- On April 17, the Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) issued a Public Notice (DA 20-426) announcing and seeking comment on proposed changes to the 2021 FCC Form 499-A, FCC Form 499-Q, and accompanying instructions. The deadline to file comments was May 18, 2020.
- On May 20, the FCC received comments on how the recently enacted Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (Secure Networks Act), signed into law on March 12, 2020, applies to proposals under consideration in the Commission's Protecting Against National Security Threats to the Communications Supply Chain rulemaking and related proceedings. Reply comments will be due on June 4, 2020.
- On May 1, the WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 20-473) that it will no longer accept PDF form applications by email for the Program. Instead, all applications for the Program must be submitted through the FCC’s online application portal available at https://www.fcc.gov/covid-19-telehealthprogram. The WCB stated that accepting applications only through the portal will enable it to expedite Program funding decisions.
- On April 17, the WCB and Office of Managing Director provided guidance (DA 20-425) for funding recipients on how to invoice the FCC for COVID-19 Telehealth Program-funded services and/or connected devices. Under the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, disbursements are issued directly to the participating health care providers, rather than to the service providers or vendors that have provided the eligible services and/or connected devices to participating health care providers. Participating health care providers therefore need to invoice the FCC to be reimbursed for the eligible services/connected devices they purchased under the program. Participating health care providers will need to submit a COVID-19 Telehealth Program Request for Reimbursement Form (found here) to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service Invoice Processing Platform (IPP) (located here). The guidance provides important details on how to fill out a reimbursement request as well as how to register and use the IPP.
- On April 8, the WCB released guidance on the COVID-19 Telehealth applications process. The barriers to funding are relatively low. There are three steps interested providers should take immediately to prepare to apply for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program: (1) obtain an eligibility determination from USAC; (2) obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN); and (3) register with the System for Award Management. The WCB recommends that potential applicants undertake these steps now to apply for the early stages of funding.
- On May 22, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 20-550) announcing the launch of the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier for all new enrollments in Puerto Rico. Starting on June 23, 2020, eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) in Puerto Rico will be required to use the National Verifier’s eligibility determination process for all consumers applying for Lifeline service.
- On May 22, the WCB granted a deadline waiver for North American Local, LLC (DA 20-548), giving the company 60 additional days to file its request for review of the FCC’s prior finding that North American was in violation of the Lifeline program’s rules.
- On April 29, 2020, the WCB temporarily waived (DA 20-462) until June 30 the requirement that persons seeking to qualify for the Lifeline program based on financial hardship provide at least three consecutive months on income documentation. The waiver recognizes that newly-unemployed individuals may not be able to provide such documentation because their unemployment (and related decrease in income) began so recently. Under the waiver, the FCC will allow individuals to submit an “official document,” such as a notice of unemployment benefits, to demonstrate their income-based eligibility for Lifeline. The waiver directs USAC to develop and issue guidance on the types of acceptable official documentation. WCB also extended its previous waivers of the Lifeline recertification, reverification, usage, and general de-enrollment requirements until June 30th, finding the circumstances necessitating the earlier waivers during the pandemic have not changed.
- On March 30, 2020, the WCB issued an Order (DA 20-354) waiving certain rules requiring involuntary de-enrollment of Lifeline subscribers, including for non-usage of the service, until May 29, 2020. The Bureau also extended the previous waivers of the annual recertification and National Verifier reverification process de-enrollments to May 29 so that all of the waivers will expire at the same time.
High Cost/Connect America Fund (CAF)
- On May 19, the FCC released its tentative agenda for its monthly Open Meeting on June 9, 2020. Among other items, the FCC anticipates adopting final auction procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”), which will provide up to $16 billion over 10 years to support broadband deployment in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. Rejecting calls for delay during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC would commence the auction on October 29, 2020.
- On May 14, the WCB in conjunction with the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force and the Office of Economics and Analytics, authorized (DA 20-514) Connect America Fund Phase II (Auction 903) support for the latest set of winning bids. This includes support for the New York winning bidder (DA 20-516), Mid-Hudson Data Corporation. A list of the other winning bidders is available here. This follows the authorization of 21 winning bids on April 14.
- On May 5, the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force (RBATF) hosted a webinar on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction (Auction 904). This webinar provided an overview of the adopted policy framework for Auction 904, the proposed procedures for applications and bidding in the auction, and tips for service providers that are interested in applying to participate in the auction. Additionally, the webinar focused on opportunities for small businesses to participate and win funding in Auction 904. A recording is available here.
- On April 27, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-454) designating a new eligible telecommunications carrier (ETC) in CAF-eligible areas within Minnesota. The carrier is also eligible to receive Lifeline support in areas ineligible for Phase II auction funding authorization.
- On April 24, 2020, the Commission adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to create 5G Fund for Rural America. The new fund would offer up to $9 billion over ten years to support the deployment of wireless broadband and voice services in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. The 5G Fund would operate as the wireless counterpart to the wireline-focused Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”) approved earlier this year and replace Phase II of the Mobility Fund, which the FCC mothballed in 2018 after questions arose about reported coverage data. Comments on the proposal will be due on June 25, with reply comments due July 27.
- On April 10, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-400) granting a limited waiver of the requirements for filing speed and latency testing results for recipients of CAF Phase II model-based support. This waiver will allow CAF Phase II carriers to use their existing performance testing systems.
- On April 9, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 20-395) approving Alaska Communications Systems' 10 Year CAF Phase II Deployment Plan.
- On April 3, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-377) waiving certain network performance pre-testing requirements for recipients of CAF Phase II model-based support due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- On April 2, the FCC issued a Report and Order (FCC-20-44) establishing the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program is providing $200 million in funding, appropriated by Congress as part of the CARES Act, to help health care providers provide connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations.
- On March 31, the WCB released an Order (DA 20-358) temporarily waiving rules requiring a competitive ETC to spend all high-cost support in one particular service area. This allows a competitive ETC the flexibility to reallocate its use of legacy high-cost support amongst the service areas of any affiliated ETC. This flexibility will be afforded until June 30.
Schools and Libraries (E-Rate)
- On May 21, the FCC announced that it is partnering with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to promote use of $50 million in CARES Act funding to help address the digital divide. The CARES Act allocated $50 million in funding to IMLS, the primary source of federal funding for the nation’s museums and libraries, to enable these institutions, as well as organizations serving Tribal communities, to respond to the pandemic. This includes work to expand network access, purchase Internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to communities. States and territories may use the funds to expand broadband access and prioritize their efforts to high-need communities. $15 million in funding will be awarded through grants to libraries and museums, as well as Tribes and organizations serving and representing Native Hawaiians. Applications are due June 12, 2020 with award announcements anticipated in August 2020. As part of the FCC’s collaboration with IMLS, the FCC will publicize these CARES Act resources, help conduct outreach to libraries and organizations serving Tribal Communities, and provide information on broadband service providers that may be able to help. The agencies will also work together to ensure that libraries are aware that community use of Wi-Fi networks supported by the FCC’s E-Rate program is permitted during library closures.
- On May 15, USAC reminded applicants of the requirements for certifying compliance with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requirements and of the records USAC requests in audits to confirm compliance. Failure to comply with CIPA requirements, including public notice requirements for review of CIPA policies, is a common audit finding by USAC. USAC’s guidance is available in its weekly Schools and Libraries News Brief.
- On April 30, the WCB issued its monthly Public Notice (DA 20-464) entitled Streamlined Resolution of Requests Related to Actions by the Universal Service Administrative Company. As its title suggests, the document announces summary dispositions of pending appeals, requests for review, requests for waiver, and petitions for reconsideration stemming from the actions of the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). The Public Notice groups appeals by subject matter and/or controlling authority, and announces the Bureau’s disposition of each. This newsletter periodically features a chart which summarizes the dispositions by type.
- On April 27, the WCB granted (DA 20-455) a Missouri school district’s request for review, waiving its decision to rescind funding for and deny Park Hill’s funding requests, for special construction of a self-provisioned network under the E-Rate program.
- On April 1, the WCB granted extensions of key deadlines for participants in the E-Rate program (DA 20-364). Specifically, the Bureau waived the service implementation deadline for special construction projects for all funding year 2019 applicants and extended the deadline for funding year 2020 applicants by one year (from June 30, 2020 to June 30, 2021). Under the FCC’s rules, applicants normally must complete special construction projects and the network must be in use by June 30th of the applicable funding year. With schools and libraries closed for lengthy periods of time, the Bureau recognized that service providers may not be allowed on the premises and may experience significant challenges in meeting this construction deadline. The Bureau also (1) extended the service delivery deadline for nonrecurring services for funding year 2019 by one year (from September 30, 2020 to September 30, 2021); (2) granted schools and libraries an automatic 60-day extension to file requests for review or waiver of decisions by USAC; (3) provided applicants and service providers an automatic 120-day extension of the invoice filing deadline; and (4) gave all program participants an additional 30-day extension to respond to certain information requests from USAC.
Rural Health Care
- On May 22, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 20-549) clarifying that the new certification regarding third party sales commissions, adopted by the FCC in the RHC Promoting Telehealth Report and Order, applies only to invoices for services competitively bid for funding year 2020 and future funding years. RHC Promoting Telehealth Report and Order prohibits RHC 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 .”
- On May 22, the WCB waived (DA 20-551) the funding year 2019 RHC Universal Service Support application filing deadline for seven health care providers in Oklahoma for a waiver of the RHC Universal Service Support Mechanism’s rules. Due to federally-declared weather-related disasters that struck Oklahoma during May 2019, the providers were unable to submit 11 Healthcare Connect Fund funding requests by the application deadline of May 31, 2019.
Awards Granted – COVID-19 Telehealth Program
The CARES Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, 2020, appropriated $200M to the Federal Communications Commission for the purpose of providing health care providers funding to purchase eligible telehealth devices and services during the COVID-19 pandemic. On April 2, 2020, the Commission adopted an order establishing the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which began accepting applications for up to $1M in funding on April 13, 2020. As of May 27, 2020, the Commission has, in seven separate rounds, awarded just over $50M of the $200M appropriation to 132 health care providers in 33 states plus Washington, D.C.
The attached PDF contains three charts. The first shows total award amounts by funding round, the second shows total award amounts by state, and the third is a list of all awardees so far.