CommLaw Monitor https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor News and analysis from Kelley Drye’s communications practice group Wed, 03 Jul 2024 05:38:26 -0400 60 hourly 1 COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – May 11, 2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-may-11-2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-may-11-2020 Mon, 11 May 2020 17:53:30 -0400 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 Fifth Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Program Applications, Moves to Portal-Only Applications

On May 6, 2020, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) approved an additional 26 applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Under the latest funding round (which is the largest so far), $11.19 million in funding will go to health care providers in California, Texas, Massachusetts, and several other hard-hit areas. To date, the Program has funded 56 health care providers in 23 states for a total of $24.9 million. On May 1, 2020, the WCB announced via Public Notice 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.

Congress appropriated $200 million for the Program and the FCC continues to evaluate applications and distribute funding on a rolling basis. While money remains available, the size and pace of disbursements under the Program continues to increase and providers should take action now to assess their interest and ability to participate in the Program.

FCC Highlights Consumer Broadband Service Through Temporary 5.9 GHz Band Access Grants

On May 4, 2020, the FCC announced that its decision to grant wireless Internet service providers (“WISPs”) temporary access to 5.9 GHz spectrum is helping boost consumer internet access during the pandemic. To date, the FCC has granted Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) to more than 100 WISPs to access otherwise fallow spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band and other bands. Many providers in rural and suburban communities have reported how the spectrum is helping to address the increased demand for broadband as consumers adjust to stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures. It is likely that the FCC will continue to approve STAs to improve consumer broadband service during the pandemic.

FCC Hosts HBCU Presidents' Roundtable on Connectivity during Pandemic

On May 4, 2020, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks virtually hosted a roundtable to discuss the connectivity needs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (“HBCUs”) during the COVID-19 pandemic. This event featured remarks from U.S. Representatives Alma Adams (D-NC) and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and brought together leadership from HBCUs across the country. HBCU requests included laptops and residential broadband for students and employees, and funding for HBCUs in the next COVID-19 stimulus bill. Rep. Adams suggested that future COVID-19 legislation should include $10 million for a technology infrastructure fund for HBCUs to continue their transition to online learning.

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COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – April 20, 2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-april-20-2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-april-20-2020 Mon, 20 Apr 2020 17:35:24 -0400 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 Provides Invoicing Guidance for COVID-19 Telehealth Program Fund Recipients, Begins Approving Funding Requests

On April 17, 2020, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (“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 16, 2020, the WCB approved six funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The applications generally focused on diagnosis and preventing the spread of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations, such as low-income or elderly persons. Congress appropriated $200 million for the FCC to support health care providers’ use of telehealth services as part of the recently-enacted CARES Act. The FCC began accepting applications on Monday, April 13. It is continuing to evaluate applications and will distribute additional funding on a rolling basis. The FCC will disburse funding until the program’s funds have been expended or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. Demand for COVID-19 Telehealth Program funding is expected to be high and stakeholders should take action now to prepare and submit funding applications.

FCC Tasks BDAC Working Group with Addressing COVID-19 Challenges

On April 16, 2020, Chairman Ajit Pai announced (DA 20-420) additional duties for the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (“BDAC”). The BDAC makes recommendations to the FCC on how to accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband access. The Working Group will assist the BDAC in documenting the strategies and solutions that stakeholders are developing and implementing in real time to address deployment-related challenges presented by COVID-19. It will also enable the BDAC to report on best practices and lessons learned from the response to COVID-19 to help with the ongoing response to the pandemic, and to assist stakeholders, including the FCC, in preparing for and responding to any comparable future crises. Nominations for new members of the Working Group should be submitted to the FCC no later than April 27, 2020.

FCC Grants Navajo Nation Request to Use Unassigned Spectrum

On April 17, 2020, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) granted an emergency Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) request filed by the Navajo Nation to use unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band to provide wireless broadband service over its reservation as part of its emergency COVID-19 response. The Nation is located within parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The STA is effective for 60 days. In addition to supporting emergency relief to meet increased broadband demands during the pandemic, the Commission continues to accept applications from eligible Tribal entities for licensed access to unassigned 2.5 GHz spectrum over their rural Tribal Lands in the Rural Tribal Priority Window, which closes August 3, 2020. The grant signals the FCC’s continued openness to STAs that allow service providers access to spectrum to improve communications and broadband service in rural and other hard-to-serve areas during the crisis.

FCC Extends Certain Wireless Construction Deadlines

On April 15, 2020, the WTB and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released an Order (DA 20-414) granting all site-based and mobile-only wireless licensees with construction deadlines between March 15, 2020 and May 15, 2020 (“Licensees”) an additional 60 days to meet their existing deadlines. This Order addresses a March 27, 2020 Enterprise Wireless Alliance (“EWA”) petition for waiver of construction requirements for certain site-based and mobile-only wireless licenses in light of the disruptions caused by COVID-19. The FCC is continuing to monitor the situation and may consider further extensions. The action is just the latest example of the FCC waiving or postponing deadlines covering everything from network buildouts to comment submissions.

Senators Introduce Bill to Increase Seniors' Telehealth Access

On April 14, 2020, Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation to increase senior citizens’ access to telehealth during COVID-19. The Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (“Access”) Act would authorize $50 million for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Telehealth Resource Center to assist nursing facilities receiving funding through Medicare or Medicaid in expanding their use of telehealth services.

Commissioners Call for Free ICS Calls, More Lifeline

On April 17, 2020, FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks said that the growing number of newly unemployed need access to broadband and voice services more than ever, during a MediaJustice online event. Commissioner Rosenworcel urged the FCC to bolster Lifeline benefits and enrollment, close the homework gap, and lower inmate calling service (“ICS”) rates, while Commissioner Starks backed the push to make ICS free for those in local and state jails and prisons, and not just federal facilities. On April 14, 2020, 27 Democratic Senators sent a letter to Congressional leadership calling on them to increase funding for Lifeline by at least $1 billion in any future coronavirus packages to increase reimbursement rates and the levels of service needed because “[s]ocial distancing, school closures, layoffs, and shelter-in-place rules have spurred a dramatic new reliance on telework, distance education, online employment, and telehealth.”

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COVID-19: What Communications Service Providers Need to Know – April 13, 2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-april-13-2020 https://www.kelleydrye.com/viewpoints/blogs/commlaw-monitor/covid-19-what-communications-service-providers-need-to-know-april-13-2020 Mon, 13 Apr 2020 18:24:41 -0400 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 Establishes the COVID-19 Telehealth Program

On April 2, 2020, the FCC issued a Report and Order (FCC-20-44) establishing the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will provide $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. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program will provide immediate support to eligible health care providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by fully funding telecommunications services, information services, and devices purchased on or after March 13, 2020 until the program’s funds have been expended or the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program represents the FCC’s most significant action yet to ensure telehealth services remain affordable and available during the crisis.

On April 8, 2020, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“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 the Universal Service Administrative Company (“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 April 10, 2020, the WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 20-403) that it will begin to accept applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program beginning today, April 13, 2020 at 12:00 PM ET. Applications for the program may be filed through a dedicated application portal, available on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program page: www.fcc.gov/covid19telehealth. The WCB will accept applications on a rolling basis. To assist applicants in preparing their applications, the WCB will hold a webinar today, April 13, 2020 at 11:00 AM ET, which also will be available on the COVID-19 Telehealth Program page: www.fcc.gov/covid19telehealth. The presentation will assist interested parties in navigating the application portal and provide answers to frequently asked questions regarding the COVID-19 Telehealth Program’s application process. The webinar will remain publicly available for viewing.

FCC Adopts Connected Care Pilot Program

On April 2, 2020, in the same Report and Order (FCC 20-44) establishing the COVID-19 Telehealth program, the FCC adopted the Connected Care Pilot program. This three-year Pilot Program will provide universal service support to help defray certain health care provider costs incurred in delivering connected care services, with a primary focus on services aimed at low-income or veteran patients. The FCC will support selected pilot projects to help health care providers improve health outcomes and reduce health care costs, thereby supporting efforts to advance connected care initiatives. The Pilot Program also would study how connected care could become a permanent part of the Universal Service Fund. All eligible nonprofit and public health care providers that fall within the statutory categories under section 254(h)(7)(B) of the Communications Act, regardless of whether they are non-rural or rural, can apply for funding under the Pilot Program.

FCC Extends E-Rate Program Deadlines

On April 1, 2020, the WCB granted extensions of key deadlines for participants in the Schools and Libraries (or 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.

FCC, FTC Demand Gateway Providers Cut Off Robocallers

On April 3, 2020, the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) demanded that service providers take action to stop coronavirus-related scam robocalls from bombarding American consumers. They specifically warned three gateway communications providers allegedly facilitating COVID-19-related scam robocalls originating overseas that they must take action to 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. The FCC and FTC have been working closely with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on this first-of-its-kind effort 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. Click here to read more about the FCC and FTC actions.

Chairman Pai Announces More Keep Americans Connected Signatories

On March 25, 2020, Chairman Pai announced that additional service providers have signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge (see our coverage of the pledge here). Under the pledge, service providers agree to forgo service terminations due to inability to pay, waive late fees, and open Wi-Fi hotspots for those who need them for a 60-day period. There are now 626 service providers and 14 trade associations that have signed the Chairman’s pledge.

FCC Enables Rural Broadband Providers to Waive Certain Consumer Fees

On April 1, 2020, the WCB approved waiver requests from the National Exchange Carrier Association (“NECA”) and John Staurulakis, Inc. (“JSI”) to allow the two organizations to quickly implement tariff changes to ensure that NECA and JSI participant companies have the flexibility to meet the Keep Americans Connected pledge during the COVID-19 pandemic. The WCB’s action immediately permitted waivers of late payment penalties as well as installation and early cancellation fees that the providers normally would be required to assess in accordance with their tariffs. The WCB’s waiver deserves close attention by tariffed service providers and signals the agency’s openness to regulatory relief benefitting consumers.

FCC Waives Restrictions on Hiring Contractors for ASL Interpretation Services

On April 3, 2020, the Consumer and Government Affairs Bureau granted a temporary, limited waiver of the Commission’s rule restricting providers of video relay service (“VRS”) from contracting for video interpretation services with an entity that is not itself an eligible provider (DA 20-378). With increased VRS traffic levels and employee absences due to health concerns, school closures, and other restrictions imposed by state and local authorities, VRS providers continue to face a shortage of interpreters able to work as communications assistants. By allowing VRS providers additional flexibility to contract for qualified American Sign Language (“ASL”) interpreting from other entities, such as providers of video remote interpreting, the FCC hopes to alleviate this shortage.

FCC Postponing 3.5 GHz Auction on Account of COVID-19

On March 25, 2020, the FCC announced a one-month postponement of the 3.5 GHz auction (3550-3650 GHz) in the Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”), a.k.a. Auction 105 (DA 20-330). The Commission cited the need to protect the health and safety of Commission staff during the auction and the ancillary benefit that parties would have additional time to prepare to participate. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai reiterated the agency’s commitment to hold the auction this summer. The auction is the first in the so-called mid-band, a range of spectrum seen as critical to the rollout of 5G wireless applications. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly tweeted that a further delay would be unlikely absent absolutely compelling circumstances. The start of the auction has been postponed to July 23, 2020 (from June 25, 2020), and the new short-form application filing window is April 23 through May 7, 2020. For more information on the postponement and the auction, please see our blog post.

Wireline Competition Bureau Extends Mozilla Remand Comment Cycle

On March 25, 2020, in response to a March 11, 2020, petition asking for a 30-day extension, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 20-331) granting a 21-day extension of the comment and reply comment cycle for the proceeding in the wake of the D.C. Circuit’s remand in Mozilla v. FCC (2018). Comments are due on April 20, 2020 (from March 30, 2020), and reply comments are due on May 20, 2020 (from April 29, 2020).

In issuing the extension, the WCB agreed with the petitioners’ argument that individuals, organizations, and state and local governments whose work is dedicated to public safety are increasingly focused on managing the COVID-19 pandemic and may be unable to submit comments on the public safety issues discussed in the remand proceeding. However, the FCC cited the need for expediency in remand proceedings as the reason for granting a 21-day extension instead of the petition’s request for a 30-day extension.

In addition, the FCC took the following actions in response to the pandemic:

  • On March 25, 2020, the Office of Engineering and Technology issued a Public Notice (DA 20-334) granting a 21-day extension of the reply comment deadline in the 5.9 GHz proceeding. Reply comments are now due on April 27, 2020 (from April 6, 2020). Initial comments were due on March 9, 2020. The entire 75 megahertz of the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band is allocated for connected car intelligent transportation systems using dedicated short-range communications ("DSRC") technology. Under pressure to allocate more spectrum for Wi-Fi operations and dissatisfied with the pace of DSRC development and deployment, the Commission has proposed reallocating 45 megahertz of the Band for unlicensed use and 20 megahertz to cellular vehicle-to-everything intelligent transportation system technology, while preserving only 10 megahertz for DSRC.
  • On April 10, 2020, the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics (“OEA”) extended via Public Notice (DA 20-401) the comment and reply comment deadlines for its Public Notice, released on February 27, 2020, which sought input on the state of the communications marketplace to inform the Commission’s required assessment of competition within the communications industry in its second Communications Marketplace Report to Congress. The Report provides an opportunity for stakeholders to evaluate competitive barriers to wireless and fixed broadband deployment, as well as international services. With this extension, comments are now due April 27, 2020 and reply comments are due May 28, 2020.
  • On April 1, 2020, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (“WTB”) announced (DA 20-365) a compilation of instructions for filing Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) and waiver requests in response to the declaration of national emergency due to COVID-19 issued on March 13, 2020. The WTB STA and Wavier Filing Guide can be found online here. On April 10, 2020, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau provided guidance to public safety entities on requesting STA and waivers (DA 20-404). All providers should consider whether an STA is appropriate to provide additional flexibility and improve service.
  • ​On March 27, 2020, the FCC granted​ STA for 33 wireless Internet service providers (“WISPs”) to use the lower 45 megahertz in the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band for 60 days to address the increase in consumer demand because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating WISPs are required to file FCC Form 601 (application for an STA) within 10 days to access the full 60-day STA, and are required to operate in the band on a secondary, non-interference basis so as not to interrupt existing DSRC and federal radiolocation operations.
  • ​On March 26, 2020, the FCC's WTB granted AT&T Special Temporary Authority (“STA”) to utilize additional spectrum in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for 60 days to handle increased network traffic as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. On March 30, 2020, the WTB granted A:shiwi College & Career Readiness Center an STA to utilize unassigned Educational Broadband Service(“EBS”) spectrum for 60 days in the eligible rural tribal land on the Zuni Reservation in New Mexico for similar reasons. These STAs are in addition to the ones previously granted by the Commission. ​
  • On April 10, 2020, the FCC’s WTB enabled AT&T to deploy two cell sites in Wisconsin to support wireless service for a critical medical facility. That facility is being constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Wisconsin State Fair Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to care for COVID-19 patients. The WTB granted AT&T’s request to expedite environmental review of the two proposed wireless tower sites, which will also serve first responders as part of AT&T’s FirstNet public safety broadband network. It is likely that the FCC will grant similar requests to expand communications infrastructure during the crisis.
  • On April 2, 2020, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau released a Public Notice (DA 20-367) reminding authorized alert originators, including state and local governments, that the Wireless Emergency Alert (“WEA”) system is available as a tool to provide life-saving information to the public during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, the FCC, together with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) and participating wireless service providers, have taken important measures to promote the effectiveness of WEA, and to make such messages more accessible, including the capability to send more detailed alerts of up to 360 characters for 4G-LTE networks, the option to convey recommended actions for saving lives or property for use in connection with Imminent Threat Messages, and the ability to send alerts in Spanish.
  • On March 26, 2020, the WCB waived a number of rules in its Rural Healthcare Program affecting existing users of the support programs. Most importantly, the Bureau’s order (DA 20-345) permits RHC applicants to extend existing evergreen arrangements with service providers by one year, without conducting an additional competitive bidding process, thereby ensuring continuity of service during the crisis. This builds on the Commission's previous waiver of rules for both the Rural Healthcare Program and the E-Rate program.
  • On March 30, 2020, the FCC's 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.

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