COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – May 26, 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 Approves Seventh Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Applications, Surpasses $50 Million in Funding

On May 20, 2020, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) approved 43 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Under the latest funding round, $16.87 million in funding will go to health care providers across 20 states. This includes Children’s National Hospital, the first Washington, D.C. provider to receive funding. With this latest set of approvals, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program has funded 132 health care providers in 33 states, plus D.C., for a total of just over $50 million in funding awarded.

Congress appropriated $200 million for the Program and the FCC continues to evaluate applications and distribute funding on a rolling basis. Providers therefore should take action now to assess their interest and ability to participate in the Program, if they have not already done so. On May 21, 2020, the senior counsel for the WCB’s Telecommunications Access Policy Division encouraged providers to apply as soon as possible. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” he said. Bureau staff will work with applicants and seek clarification as needed.”

FCC, FTC Demand More Gateway Providers Cut Off Robocallers to Stop Coronavirus-Related Scams

On May 20, 2020, the FCC demanded that service providers take action to stop coronavirus-related scam robocalls from bombarding American consumers. The agency warned a number of gateway” communications providers allegedly facilitating COVID-19-related scam robocalls originating overseas that they must stop carrying these calls or face serious consequences. Specifically, if the providers do not take action to address the scam robocalls, the FCC will allow other providers to block all traffic from these gateway providers’ networks.

This is the second such action taken by the agencies, following a similar demand in in April, when three gateway providers stopped carrying COVID-19-related scam robocalls within 24 hours of receiving the warning. The FCC and FTC have been working closely with the Department of Justice on these efforts to stop scammers from reaching American consumers. The warning shows that the FCC, FTC, and other agencies plan to aggressively address consumer protection-related issues during the crisis and will target service providers in addition to the underlying scammers to resolve problems quickly.

FCC and IMLS Partner to Keep Libraries and Communities Connected

On May 21, 2020, 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.