FCC Previews a Jam-Packed July Open Meeting with National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Call Blocking, and Supply Chain Items Leading the Agenda

The FCC is moving full steam ahead this summer with a jam-packed agenda for its next open meeting, scheduled for July 16, 2020. Headlining the meeting is the creation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, establishing 988 as the 3-digit dialing code for the suicide and mental health crisis hotline. All telecommunications carriers and VoIP providers would be required to implement 988 on their networks by July 16, 2022. The FCC continues to move forward on eliminating unwanted and illegal robocalls, planning to carve out safe harbors from liability for call blocking based on reasonable analytics and seeking comment on any additional obligations for blocking providers. The supply chain rulemaking would adopt the Commission’s prohibition on using universal service funds to support equipment or services provided by identified companies posing a national security threat, and propose further requirements for securing communications networks. The agency also plans to affirm and build upon vertical location requirements for enhanced 911 location accuracy and to establish procedures for enhanced broadband mapping and data collection. In addition, the agenda includes items to modernize the leased access rate formula and streamline and update the priority service program rules for emergency workers.

While FCC action historically dwindles going into an election year, the July agenda shows no signs of slowing down on the Commission’s main priorities. You will find more details on the most significant July meeting items after the break:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: The draft Report and Order would designate 988 as the 3-digit number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and mental health crisis hotline (“Lifeline”). The Commission would require all telecommunications carriers, interconnected VoIP providers, and one-way VoIP providers to make any network changes necessary to ensure that all users can dial 988 to reach the Lifeline by July 16, 2022. Service providers would be required to transmit all calls initiated by an end user dialing 988 to the current toll free access number for the Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK). The Commission would also require covered providers to implement 10-digit dialing in areas that use both 7-digit dialing and 988 as an NXX numbering prefix to ensure direct dialing to the Lifeline and avoid delayed and misdirected calls.

Call Blocking Rules: The draft Third Report and Order, Order on Reconsideration, and Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) would continue the Commission’s efforts to stop unwanted and illegal robocalls. Consistent with the TRACED Act, the Commission would establish a safe harbor from liability for terminating providers for blocking wanted calls, as long as the call blocking was based on reasonable analytics indicating that the call was unwanted, including STIR/SHAKEN information when available. A second safe harbor would also enable voice service providers to block traffic from bad-actor upstream voice service providers that continue to allow unwanted calls on their network. Blocking providers would also be required to establish a single point of contact to remedy unintended or inadvertent blocking, and to ensure that calls to 911 are never blocked. The Commission asks for input on how it can further implement the TRACED Act, and proposes establishing obligations for voice service providers to respond to certain traceback requests, mitigate bad traffic, and take affirmative measures to prevent customers from originating illegal calls on their networks. It also would propose requiring terminating service providers that block calls to provide a list of those blocked calls to their customers on demand and at no additional charge.

Secure Networks Act: The draft Declaratory Ruling and Second FNPRM would integrate provisions of the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 (“Secure Networks Act”) into the Commission’s existing supply chain rulemaking proceeding. The FCC would adopt the prohibition on the use of universal service funds for equipment and services produced or provided by companies, such as Huawei and ZTE, designated as a national security threat, upholding the 2019 Supply Chain Order. The FNPRM would seek comment on implementing certain portions of the Secure Networks Act, proposing several different processes and definitions that will aid the FCC in compiling and publishing a list of covered communications equipment and services. Additionally, the FCC proposes to: (1) ban the use of federal subsidies for any equipment or services on the new list of covered communications equipment and services; (2) require that all advanced communications providers report whether they use any covered equipment and services; and (3) establish regulations to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse in the proposed reimbursement program to remove, replace, and dispose of insecure equipment. These proposed regulations would include penalties for violations of the reimbursement program and repayment provisions for any violations. The FCC Orders issuing final designations of both Huawei and ZTE as covered companies were effective immediately upon release on June 30, 2020.

Z-Axis Location Accuracy Requirements: The draft Sixth Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration would affirm the FCC’s vertical location (“z-axis”) requirements and deadlines, building on the existing Enhanced 911 location accuracy rules to more accurately identify floor level location for wireless calls made from multi-story buildings. The FCC would adopt its proposals to require CMRS providers that elect to deploy z-axis technology meet the 3-meter accuracy metric by April 2021 for the top 25 CMAs, and by April 2023 in the top 50 CMAs, requiring 80 percent coverage of the population in a CMA. Finding that deploying z-axis technology is technically feasible in the near future, the draft ruling would require all nationwide wireless CMRS providers to deploy z-axis technology nationwide by April 2025, and require non-nationwide providers to deploy z-axis technology in their top 50 CMA service areas by April 2026. The FCC also revises its rules to allow CMRS providers to deploy dispatchable location solutions that rely on a range of technical approaches. Additionally, consistent with Kari’s Law and Ray Baum’s Act, the rules would require all CMRS providers to provide dispatchable location for individual 911 calls, if it is technically feasible and cost-effective to do so, by January 6, 2022.

Improving Broadband Data and Maps: The draft Second Report and Order and Third FNPRM would adopt specific measures and requirements to develop the new broadband maps implemented by the Digital Opportunity Data Collection and the Broadband DATA Act. Although the FCC lacks funding to implement the new maps at this time, these actions would meet the requirement to complete the broadband mapping rulemaking within the set deadline and to develop the service availability maps as soon as feasible. The draft action would adopt a number of requirements for fixed and mobile broadband providers, including specific coverage reporting and disclosure requirements and standards for data use and verification. It would also establish a Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (“Fabric”), creating a nationwide dataset containing geocoded locations for all areas where broadband connections can be installed, as well as a Broadband Map, showing served and unserved areas for both fixed and mobile coverage. The FNPRM would seek comment on other actions that may be necessary to implement other provisions of the Broadband DATA Act, specifically on which providers are subject to the data collection, data reporting standards for fixed and mobile service, a challenge process for map accuracy, and on processes for implementing the Fabric.