#RuralIsCool Volume 1, Issue 30/July 18, 2019

U.S. House Passes Cadillac Tax Repeal

The U.S. House of Representatives on July 17, 2019, voted to repeal the Cadillac Tax on employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The vote was 419–6.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association Chief Executive Officer Shirley Bloomfield applauded the House action.

“NTCA thanks Reps. Joe Courtney (D–Conn.) and Mike Kelly (R–Pa.) for their leadership in the passage of the Middle Class Health Benefits Tax Repeal Act of 2019.

“Access to health care in rural America comes with challenges, which includes longer distances to receive health care and fewer options of physicians and hospitals. These challenges come with a higher cost for comparable services as care received in urban areas. 

“We are encouraged that the passage of this bill will help the small, rural broadband providers NTCA represents attract and retain qualified employees in rural America by providing valued benefits like affordable health care to their employees and their families.”

Wireline Competition Bureau Clarifies A-CAM Deployment Obligations

In response to questions from several stakeholders about the broadband deployment obligations of those that have received or may soon elect Alternative Connect America Model (A-CAM) support, the FCC on July 12 released further guidance.

Recipients of federal A-CAM I or II support must fulfill several obligations and meet several milestones for deployment as conditions of the funding. These include speed requirements as well as requirements for the number of new locations reached with broadband service. The guidance was intended by the FCC to provide explanations and examples of how these milestones and obligations must be satisfied, and the consequences for failing to do so.

NTCA Meets With Pai Advisers on SHAKEN/STIR

In a July 16, 2019, meeting with Nicholas Degani, senior counsel to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, and Nirali Patel, wireline adviser to Pai, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association discussed ways to ensure rural local exchange carriers’ full participation in the SHAKEN/STIR caller-ID “spoofing” mitigation framework.

The association pointed to two prerequisites for implementation of SHAKEN/STIR: that it is not compatible with TDM switching facilities, and the need for more specific development of SHAKEN/STIR capabilities within IP-enabled switching platforms even once they are deployed.

The association then added that “an even larger systemic concern than these two hurdles is how smaller rural carriers will be able to interconnect with other voice providers for the passage and exchange of SHAKEN/STIR certificates absent further commission action.” The association further stated that “if the commission wishes to see STIR/SHAKEN solutions implemented in rural America, it would need to adopt something analogous to the ‘rural transport rule.’” Such a rule would limit small carriers’ costs of transporting voice calls between rural operators’ local network edges and distant points of interconnection for traffic exchanged in IP format. The exchange of traffic in IP format is necessary for carriers using SHAKEN/STIR.” 

Also joining NTCA by phone for the meeting was Denny Law, general manager of Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. (Wall, S.D.).

RDOF, Telehealth, RAY BAUM’S Act All Part of August Open Meeting Tentative Agenda

The FCC’s tentative agenda for its August open meeting includes items on the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF), telehealth in rural America and a report and order on RAY BAUM’S Act.

The commission said it plans to consider a notice of proposed rulemaking proposing to adopt a two-phase reverse auction framework for the RDOF that would commit more than $20 billion in high-cost universal service support for high-speed broadband service to unserved Americans.

Also on the agenda is consideration of a report and order to overhaul the Rural Health Care Program “by streamlining and simplifying the way health care providers apply for and calculate universal service support amounts.”

Additionally, the commission said it would consider a report and order addressing calls to 911 made from multiline telephone systems, pursuant to Kari’s Law, the conveyance of dispatchable location with 911 calls, as directed by RAY BAUM’S Act, and the consolidation of the commission’s 911 rules. Implementation of the antispoofing provisions of RAY BAUM’s Act and a report and order amending the commission’s Truth in Caller ID rules also is on the tentative agenda.

Releases of New Connect America Fund Phase II Funds Authorized by FCC

On July 15 the FCC issued two releases approving the distribution of funds to support broadband deployment in rural America, including the third round of funding from the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II auction and related CAF funding for participants in the New York state broadband program.

More than $524 million will be provided over the next decade to support buildouts in 23 states, which will reach approximately 206,000 rural homes and businesses. Prior rounds of funding were authorized in May and June of this year, and this most recent announcement brings the total amount of funding allocated to nearly $803 million.

On the same day, the FCC authorized $39.2 million in CAF money to expand broadband to more than 15,000 homes and businesses in rural New York over the next 10 years. The funding was provided in partnership with the state’s New York Broadband Program. The CAF Phase II program is one element of the FCC’s larger effort to close the digital divide between rural and urban populations. “High-speed internet provides access to opportunity in the 21st century, and the FCC’s top priority is closing the digital divide so that all Americans can fully participate in our connected society,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

A sizable number of NTCA members participated and prevailed in the CAF-II auction or in the related New York state program.

NTCA Replies on Texas Carriers’ Petition to Prohibit Use of E-Rate Funds for Overlap

In reply comments in response to the Texas Carriers’ petition to the FCC to open a rulemaking to amend the Universal Service Fund E-Rate rules, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association said that the carriers’ petition demonstrates that, at the very least, a re-examination of the E-Rate competitive bidding rules is necessary to ensure that rules adopted five year ago are functioning as intended.

“The circumstances as laid out by the Texas Carriers demonstrate that, at the very least, the commission should be concerned that the E-Rate competitive bidding rules might not be functioning as effectively as they could to ensure that program funds are always spent in the most cost-effective manner possible,” the association said. “When bolstered as well as by other parties’ references to similar instances of ‘overbuilding,’ sufficient question has been raised about the effectiveness of the current rules to justify further investigation and consideration via a rulemaking proceeding.”

The association also said that provisions to target E-Rate support to where it is needed the most are not different than competitive overlap provisions that already exist in the High Cost program.

Notes in the News for July 18, 2019

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association hosted a fly-in July 17 for Barry Adair, general manager of Wabash Communications CO-OP (Louisville, Ill.), and board members from the company. They met with several elected officials on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Frank J. Pallone applauded House Energy and Commerce Committee passage of the Stopping Bad Robocalls Act.

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing, “Our Wireless Future: Building A Comprehensive Approach to Spectrum Policy,” July 16.

FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks has released responses to his inquiry into the availability of free, default robocall blocking services.

The Foundation for Rural Service reminded rural broadband companies to spread the word about the foundation’s Community Grant Program.

The House Ways and Means Committee has launched a Rural and Underserved Communities Health Task Force.

The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau has reminded video providers of the requirement to issue accessible EAS alerts.


NTCA Vice President of Policy Joshua Seidemann discussed rural connectivity and smart agriculture on a National Institute of Standards and Technology panel July 12, 2019, in Washington, D.C.