On May 10, 2021, the FCC unanimously adopted final rules in a Report and Order to implement the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (ECF Program or Fund). The ECF Program is a fund that enables “schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The ECF provides significant, pandemic-related expenditures addressing the digital divide, funded outside of the existing federal Universal Service Fund programs. The primary purpose of the ECF is to fund services and equipment used for remote learning and remote library services necessitated by the pandemic shut-downs. The E-Rate program, which funds on-campus broadband services (including in-building Wi-Fi), does not fund off-campus services at this time.
With these rules, the FCC sets in motion a process for schools and libraries to receive funding for 100% of purchases to provide remote learning and remote library services during the pandemic. The FCC will fund claims for the upcoming school year (July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022) first, with a window opening in June 2020. If funds remain available, the FCC will then allow a funding window to reimburse applicants for purchases made between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021
to read our detailed summary of ECF applications, funding, and eligibility.
- On June 18, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit denied a petition for review by Huawei Technologies Company challenging the FCC’s rule prohibiting the use of federal USF funds to purchase or maintain equipment designated as posing a national security risk, including equipment manufactured by Huawei and its American affiliate. The court concluded that the FCC was not acting as “a sort of junior-varsity [State Department]” and that the ruling was within the FCC’s jurisdiction to make.
- On June 11, the FCC announced via Public Notice (DA 21-686) its intent to re-charter the Task Force for Reviewing Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States (Precision Ag Task Force), a federal advisory committee, which provides advice and recommendations to the FCC on accelerating the deployment of broadband Internet access service on unserved agriculture land to promote precision agriculture. The FCC is also seeking nominations for membership on the Precision Ag Task Force and its Working Groups. Nominations for membership to the Task Force should be submitted to the FCC no later than July 12, 2021.
- On June 8, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB) released an Order (DA 21-671) waiving Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) reimbursement rules requiring providers to file reimbursement claims by the 15th of the month after the uniform snapshot date. All EBB participating providers will receive an additional month, until July 15, 2021, to submit their first reimbursement claim for service provided in May 2021.
- On May 28, the WCB addressed multiple petitions related to EBB program rules. In one Order (DA 21-635) the WCB denied petitions from LICT Corporation and Lumen seeking an expedited grant of a limited waiver of the EBB program rules as they apply to the discounts they can claim for reimbursement. In a second Order (DA 21-631) the WCB granted petitions by Cox Communications, Inc. and the National Lifeline Association, which sought a limited waiver of the EBB program reimbursement rules as they apply to the connected device discount.
- On May 25, the FCC’s WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-607) seeking comment on the proposed application filing process for the $1.9 billion Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (Reimbursement Program) (also known as the “Rip and Replace” program). The WCB also seeks comment on proposed information fields to be collected on forms eligible providers of advanced communications services may submit to submit to request funding allocations and disbursements from the Reimbursement Program. Comments were due June 23, 2021.
- On May 24, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr published an opinion article in Newsweek, “Ending Big Tech's Free Rid.” In the article, Commissioner Carr proposes to require federal USF contributions from online streaming services such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime, Disney+ and Microsoft (dubbed “Big Tech” in the article). Commissioner Carr describes the current USF contribution mechanism as “antiquated” and “on the verge of collapse.”
- On May 11, the WCB released on Order (DA 21-557) granting a limited waiver of the EBB Program reimbursement rules. CSC Holdings, LLC (Altice) requested a waiver of the requirement that providers file reimbursement claims by the 15th of each month after each uniform snapshot date, for the first reimbursement claim for each subscriber that has newly enrolled in the Program with Altice. It also requests a month delay to submit the first reimbursement claim for a newly-enrolled subscriber.
- On May 11, the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics (OEA), in conjunction with the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-552) announcing a June 30, 2021 filing deadline for the biennial recertification of study area boundary data.
- On June 8, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-660) approving a request by T-Mobile on behalf of its subsidiary, T-Mobile Northeast LLC, to relinquish its ETC designation in Virginia, granted for the purpose of participating in the Mobility Fund Phase I auction. T-Mobile has committed to continuing to provide wireless service to qualified low-income consumers in Virginia under its separate Lifeline-only ETC designation.
- On June 1, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-641) refreshing the record and seeking comment on a petition for reconsideration filed by the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA). NASCUA’s petition seeks reconsideration of several changes implemented in the 2016 Lifeline Order, including the phasedown of voice-only support. Comments are due July 1, 2021 and reply comments are due July 16, 2021. Note: on June 25, the WCB further extended these deadlines to August 2, 2021 and August 17, 2021.
- On June 1, the WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 21-640) the Census blocks where Lifeline support for voice-only service will continue at $5.25 per month from December 1, 2021 through November 30, 2022. These Census blocks can be found on the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) website here.
High Cost/Connect America Fund (CAF)
- On June 21, the WCB authorized via Public Notice (DA 21-718) $127 million in Bringing Puerto Rico Together Fund Stage 2 support for the winning proposals from Puerto Rico Telephone Company, Inc. and Liberty Communications of Puerto Rico, LLC to provide fixed voice and broadband services.
- On June 8, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-667) denying a Petition for Reconsideration by Virgin Islands Telephone Corp. d/b/a Viya (Viya) requesting that the WCB vacate and reissue its public notice announcing Broadband VI, LLC (Broadband VI) as the winning applicant of the Stage 2 competitive process for the Connect USVI Fund. The WCB earlier authorized via Public Notice (DA 21-666) $84,456,870 in Connect USVI Fund Stage 2 support for the winning proposals from Broadband VI to provide voice and broadband services for the 10-year period with speeds up to 1 Gigabit per second. The WCB noted that, now that it has taken final action in this proceeding, Viya is free to file a new petition for reconsideration that re-raises the issues that were premature at the time of the original filing.
- On June 8, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-663) designating 56 carriers as eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) in eligible high-cost areas within the specified states to receive support under the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) program.
- On June 1, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-643) granting petitions from Hawaiian Telecom, Inc. (HT) and TDS Telecom LLC (TDS). HT sought a waiver to avoid non-compliance with its CAF Phase II interim and final buildout obligations because of the destruction of locations by an unexpected natural disaster. TDS sought a waiver to avoid increased reporting requirements and withheld support triggered by its inability to meet its interim buildout obligations due to circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- On May 18, USAC released version 4.0 of the Connect America Fund Broadband Map (CAF Map), an interactive online map that shows the impact of the CAF on broadband expansion to close the digital divide in rural America.
- On May 4, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-515) seeking comment on two petitions for designation as an Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) for the purpose of becoming eligible to receive universal service support. The petitioners are winning bidders, or those assigned support through the division of winning bids, in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
Schools and Libraries (E-Rate)
- On June 21, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-726) granting the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition’s Request for Waiver, by waiving and extending the special construction service delivery deadline by up to one year, to June 30, 2022 for all funding year 2019 and 2020 applicants with deadlines that expire on June 30, 2021 or during calendar year 2021.
- On June 15, the FCC announced via Public Notice (DA 21-696) that it would host a virtual webinar to provide information on the Emergency Connectivity Fund on Friday, June 25 starting at 2:00 p.m. EDT.
- On May 20, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-597) seeking comment on a petition for waiver filed by Comcast Corporation and its affiliates (Comcast) requesting that the FCC waive certain E-Rate rules to allow it to conduct a pilot program with several libraries to expand its “Lift Zone” initiative. Comcast states that its Lift Zone initiative is designed to address the Homework Gap and the digital divide by setting up safe places where students and members of the community may use Internet services to participate in remote learning and complete homework assignments. Comments were due June 21, 2021 and reply comments are due July 6, 2021.
- On May 10, 2021, the FCC unanimously adopted final rules in a Report and Order to implement the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (ECF Program). The ECF Program is a fund that enables “schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.” The ECF Program was funded by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 signed by President Biden in early March. Along with the EBB Program, the ECF provides significant, pandemic-related expenditures addressing the digital divide, funded outside of the existing federal Universal Service Fund programs.
Rural Health Care
- On June 21, the FCC released a Second Report and Order (FCC 21-74) offering further guidance on the administration of the Connected Care Pilot Program, including guidance on eligible services, competitive bidding, invoicing, and data reporting for selected participants. On June 17, the FCC issued a Public Notice (FCC 21-71) announcing the second set of projects for second set of Pilot projects that have been selected for the Pilot Program.
- On May 12, the WCB released an Order (DA 21-561) granting a request for waiver of RHC rules and instructing USAC to revise the FY 2018 funding commitments for the relevant funding request. Community Care of West Virginia, Inc. (CCWCV) sought review of two decisions by USAC denying CCWV’s request that USAC re-calculate thirty-two funding year 2018 funding commitments using urban rates originally submitted by CCWV.
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 the full USAC Board at its April 28, 2021 meeting. These updates provide overviews of several key programs, including the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), the Connected Care Pilot, Supply Chain outreach, and the COVID-19 Telehealth program. Click HERE
to view materials from the meeting. If you have any questions about the materials, please contact us.