USF Tracker - February 2021

Commentary
2021 is well underway and the new leadership at the FCC is taking shape.  While we don’t yet know who will fill the Chair on a permanent basis, the FCC under Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel is proceeding without delay.  On the Universal Service front, the principal activity surprisingly has as much to do with non-USF programs as with the USF itself.  Yes, the $9 billion per year fund with its four primary programs continues to serve broadband needs in the country.  And it is true that the FCC has extended many COVID-19 waivers and is considering additional waivers such as a proposal to allow E-rate funds to be used for off-campus purposes.  But the big news of 2021 is turning out to be the additional funding that is being provided outside the traditional fund.  The Telehealth II fund and the Emergency Broadband Benefit program were added in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) approved in December, bringing $249.95 million and $3.2 billion, respectively, to pandemic-related funding programs.  In addition, Congress is considering an additional $7.6 billion over several years for E-rate support that may be included in the next COVID stimulus package.  All told, this funding (assuming current proposals are approved) would more than double the broadband support offered under the USF, adding over $11 billion in targeted, if temporary, funding.  This will impose new burdens on the FCC and on USAC to administer dual programs, with different rules, simultaneously.  For beneficiaries of the programs and for consumers on the wrong side of the digital divide, this money could represent a key lifeline in continued uncertain times.  Pulling it all together is the challenge. 

Recent News

General

  • On February 17 2021, the FCC adopted a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FCC 21-26) in its Supply Chain proceeding.  The primary function of this rulemaking is to conform the FCC’s Rip and Replace Rules to the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA) passed at the end of 2020.  The CAA formally appropriated $1.895 Billion for the replacement program and increased eligibility to carriers with fewer than 10 million lines (vs. 2 million lines previously), among other things.
  • On January 12, former Chairman Pai urged Congress to channel $50 billion in revenue from the ongoing C-band auction to temporarily fund the USF and stabilize contributions. 
  • On January 4, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) issued a Public Notice seeking comment on the provision of assistance from the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund and through the Emergency Benefit Program and other related matters, consistent with the Consolidated Appropriations Act which was signed in December 2020. Comments were due January 25, 2021 and reply comments were due February 16, 2021.  The Commission held a roundtable on the program on February 12, 2021 and received a presentation on its status at the February 17, 2021 FCC Open Meeting.  The Commission is finalizing rules for the program.  
  • On December 30, the FCC released an Order (FCC 20-185) appointing three new members to the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service. 
  • On December 22, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) released an Order (DA 20-1523) denying a request for review filed by Sprint Spectrum, L.P. (Sprint), which sought review of a contributor audit decision by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).  The WCB remanded to USAC for further reconsideration the issue of whether, in light of new evidence presented, Sprint’s allocation among assessable and non-assessable service categories was appropriate for the bundled service offering at issue. 
  • On December 16, the WCB and the Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA) released via Public Notice (DA 20-1491) a correction to results from the Supply Chain Security Information Collection.  The correction deletes the names of two companies from the list of ETCs with covered equipment installed in their networks.    
  • On December 11, the FCC adopted an Order (FCC 20-176) in its Supply Chain proceeding that requires Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (ETCs) receiving federal universal service funding to remove and replace equipment and services identified as a risk to national security from their networks.  The Order also establishes a reimbursement program to subsidize smaller carriers to remove and replace covered equipment, specifically those providers with two million or fewer customers, once Congress appropriates the estimated $1.6 billion needed to reimburse eligible providers for such costs.  Finally, the Order also establishes the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of covered communications equipment or services, and would adopt a reporting requirement for all providers of advanced communications services to annually report on covered equipment and services in their networks.  Note:  at the February 17, 2021 FCC Open Meeting, the FCC adopted a Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to revise its rules to conform to changes made by Congress in the Consolidated Appropriations Act (CAA).

Lifeline

  • On February 24, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-229) extending prior waivers of Lifeline program rules governing documentation requirements for subscribers residing in rural areas on Tribal lands, recertification, reverification, general de-enrollment, and income documentation through June 30, 2021.  The FCC previously waived these rules in six previous Orders to provide necessary relief for low-income households during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • On December 23, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-1529) initiating data collection for the Lifeline program.  The Order directs a group of mobile service providers to respond to a questionnaire about customer usage and cost. A copy of the Order was sent to each provider obligated to respond.

High Cost/Connect America Fund (CAF)

  • On February 18, the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, WCB, and OEA issued a Public Notice (DA 21-170) identifying 417 applicants in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction that submitted the long-form application portion of the FCC Form 683. 
  • On January 14, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-54) authorizing CAF Phase II support for a New York winning bidder. 
  • On January 13, the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, WCB, and OEA announced via Public Notice (DA 21-44) the  availability of educational materials related to the detailed technology and system design descriptions that must be filed by Auction 904 long-form applicants.  The Public Notice also announced that long-form applicants must upload their letter of credit commitment letters and detailed technology and system design descriptions to their FCC Form 683, and submit and certify their applications by 6 p.m. ET on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. 
  • On December 21, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-1512) waiving certain performance testing requirements for recipients of Alternative Connect America Cost Model I (A-CAM I) support, Rural Broadband Experiment support, and Alaska Plan support. 
  • On December 18, the FCC’s WCB, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, and the Office of Engineering and Technology released an Order (DA 20-1510) clarifying aspects of the FCC's Performance Measures Reconsideration Order to provide greater certainty to carriers. 
  • On December 18, the WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 20-1508) that it is ready to authorize Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II support for Slic Network Solutions (Slic) pursuant to the Slic in conjunction with the New York Broadband Program.  The deadline for Slic to submit letters of credit and legal counsel’s opinion letters was Friday, January 8, 2021. 
  • On December 16, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-1488) granting a waiver of sections 54.901 and 54.903 of the FCC’s rules to allow rate-of-return carriers to include their actual rates for consumer broadband-only lines for the first three months of 2019 on their FCC Form 509, rather than imputing revenues based on the maximum rate that would have been assessable.  The WCB has twice previously granted a waiver of this rule. 
  • On December 7, the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force, WCB, and OEA announced via Public Notice (DA 20-1422) the winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction (Auction 904) which concluded on November 25, 2020.  There were 180 winning bidders in the auction, with the 10-year support amount totaling $9.23 billion and covering 5,220,833 locations in 49 states and one territory.  Winning bidders were required to submit a post-auction application for support (FCC Form 683) no later than January 29, 2021.  Winning bidders that wish to assign some or all of their winning bids to related entities had to do so by December 22, 2020.

Schools and Libraries (E-Rate)

  • On February 1, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-98) seeking comment on petitions for emergency relief to allow the use of E-Rate funds to support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Comments were due February 16 and reply comments were due February 23. 
  • On December 14, the WCB extended waivers (DA 20-1479) of  the Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate program gift rules through June 30, 2021.  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.  These waivers were set to expire on December 31, 2020. 
  • On December 3, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-1432) approving the National Exchange Carrier Association, Inc.’s (NECA) annual average schedule company high-cost loop support (HCLS) formula modifications.

Rural Health Care

  • On February 12, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-168) waiving section 54.621(a)(1) of the FCC’s rules and extending the close of the funding year 2021 application filing window for the RHC Program until June 1, 2021, in light of the ongoing pandemic. 
  • On February 12, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-153) seeking comment on a petition for declaratory ruling filed by Technology Channel Sales Professionals (TCSP).  TCSP asks the Commission to clarify the certification requirements related to the RHC Promoting Telehealth Report and Order prohibiting Program applicants and service providers from hiring consultants or other third parties that “have an ownership interest, sales commission arrangement, or other financial stake in the vendor chosen to provide the requested services . . . .”  Comments are due March 15 and reply comments are due March 30. 
  • On February 2, the FCC released a Report and Order preparing for the second round of Telehealth funding under COVID-19 relief legislation.  The FCC already approved $200 million in funding under the program for health care providers in 2020, exhausting the initial funding appropriated by Congress under the CARES Act.  But Congress recently provided an additional $249.95 million for the program.  In the February 2 Report and Order, the FCC designated USAC to administer the remainder of Round 1, which includes reviewing invoices under the program.  The FCC also designated USAC to administer Round 2 of the program.  Applications for funding will be submitted through a USAC portal and will be evaluated by USAC for compliance with metrics to be adopted by the FCC in a subsequent order.  The Commission will retain final funding decision-making authority under the program. 
  • On January 19, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-83) waiving the requirement to use the Telecom Program Rates Database for determining rural rates for health care providers in Alaska. 
  • On January 15, the FCC issued a Public Notice (FCC 21-12) announcing the initial Connected Care pilot program projects.  The FCC approved an initial set of 14 applications for the $100 million Connected Care pilot program.  The Commission stated its review of applications for the Pilot Program is ongoing, and the Commission expects to announce the selection of the remainder of projects in the coming months.  The Commission is committed to selecting a broad array of applicants and projects. 
  • On December 18, the FCC’s WCB  and Office of the Managing Director (OMD) issued a Public Notice (DA 20-1504) establishing a July 31, 2021 invoicing deadline for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  Per the program’s requirements, Awardees had until December 31, 2020 to purchase eligible connected devices and implement eligible services, and can receive up to six months of support for eligible services with monthly recurring charges.  The Public Notice also and provides post-program guidance for awardees. 
  • On December 14, the WCB extended waivers (DA 20-1479) of  the Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate program gift rules through June 30, 2021.  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.  These waivers were set to expire on December 31, 2020. 

USAC Board Meeting Materials

Each quarter, we provide selected highlights from USAC’s quarterly board and committee meetings.  This quarter, we provide Business Update materials presented to USAC’s Audit Committee, which provides information about USAC’s audit activities from October 2019 through September 2020.  These materials are from the January 25, 2021 Board Meetings.  Click HERE to view materials from the meeting.  If you have any questions about the materials, please contact us.

[View source.]

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.

© Kelley Drye & Warren LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP
Contact
more
less

Kelley Drye & Warren LLP on:

Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
- hide
- hide

This website uses cookies to improve user experience, track anonymous site usage, store authorization tokens and permit sharing on social media networks. By continuing to browse this website you accept the use of cookies. Click here to read more about how we use cookies.