CommLaw Monitor News and analysis from Kelley Drye’s communications practice group Wed, 03 Jul 2024 05:39:12 -0400 60 hourly 1 FCC’s November Meeting Agenda Focuses on Enabling Text-to-988 for Suicide Prevention and Spectrum Access to Close the Digital Divide Sun, 14 Nov 2021 18:56:43 -0500 The FCC released a light agenda for its next Commission Open Meeting, scheduled for November 18, 2021. The agency will consider a Second Report and Order to require covered text providers to support text messaging to 988 by routing those texts messages to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (“Lifeline”). The FCC will next address a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“FNPRM”) to adopt an incentive program to encourage licensees to make spectrum available to small carriers and Tribal Nations, as well as to carriers seeking to expand wireless services in rural areas. The FCC will also review a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) to assess whether FM and Low Power FM (“LPFM”) broadcast radio license applicants can verify directional antenna patterns by computer modeling instead of by taking physical measurements. The FCC will close its meeting by considering a Declaratory Ruling and Order (“Order”) that would grant Knéis, a French private satellite operator, with access to the United States market so that it can support connectivity for Internet of Things (“IoT”) devices and improved data collection.

You will find more information about the items on the November meeting agenda after the break:

Enabling Text-to-988 - The Second Report and Order would adopt rules that require covered text providers to route text messages sent to 988 to the Lifeline. Covered text providers would include CMRS providers and providers of interconnected text messaging services that enable consumers to send and receive text messages (including through the use of installed or downloaded applications). The implementation date for text-to-988 would be set at July 16, 2022, which is the same deadline for voice providers (i.e., telecommunications carriers, interconnected Voice over Internet Protocol (“VoIP”) providers and one-way VoIP providers) to enable end users to dial 988 to reach the Lifeline. Initially, covered text providers would only be required to support the transmission of text messages to 988 using Short Message Service format because that is the only text format the Lifeline can receive at this time. However, there would be a process whereby the Wireline Competition Bureau could expand the types of text formats that covered text providers must support as the Lifeline becomes capable of handling additional formats.

Enhanced Competition Incentive Program for Wireless Radio Services – The FNPRM would continue the FCC’s efforts to close the digital divide by promoting diversity of spectrum licensees and the availability of wireless services in rural areas. The FNPRM would propose an Enhanced Competition Incentive Program (“ECIP”) that would be available to wireless licenses for which the FCC has auctioned exclusive spectrum rights in a defined geographic area. A wireless licensee would qualify for certain benefits under the ECIP if it entered into an agreement with an unaffiliated entity to assign or lease a portion of its licensed spectrum and (1) the agreement encompassed at least 50 percent of the licensed spectrum and at least 25 percent of the licensed market area, and (2) the agreement was with a small carrier or Tribal entity or the agreement focused on a rural area. Wireless licensees that participate in the ECIP would receive a five-year extension of the license’s term, a one-year extension of the construction deadline and a modified construction requirement in rural areas. The FNPRM would also seek comment on whether a licensee should be required to use Open Radio Access Networks (“RAN”) technologies to receive ECIP benefits, alternative construction options for licensees with certain flexible use licenses (i.e., license that can be used for a variety of applications), and incentives to promote spectrum sharing.

Updating FM Radio Directional Antenna Verification – The NPRM would propose rules to address the FCC’s tentative conclusion that requiring applicants for FM and LPFM broadcast radio licenses or for modifications to those licenses to provide physical measurements to verify directional antenna patterns is outdated. The FCC’s rules currently require FM applicants to either (1) test a full-scale model of an antenna, including the tower or pole on which it is to be mounted and structures that will be in proximity to the antenna, on a test range or (2) construct a smaller, scale model of the antenna, mounting structure, and nearby structures, and then measure the signal in an indoor anechoic chamber. The NPRM would seek comment on whether the use of computer modeling is a viable option for verifying FM radio directional antenna patterns, whether the FCC should require use of a specific computer program, whether antenna manufacturers or broadcast engineers generally prefer a certain computer model to accurately analyze FM radio directional antenna patterns, and whether the FCC’s policies are effective in resolving interference complaints or disputes pertaining to the directional FM antennas.

Knéis Low-Earth Orbit Satellites Market Access - The Order would grant a petition and waiver request by Knéis, a private satellite operator, to access the United States market using a network of 25 low-Earth orbit (“LEO”) satellites authorized by France and operating on frequencies in the non-voice, non-geostationary mobile-satellite service and earth exploration-satellite service. The Order would grant Kinéis permission to use the 399.9-400.05 MHz and 401-403 MHz bands for uplink and the 400.15-401 MHz band for downlink, subject to certain conditions. Knéis would rely on these frequencies to support connectivity for IoT devices used in the maritime, agricultural, logistics, outdoor sports, security, and scientific sectors. The Kinéis satellite system would be compatible with the Argos data collection system (a worldwide network of data collection satellites managed by France’s space agency, together with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and would facilitate implementation of the next generation of the Argos system. Five of the satellites would monitor maritime communications in the 156.7625-162.0375 MHz band thereby enhancing maritime domain awareness. The Order would also require Kinéis to obtain approval of its orbital debris mitigation plans prior to commencing service.

Proposed Wireless Infrastructure Item Clarifies Rules Concerning Local Reviews to Speed 5G Deployments Thu, 04 Jun 2020 17:38:48 -0400 A draft Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ("NPRM"), if adopted, would clarify the agency’s 2014 rules governing the process state and local governments use to review deployments of new antenna and equipment on existing wireless infrastructure and seek comment on a related proposal concerning excavations for such expansions. The clarifications, which are meant to speed the deployment of 5G infrastructure, largely mirror those sought in a pair of petitions for declaratory ruling filed by the Wireless Infrastructure Association ("WIA") and CTIA in the fall of 2019. Those petitions allege that despite the 2014 rules, states and localities continue to erect barriers that slow their ability to add new facilities to existing infrastructure. In comments on the petitions, states and localities contend that they are substantially complying with the rules and that any delays are caused by applicants or their contractors. However, the FCC apparently plans to move forward with adopting most, though not all, of the industry group clarification requests.

For those who have been following the FCC over the past three years under Chairman Pai’s leadership, the draft item builds on the agency’s multifaceted effort to pave a clear path for the private sector to deploy 5G technologies. Prior efforts include repurposing low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum for mobile wireless operations, reducing the circumstances under which wireless infrastructure deployments must undergo federal historic preservation and environmental reviews, and preempting states and localities from using review processes to slow the deployment of small cells.

The agency is set to vote on the item at its June 9, 2020, open meeting.

Declaratory Ruling Clarifying Local Review Rules

The draft Declaratory Ruling is meant to strengthen several of the rules the FCC adopted in 2014 to implement Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012. That section says that “a State or local government may not deny, and shall approve, any eligible facilities request for a modification of an existing wireless tower or base station that does not substantially change the physical dimensions of such tower or base station.” The Commission’s rules implementing the statute were meant to provide clarity and guidance to state and local governments and the wireless industry on how to apply the statutory directive. The WIA and CTIA petitions claim that certain conditions established by states and localities continue to impede the deployment of private 5G networks. Accordingly, the draft Declaratory Ruling addresses the following:

  • Trigger for 60-Day Shot Clock – Under existing rules, state and local governments must approve or deny an eligible facilities request within 60 days or the request is deemed granted. The shot-clock begins on the day an applicant submits a request. The draft Declaratory Ruling would clarify that an applicant is deemed to have submitted a request when it “takes the first procedural step in a locality’s application process and submits written documentation showing that a proposed modification is an eligible facilities request.” This clarification is intended to preserve localities flexibility to structure their permitting procedures, but prohibit localities from treating applications as incomplete unless applicants comply with a series of time-consuming requirements.
  • Other Shot Clock Clarifications – The Declaratory Ruling would also prohibit localities from delaying the triggering or starting of the shot clock by (1) “establishing a ‘first step’ that is outside of the applicant’s control or is not objectively verifiable”; (2) “defining the ‘first step’ as a combination or sequencing of steps”; (3) declining to accept documentation required under FCC rules to demonstrate the eligible facilities request conditions are satisfied or requiring the submission of other documentation; and (4) using requirements to obtain conditional use permits, variances, or other similar types of authorizations to cause delays. Additionally, it would establish the submission of a typical filing for a standard zoning or siting review as the first procedural step in jurisdictions that have not established specific procedures.
  • Separation Between Existing and New Antenna ­– Under existing rules, a tower modification outside public rights-of-way would cause a substantial change if it “increases the height of the tower by more than 10% or by the height of one additional antenna array with separation from the nearest existing antenna not to exceed twenty feet, whichever is greater.” The Declaratory Ruling would clarify that “separation from the nearest existing antenna” means the distance from the top of the highest existing antenna to the bottom of the proposed new antenna that would be deployed above it.
  • Equipment Cabinets ­– Under existing rules, the number of new equipment cabinets affects whether a modification would cause a substantial change. The Declaratory Ruling would clarify that “equipment cabinets” does not include “small pieces of equipment such as remote radio heads/remote radio units, amplifiers, transceivers mounted behind antennas, and similar devices” if they “are not used as physical containers for smaller, distinct devices.” It declines to determine that “equipment cabinets” means only those installed on the ground.
  • Concealment Elements – Existing rules state that a modification would substantially change an existing structure if it would “defeat the concealment elements” of the structure that was originally approved. The Declaratory Ruling would specify that a “concealment element” is one “that is part of a stealth-designed facility intended to make a structure look like something other than a wireless facility” and was part of a prior approval. An attribute that minimizes the visual impact of a facility or that was not considered a concealment element at the time of initial approval would not be considered a modification. The FCC proposes to clarify that a proposed modification “defeats” a concealment element if it would “cause a reasonable person to view a structure’s intended stealth design as no longer effective.”
  • Limits on Other Conditions – Existing rules provide that a modification is a substantial change if it does not comply with any other original “conditions associated with the siting approval.” The Declaratory Ruling would clarify that “conditions associated with the siting approval” can include aesthetic conditions to minimize the visual impact of a wireless facility as long as the conditions do not prevent modifications explicitly allowed by rules that would permit modifications based on antenna height, antenna width, equipment cabinets, and excavations or deployments outside the current site, and “so long as there is express evidence that at the time of approval the locality required the feature and conditioned approval upon its continuing existence.”
  • Effect of Environmental Impact Agreements – Under existing rules, environmental impact assessments must occur when certain defined actions during construction of a facility might significantly affect the environment, including historic properties. The Declaratory Ruling would clarify that such assessments are not required when the FCC and applicants have entered into a memorandum of agreement to mitigate effects of a proposed deployment on historic properties if the only basis for the assessment was the potential for significant effects on such properties.
NPRM Concerning Excavation Outside of Existing Tower Sites

The Commission opted to issue an NPRM on one additional proposal in the WIA petition, regarding when a modification requires excavations. Existing rules provide that “[a] modification substantially changes the physical dimensions of an eligible support structure if . . . [i]t entails any excavation or deployment outside the current site” of a tower or base station, and is therefore not eligible for the streamlined procedures under the statute. Industry and localities disagree on whether “current site” means the boundaries at the time the tower was first approved or at the time the applicant seeks approval for a modification. WIA also asked the Commission to change its rules so that “a modification would not cause a “substantial change” if it entails excavation or facility deployments at locations of up to 30 feet in any direction outside the boundaries of a macro tower compound,” on the basis that colocation on existing towers is difficult to achieve without increasing the size of compounds. The NPRM seeks comment on these issues.

Democrats and Republicans Clash in Congressional Letters on Item

Democrats and Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent competing letters to FCC Chairman Pai concerning the draft item. Democrats asked that he delay the vote on the item, saying that “under the guise of clarifying . . . existing rules, [it] would grant companies the right to expand existing cell sites without any regard to local processes” and without meaningful insight from local governments, who are currently burdened with responding to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Republicans urged the FCC to press forward with the vote, also evoking the coronavirus pandemic to assert that the item would reduce “unnecessary regulatory burdens,” which would further streamline deployment and facilitate connectivity that is even more critical “[d]uring these unprecedented times.”

At the FCC, the two Democratic commissioners, Rosenworcel and Starks, expressed support for delaying the vote.As of this writing, Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly have not commented on the delay request. Republican Commissioner Carr strongly supports the item and is leading the charge for its adoption. We expect the vote to proceed and the item to be approved largely unchanged.

FCC Plans to Finalize Phase I RDOF Auction Procedures and Explore 5G Use of High-Band Frequencies at June Meeting Wed, 27 May 2020 20:31:32 -0400 The FCC plans to focus on “bread and butter” issues of broadband deployment and expanding commercial spectrum use at its next meeting, scheduled for June 9, 2020. Specifically, the FCC anticipates adopting final auction procedures for Phase I of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (“RDOF”), which will provide up to $16 billion over 10 years to support broadband deployment in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. Rejecting calls for delay during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC would commence the auction on October 29, 2020. The FCC also would address bidding area, performance requirement, and letter of credit issues that drew heated debate at the rulemaking stage. In addition, the FCC anticipates seeking comment on rule changes to expand use of high-band spectrum in the 71-76 GHz, 81-86 GHz, 92-94 GHz, and 94.1-95 GHz bands (“70/80/90 GHz Bands”) to support wireless 5G backhaul and other services. The 70/80/90 GHz Bands proposal is just the latest in a slew of FCC actions designed to open up more spectrum for commercial use, and would seek input on technical and operational rules to avoid interference to incumbent operations. Rounding out the major June items, the FCC plans to clarify key timeframes and criteria for state and local reviews of requests to modify existing wireless infrastructure to remove purported barriers to network improvements.

Covering the gamut of network funding, spectrum resources, and construction, the June meeting items will impact nearly all providers of 5G and other next-generation technologies and deserve close attention. You will find more information on the significant June meeting items after the break:

RDOF Phase I Auction Procedures: The FCC’s draft Public Notice would establish RDOF Phase I auction procedures that largely mirror the agency’s initial proposals for the program. In particular, the FCC would require auction participants to bid by census block group and establish an auction weighting mechanism that favors higher-speed, lower-latency services when awarding support. Auction winners would be required to offer service at the bid-upon performance level to 40% of the supported locations by the end of the third full calendar year following funding authorization and to an additional 20% of locations each year thereafter. As expected, service providers would be required to file a short-form application including basic ownership, technical, and financial information to participate in the auction, followed by a long-form application from auction winners providing detailed network descriptions and deployment plans. Auction winners would be obligated to obtain a letter of credit that would increase in value until the service providers begin to satisfy their deployment milestones. Service providers would not be required to receive designation as an eligible telecommunications carrier by the FCC or state authority to participate in the RDOF Phase I auction, but they would need to receive such designation before receiving any funding under the program.

Expanding High-Band Frequency Access: The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Order would seek comment on proposed changes to the rules governing the use of the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to support wireless 5G backhaul and broadband services onboard aircrafts and ships. First, the FCC would propose changes to antenna standards for the 70 and 80 GHz Bands to permit the use of smaller antennas and ask whether it should make similar changes to the standards for the 90 GHz Band. Second, the FCC would seek input on authorizing point-to-point links to endpoints in motion in the 70 and 80 GHz Bands and classifying those links as “mobile” services to support new offerings. Third, the FCC would request comment on whether it should change its link registration process for the 70/80/90 GHz Bands to eliminate never-constructed links from third-party registration databases, thereby opening the spectrum for new registrations. Finally, the FCC would propose power limits and other technical and operational rules to prevent harmful interference to incumbent operations in the 70/80/90 GHz Bands. As the 70/80/90 GHz Bands are currently allocated to co-primary Federal and non-Federal use, the FCC would coordinate any rule changes with affected federal agency incumbents through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Clarifying State/Local Wireless Review: The FCC’s Declaratory Ruling and Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would clarify agency rules implementing Section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012, which streamlines state and local reviews of requests to modify existing wireless infrastructure. Section 6409(a) and associated FCC rules require state and local governments to approve modification requests for existing wireless towers and base stations within 60 days as long as the modification does not “substantially change” the physical dimensions of the tower or base station. However, confusion exists among service providers and government authorities on when this 60-day shot clock begins. The FCC would clarify that the 60-day shot clock begins to run when a requester takes the first procedural step in a locality’s application process and submits written documentation showing that a proposed modification is eligible for streamlined treatment under Section 6409(a). The FCC would find that this approach would prevent localities from effectively postponing wireless network modifications through multiple interim procedural hurdles. The FCC also would clarify what types of infrastructure modifications represent a “substantial change” that would not qualify for streamlined treatment under Section 6409(a).