an FCC notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that could lead to a cap on the Universal Service Fund (USF).

The signatories said that placing an overall cap on USF “puts at risk the comprehensive mission of universal service as Congress intended and articulated it.”

Such a cap, “even if sized to meet current overall demand or the sum of authorized levels plus inflation, could still end up pitting these essential programs against each other in the future and undermine efforts to solve the ‘digital divide,’” the statement reads.

“By contrast, the 1996 act specifically directs the FCC to ensure that the Universal Service Fund has ‘sufficient’ funding, and the FCC must therefore evaluate and size each program to suit its unique and essential universal service mission. An overarching cap would thus undermine efforts to ensure that funding for each program is and will remain ‘sufficient’ to satisfy Congress’ mandates for universal service for all.”

Other groups signing the statement include the Communications Workers of America, NAACP, National Consumer Law Center and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition. 

NTCA Welcomes States’ Scrutiny of T-Mobile-Sprint Merger

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association expressed agreement June 11, 2019, withthe decision of attorneys general for nine states plus the District of Columbia to sue to block the merger of T-Mobile and Sprint.

In a statement, NTCA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Shirley Bloomfield said the association welcomed further scrutiny of the planned merger.

“We appreciate the heightened scrutiny the states are giving the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint,” Bloomfield said. “Despite the companies’ speculative and unenforceable promises, changing our country’s competitive landscape from four nationwide wireless providers to three will result in higher prices for consumers and poorer availability of services, particularly in rural areas.

“Approval of the merger is antithetical to our country’s focus on 5G deployment and closing the digital divide.”

Bloomfield added that NTCA “has opposed this merger from the beginningand our position has not changed.”

NTCA Endorses Broadband DATA Act

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association endorsed the Broadband DATA (Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability) Act upon its introduction June 12, 2019, in the U.S. Senate.

“Improving broadband availability maps is essential for rural, community-based broadband providers to continue the mission of closing the digital divide,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “The Broadband DATA Act, introduced today by Sens. Roger Wicker, Gary Peters, John Thune and Amy Klobuchar, makes meaningful reforms to our federal mapping systems.  NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association supports this legislation, thanks Chairman Wicker and the original sponsors for their continued leadership, and looks forward to working with the sponsors as this bill moves forward.”

Sen. Roger Wicker (R–Miss.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, introduced the bill, which was co-sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.), Gary C. Peters (D-Mich.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).  

NTCA Comments on NANC Number Portability

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association submitted comments June 7, 2019, in response to an FCC public notice seeking input on the nationwide number portability (NNP) report submitted to the commission by the North American Numbering Council. The report analyzed methods that could, with amendments to certain commission rules, be used by service providers to offer NNP functionality to consumers in lieu of already existing market-based methods of doing so.

 “Any voice provider can, if it so chooses, market and provide NNP today, simply via the use of commercial agreements between those carriers interested in doing so on the one hand and operators on the other hand that can offer the transport or other features necessary to support this functionality,” the association said. “The commission therefore need not rush through new rules based on an incomplete record or working group reports that fail to identify, quantify and address every potential cost involved in other, non-market-based NNP mandates.”

The association urged the commission to “avoid a scenario under which those benefitting from NNP do not assume responsibility for such costs but instead push them onto other operators and rural consumers.”

The association added that the commission’s Office of Economics and Analytics should conduct a comprehensive review of the NANC NNP report that includes the costs laid out by the association in its filing. “That review should also consider that ‘commercial agreements’ avoid these costs and ensure that those benefiting from NNP assume responsibility for the costs of doing so,” the association said.

NTCA Meets With Pai Adviser on Intercarrier Compensation Concerns

In a June 7, 2019, meeting Nirali Patel, wireline adviser to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association encouraged the commission to adopt both prongs of its proposal to curb terminating access arbitrage in the intercarrier compensation systems while protecting innocent local exchange carriers (LECs) from being harmed by any effort to target such arbitrage.

“The commission’s innovative two-prong approach will effectively address terminating access arbitrage by shifting the financial burden for transport and by promoting direct interconnection in a manner that protects both interexchange carriers (IXCs) and consumers,” the association said.

But the association also warned of unintended consequences in the commission’s proceeding on intercarrier compensation. “While NTCA supports efforts to eliminate arbitrage of the intercarrier compensation system, the commission should take care to prevent unintended harms to LECs,” the association said, cautioning that “if the second prong is not adopted, other measures become increasingly important to ensure that innocent LECs do not bear significant additional transport costs and/or suffer from ‘self-help’ withholdings by IXCs.”

Notes in the News for June 13, 2019

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau on June 10 announced the availability of unused funds to increase Rural Health Care Program funding for 2019.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement on June 10 lauding an increased investment in broadband networks for the second straight year.

The FCC has authorized $166.8 million in funding for a second round of the Connect American Fund auction, and Connect America Fund Phase II Auction support has been authorized for 856 winning bids.

The FCC seeks nominations for its Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment. Nominations are due by July 10, 2019.