COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – June 22, 2020

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. Kelley Drye’s Communications Practice Group is tracking these actions and what they mean for communications service providers and their customers. CommLaw Monitor will provide regular updates to its analysis of the latest regulatory and legislative actions impacting your business and the communications industry. Click on the COVID-19” blog category for previous updates.

If you have any urgent questions, please contact your usual Kelley Drye attorney or any member of the Communications Practice Group. For more information on other aspects of the federal and state response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as labor and employment and other issues, please visit Kelley Drye’s COVID-19 Response Resource Center.

FCC Continues COVID-19 Telehealth Program Approvals

On June 17, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau approved 62 additional funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Under the latest funding round, $23.25 million will go to health care providers across 29 states. With this latest set of approvals, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has approved 367 applications in 45 states, plus D.C., for a total of $128.23 million in funding awarded so far. Congress appropriated $200 million for the Program and the FCC continues to evaluate applications and distribute funding on a rolling basis. As the funding awarded nears the Program’s current $200 million cap, providers should take action now to assess their interest and ability to participate in the Program, if they have not already done so.

For a complete list of applications granted in the COVID-19 Telehealth Program, with breakdowns by round number and state, check out our chart here.

FCC Plans to End Keep Americans Connected Pledge, Seeks Support for Small Providers and Consumers

The FCC plans to let the Keep Americans Connected Pledge expire as scheduled on June 30, but urged providers not to disconnect consumers and small businesses who remain behind on their bills in July. Specifically, Chairman Pai asked providers to adopt consumer-friendly steps like payment plans, waiving a portion of unpaid balances, and working with customers individually to meet their needs based on hardship post-Pledge. On June 19, FCC Chairman Pai sent a letter to Congress seeking legislation to help consumers and small businesses stay connected after the expiration of the Pledge by further streamlining deployments and increasing funding for telehealth and other communications programs. The FCC launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge on March 13, and later extended the voluntary initiative to June 30. The Pledge required service providers to commit to not terminate service, to waive late fees for residential and small business customers who could not pay during the pandemic, and to make their Wi-Fi hotspots available to any American who needs them. Many providers plan to continue at least some of these initiatives after the Pledge’s expiration.