#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 29/July 11, 2019

FCC Makes Midband Spectrum Available for 5G Services

At its open meeting July 10, 2019, the FCC approved a report and order to open spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band for 5G services.

The commission said its order eliminates restrictions on the types of entities that can hold licenses as well as educational-use requirements. “Further, the order removes limitations on leases entered into on a going-forward basis under the commission’s secondary markets rules, which will create incentives to build out in rural areas,” the commission said.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield expressed gratitude for the commission’s action.

“NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association represents small hometown operators that have demonstrated time and again their interest in obtaining more spectrum to deliver quality communications services throughout rural communities and surrounding areas,” Bloomfield said. “We are grateful to the FCC for continuing generally to consider ways of making more spectrum available, and for continuing as well to take steps to promote use of spectrum by small businesses and in rural markets specifically. NTCA expects that its members will once again demonstrate their interest in and commitment to serving rural areas through robust participation in any auctions that follow.”

The commission said the order also “establishes a priority filing window for rural Tribal nations to provide them with an opportunity to obtain unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum to address the communications needs of their communities,” and that it “adopts small business, rural service provider, and Tribal lands bidding credits.” The commission added that the order also adopts “robust buildout requirements” to ensure that the spectrum is used to provide service.

The association earlier filed comments with the FCC on the 2.5 GHz band.

FCC Proposes Three-Year Connected Care Pilot Program

In a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) adopted July 10, 2019, the FCC proposed a three-year, $100 million Connected Care Pilot program aimed at supporting telehealth services for veterans and low-income patients.

The NPRM seeks comment on the budget, duration and structure of the pilot, as well as on how to fund the program separately so that it would have “no impact” on the budgets of the four existing Universal Service Programs, including the High-Cost program that supports rural broadband.

Other issues raised by the NPRM include who should be eligible to participate in the pilot—“including the types of eligible health care providers and broadband service providers”—and how to “[target] support toward Tribal lands, rural areas and veteran populations.”

Paul Bunyan Customer Testifies Before Congress

On July 11, 2019, David Hengel from the economic development corporation Greater Bemidji, which gets broadband services from NTCA member Paul Bunyan Communications (Bemidji, Minn.), testified before the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy and Credit during its hearing, “Building Opportunity in Rural America Through Affordable, Reliable and High-Speed Broadband.”

In his testimony, Hengel described the community of Bemidji as “blessed” to have Paul Bunyan as its telecommunications provider, as the company “took a visionary approach of laying one of the nation’s largest all-fiber networks.” As a result, he said, “nearly every home, every farm and every business [in Bemidji] has access to gigabit broadband.”

Hengel described his first-hand experience with three primary benefits of robust rural broadband connections: corporate recruitment and business expansion; winning the race for talent; and fostering start-up communities. “In a tightening labor market, companies are expanding in places that have the quality of life and amenities that provide them the ability to recruit the best employees,” Hengel explained. “Companies are investing in communities that appeal to the younger generations for whom high-speed broadband is a ’must have,’” he said.

Other witnesses at the hearing similarly testified to the foundational nature of high-speed internet in attempts to build thriving rural communities.

Archived video of the entire hearing is available online.

Iowa Senators Send Broadband Mapping Letter to FCC

Following several other state delegations that have done the same, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R–Iowa) and Joni K. Ernst (R–Iowa) on July 8 sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, urging him to address the process for mapping broadband availability.

The Iowa letter echoed many of the concerns expressed by other members of Congress and rural broadband industry stakeholders, beginning with the fact that the data used to map broadband availability is largely self-reported and is not independently verified. As the letter explained, “While providers certify as to the accuracy of information presented, the process used to verify such information … can vary—or, in many cases, such processes do not exist at all.” The letter also stated that data should be determined at a level more granular than the census block.

The senators wrote that “the FCC data drastically overstates broadband access throughout our state,” which can lead to underfunding of broadband deployment efforts in Iowa. And while the letter acknowledged the ongoing efforts of the commission to address mapping concerns, it argued that the digital divide that plagues rural, remote and underprivileged areas will not be closed as long as the maps remain inaccurate.

“Broadband access is a vital link to a range of necessary services and resources for rural America, including business and economic activity, education access, and providing health care in a flexible, efficient and cost-effective way,” the letter said. “It is critical to ensure inaccurate information will not result in a denial of access to fixed or mobile broadband.”

NTCA Files Comments in Support of Petition to Align HUBB FAQ Defining Locations With FCC Rules and Orders

On July 10, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed comments with the FCC supporting a petition for clarification or declaratory ruling filed by Northeast Iowa Telephone Co. and Western Iowa Telephone Association regarding disparities between the definition of locations that share the same property as a residence provided by the Universal Service Administrative Co.’s (USAC) HUBB FAQ and the commission’s rules and orders. 

In its comments, the association pointed out that nowhere in the commission’s rules or orders is a separate drop location required (as stated by the HUBB FAQ) but rather, only that service be available within 10 days following receipt by the provider of a request for service. Accordingly, the association recommended the commission direct USAC to modify the FAQ to strike a balance between accountability and flexibility that reflects rural realities and is consistent with the commission’s rules and orders.

NTCA Recommends Methods to Encourage Large Carriers to Sell Unused Spectrum to Rural Carriers

On July 1, 2019, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association filed reply comments in response to the request from the FCC for ways to motivate large carriers to sell or lease unused portions of their licensed areas. 

In its comments, the association encouraged the commission to use any and all methods to ensure unused spectrum does not lay fallow or is used solely for the purpose of swapping spectrum with other large carriers when needed to gain commission consent to acquire new licenses. The association also noted that while the commission has taken steps to make it easier for large carriers to sell or lease portions of their spectrum to other entities, more needs to be done to spur these carriers to sell spectrum to rural carriers. 

Additionally, the association emphasized that the commission needs to ensure rural carriers have a meaningful opportunity to acquire spectrum on a primary basis through spectrum auctions because telecom and broadband providers—along with the customers who rely on them—cannot build a business on secondary spectrum alone.

NTCA Files Comments on E-Rate Petition for Rulemaking

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association on July 1 filed comments urging the FCC to open a rulemaking proceeding in response to Texas Carriers’ petition seeking amendments to the FCC’s E-Rate rules.

In its comments, NTCA reiterated its support for the E-Rate program, saying the association “believes that E-Rate both can help schools and libraries obtain access to more affordable communications services and help fill in gaps where connections are not available.” The E-Rate and Universal Service Fund High-Cost programs, the filing continued, “are vital components of a suite of programs aimed at advancing and preserving universal service.”

NTCA’s comments concede that the Texas Carriers’ petition “highlights one area where the rules [for USF and E-Rate] are failing to work in harmony,” specifically that “the current E-Rate self-construction and competitive bidding rules contain flaws that can lead … to the construction of redundant network facilities.” Raising this concern is consistent with NTCA’s prior advocacy to coordinate federal broadband deployment programs and prevent overbuilding.

To mitigate these flaws in the E-Rate rules, NTCA has suggested a rulemaking proceeding and offered in its comments certain safeguards that the commission could adopt, including:

  • Existing providers with connections in place sufficient to meet an E-Rate applicant’s needs for broadband would be given the opportunity to respond to an application for self-construction filed by a school or library.
  • In the case where the school or library in question has no broadband access today, and there is no construction planned or underway to deploy facilities to enable such broadband access in that unserved area, the applicant would be required to demonstrate that a “new build” offers the only “cost-effective” solution.
  • A requirement that school and library consortia seeking support for self-construction be required to invite bids from multiple vendors, including vendors that can only serve a subset of consortia members.

FCC Updates Notification Rules for Cable, Satellite TV Providers

The FCC on July 10, 2019, issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) requiring that notices from a cable operator to a broadcast TV station be delivered via email to an inbox designated by the station in the online public inspection file (OPIF). The current rules required such operators to provide written notices to local TV stations by mail, certified mail or hand delivery ahead of certain actions.

The commission also on July 10 adopted a companion order requiring electronic delivery of carriage election notices. “Under the new rules, broadcasters need only send carriage election notices to multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) when first electing carriage or changing their carriage election status from must carry to retransmission consent or vice versa,” the commission said. “These notices will be sent by email and will be posted in a broadcaster’s OPIF.”

The new approach replaces the current regulatory framework, in which a broadcast station “typically must send a paper notice via certified mail to MVPDs, including each individual cable system, every three years, regardless of whether its carriage election changes,” the commission noted. It added that the new approach “also will require MVPDs to upload email and phone contact information to either the Cable Operations and Licensing System database or to their OPIF.”

Notes in the News for July 11, 2019

In a press release July 2, NTCA urged consideration of alternatives to the C-Band Alliance’s proposal for repurposing midband spectrum.

This week, NTCA hosted its third annual Women in Telecom Fly-in. Participants met with FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and took part in Capitol Hill meetings and fundraisers.

Sen. Steve Daines (R–Mont.) sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on July 10, raising concerns about “duplicative federal investment from the … E-Rate [Program] that has led to wasteful overbuilding of broadband infrastructure.”

According to a recently-released report from the National Center for Health Statistics, 57% of Americans live in wireless-only households.

The FCC released an order June 28 establishing the structure and practices of the Video Relay Service Program, as well as adopted compensation rates for telecommunications relay services (TRS) that are supported by the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Services Fund.

The next meeting of the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC VII) will be held July 19.

NTCA joined 26 other trade associations in a letter to Congress, urging them to take action on federal privacy laws.

The FCC announced the membership of its two Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) working groups on July 1, which include several NTCA members.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has issued a proposal to ban malicious caller ID spoofing of text messages and foreign robocalls.

A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) has been released in the matter of modernizing the E-Rate Program for schools and libraries. Comments in the proceeding are due by August 8.

The FCC has established procedures for its next 5G spectrum auction, which is scheduled to commence on December 10.

The FCC is taking steps, including issuing an NPRM and a declaratory ruling on the subject, to promote broadband deployment in apartment and office buildings.


NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann presented an update on federal regulatory policy July 9 at the Pennsylvania Telephone Association Annual Convention in Hershey, Pa.

NTCA Director of Government Affairs Adam Jorde attended the Broadband Association of North Dakota Summer Conference July 9 in Medora, N.D.

NTCA members Denny Law, general manager/chief executive officer of Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative (Wall, S.D.), and Dave Frigen, chief operating officer of Wabash Communications CO-OP (Louisville, Ill.), joined NTCA Director of Industry Affairs Brian Ford for a panel presentation at a July 11 FCC summit on the industry’s implementation of SHAKEN/STIR.