COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – September 2020

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As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact how Americans connect at work and home, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers, extensions, and other regulatory relief. 

FCC Seeks Comment on TCPA Exception for COVID-19 and Flu Vaccine Communications Under “Emergency Purposes” Exception

On September 18, 2020, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a request for clarification filed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (“NACDS”). NACDS requests clarification that communications from pharmacies related to COVID-19 vaccines, once available, and flu vaccines during the pandemic fall within the Telephone Consumer Protection Act’s “emergency purposes” exception to the statute’s prior express consent requirement. Comments are due September 25, 2020, and reply comments are due October 2, 2020.

FCC Opens Second Window for 2020 E-Rate Funding Requests

On September 16, 2020, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) directed the Universal Service Administrative Company (“USAC”) to open a second funding year 2020 filing window, allowing E-Rate program participants to request additional funding to purchase more bandwidth needed to meet the unanticipated and increased demand for e-learning during the pandemic. E-Rate program participants will be permitted to request additional funding for this limited purpose without having to undergo a new competitive bidding process. This window opened on September 21, 2020 with the publication of the Notice in the Federal Register and will close on October 16, 2020.

FCC Extends Inteliquent Waiver of Access Stimulation Rules Through December 1, 2020

On September 17, 2020, the WCB granted Onvoy d/b/a Inteliquent, Inc.’s (“Inteliquent”) second request to renew the temporary waiver of part of the FCC’s access stimulation rules. On June 23, 2020, the WCB granted Inteliquent’s request for renewal of its temporary waiver of certain access stimulation rules until September 1, 2020. Inteliquent requested a limited renewal of the temporary waiver with respect to traffic it terminates in four urban areas to preexisting customers on the basis that its terminating-to-originating traffic ratios in those areas continue to be particularly unbalanced as a result of the “unprecedented amounts of conference platform traffic that Inteliquent is terminating for pre-existing customers Zoom and Cisco Webex to facilitate remote work and other forms of social distancing.” Absent the waiver, Inteliquent would be required to accept financial responsibility for paying certain access charges associated with the traffic.

Inteliquent requested that the waiver be extended until March 1, 2021. However, the FCC only extended the waiver through December 1, 2020, in light of the ongoing uncertainty regarding the pandemic.

FCC Streamlines Financial Hardship Regulatory Fee Payment Request Procedures

On September 4, 2020, the FCC released a Public Notice highlighting streamlined processes for regulatees to request a waiver, fee reduction, deferral, and/or installment payment plan for FY 2020 regulatory fees in light of the pandemic. Waiver and installment plan requests must be filed on or before September 25, 2020. Waiver requests filed after that date will not be dismissed but any unpaid regulatory fees will be assessed the FCC’s 25% late payment penalty and may accrue interest.

FCC Extends E-Rate and RHC Gift Rule Waivers Through December 31, 2020

On September 3, 2020, the WCB extended waivers of the Rural Health Care (“RHC”) and E-Rate program gift rules through December 31, 2020. The FCC previously waived gift rules applicable to both programs to assist rural health care providers and schools and libraries affected by the pandemic by allowing them to accept free upgrades to connections, equipment, and other services. The WCB also waived the previously extended RHC deadline for responding to information requests from USAC through December 31, 2020. These waivers were set to expire on September 30, 2020.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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