COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – June 2020 #5

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As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly unfolds, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) has been active to keep communications services available through various waivers, extensions, and other regulatory relief. 

FCC Approves Twelfth Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Program Applications, Closes Filing Window

On June 25, 2020, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) announced via Public Notice (DA 20-667) that it will no longer accept new applications for funding from the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, noting that demand for funding exceeds available Program funds based on applications received. This announcement comes after the June 24 approval of 77 additional applications and $29.41 million in funding. To date, the FCC has approved 444 funding applications in 46 states plus Washington, D.C. for a total of $157.64 million in funding. Congress appropriated $200 million for the Program in the CARES Act.

The FCC also released a report on the CARES Act spending plan in accordance with section 15011(b)(1)(B) of the legislation, which requires the agency to submit a plan describing how it will use the covered funds.

FCC Further Extends Temporary Waivers of Relay Services Rules

On June 22, 2020, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau extended temporary waivers (DA 20-650) through August 31, 2020 for Telecommunications Relay Service (“TRS”) providers to ensure relay services remain available for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have a speech disability. These waivers extend actions previously taken to grant TRS providers flexibility.

FCC Further Extends Inteliquent Access Stimulation Waiver

On June 23, 2020, the WCB granted (DA 20-655) 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 six 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.”

The WCB originally granted Onvoy d/b/a Inteliquent a temporary and limited waiver of the FCC’s rules that treat competitive local exchange carriers with an interstate terminating-to-originating traffic ratio of at least 6:1 as engaging in access stimulation.

FCC Resolves CAF Phase II, Rural Broadband Petitions

On June 26, 2020, the WCB, Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, and Office of Economics and Analytics, resolved petitions (DA 20-677) filed by the Connect America Fund (“CAF”) Phase II Coalition and Skybeam, LLC (“Skybeam”) seeking waiver of the letter of credit rules for the CAF Phase II auction (“Auction 903”) and Rural Broadband Experiments. Petitioners requested that the FCC allow them to comply with the recently adopted letter of credit rules for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund instead. The FCC found good cause to grant a limited waiver to all Auction 903 and Rural Broadband Experiments funding recipients until December 31, 2021, because of the increased consumer demand for robust broadband services and severe financial hardship on the companies imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

FCC Announces Section 106 Emergency Authorizations

On June 25, 2020, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued a Public Notice (DA 20-668) announcing an electronic process for FCC licensees to apply for expedited Section 106 review or for emergency authorization to resume standard review for qualifying critical infrastructure projects. Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires the FCC to account for the effect of any proposed “undertakings” on historic properties, including construction or collocation of wireless communications facilities.

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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