At yesterday’s Open Meeting, the Commission voted to increase the E-rate cap by $1.5 billion, bringing the program’s total funding to $3.9 billion. The funding increase was originally mentioned in July’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, and was strongly supported by key Democratic Commissioners. According to the Public Notice of the action, the increase will give schools and libraries greater flexibility with building and supporting their high-speed broadband networks. To raise sufficient funds for the increase, the Commission intends to raise the USF contribution rate. The Public Notice estimates this increase to amount to an additional 16 cents per month on an individual consumer’s telecommunications bills, totaling nearly $1.90 per year. Commissioner Pai decried the increase, stating that it would lead to a contribution factor of 20.3%, double the contribution factor from 2009.
The FCC’s docket dedicated to resolving issues related to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) has been very active as of late. Sometimes, it takes a while for the Commission to react to a filing made before it. One recent example is the Public Notice released by the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau on November 24, 2014. The Public Notice seeks comment on a letter received back in September 2014 from 39 state attorneys general asking for the Commission’s opinion about the legality of call-blocking technology. The inquiry raises several interesting questions for the future of TCPA enforcement.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), through coordination with the FCC and other federal stakeholders, expects by mid-January 2015 to streamline the online process for submitting Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs). NOTAMs identify towers that are experiencing a lighting outage or otherwise faulty lighting and provide a mechanism for the FAA to alert aviation operations to the outage. The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau issued an advisory on December 8th announcing the FAA’s new process which will permit tower owners to individually select the active period for each NOTAM in lieu of the current default of fifteen (15) days.
Under Part 17 of the FCC’s rules, tower owners are required to notify the FAA, either via telephone or through a web-based form maintained by the FAA’s US NOTAM office, within 30 minutes of discovering a lighting outage and subsequently take remedial steps the repair the outage as quickly as possible. The NOTAM process is critical to air safety, and the FCC has engaged in recent enforcement action where the process has not been followed, as reported in our recent blogs. Currently, all NOTAMs expire automatically after 15 days. The agencies recognized that some lighting outages cannot be addressed within the 15 day period and having a default period may create unnecessary burdens and inefficiencies on tower owners forced to make repeated filings and the agencies that process them.
To streamline the process, the FAA plans to revise its web-based form by mid-January to allow tower owners to self-select an expected repair date. The advisory warns the industry that the FCC “will respond aggressively” if it determines that tower owners are abusing the flexibility of the new process.
The updates to the NOTAM requirements are part of a larger initiative at the FCC to eliminate outdated rules and to address the rules that relate to wireless infrastructure, including recent amendments to the marking and lighting rules and the tower siting rules. Tower owners should continue to pay close attention to FCC and FAA actions in this area and take advantage of rule changes designed to facilitate deployment, maintenance, and compliance with infrastructure obligations. More liberal rules may be coupled with greater enforcement.
The Federal Communications Commission recently announced its agenda for the next Open Commission Meeting, scheduled for Thursday, December 11th. The first item on the Commission’s agenda will be an update to the E-rate program. At the Open Meeting, the Commissioners will consider a Second Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration in the E-rate docket (WC Docket No. 13-184).
Through the Second Report and Order, the Commission is expected to raise the current $2.4 billion E-rate cap by $1.5 billion. Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Rosenworcel both believe the increase is long overdue since (other than a recent inflation adjustment) no new funding has been added to the program since the creation of the Universal Service Fund.
Raising the E-rate cap was an issue considered in the Commission’s July’s E-rate Modernization Order which aimed to close the Wi-Fi gap by creating a $1 billion annual target for promoting broadband development and encouraging digital learning in the nation’s schools and libraries. The Modernization Order also sought to increase the transparency and efficiency of the E-rate program. At the time, the Commission deferred the issue of the cap, but the Republican members decried an alleged “secret deal” to raise the cap in December.
The Commission’s meeting will be held at 445 12th Street, S.W., at 10:30 a.m. in Room TW-C305. For more details on the July E-rate Order, check out our Study Guide. The FCC also prepared a Fact Sheet and an E-rate Data Update with additional information about the program. We will post an update after the Commission’s action.
The FCC has solicited comment on the rights of a Wi-Fi operator to manage its network through the use of FCC-authorized equipment to monitor and mitigate threats to the security and network interference. On November 19th, the Commission issued a Public Notice seeking comment on a joint petition filed by the American Hospitality & Lodging Association (“AHLA”), Marriott International, Inc. and Ryman Hospitality Properties (the “Petitioners”) that addresses the rights of Wi-Fi operators to manage and protect their networks (“AHLA Petition”). This issues raised by the AHLA Petition, which was filed in August 2014, potentially impact a broad range of Wi-Fi premise operators, including local businesses, educational institutions, hospitals, hotels, airports and other enterprises that operate Wi-Fi networks on their premises.
Statements opposing or supporting the AHLA Petition are requested by December 19, 2014.
On November 20, 2014, the FCC released a Public Notice announcing that the FCC Form 477 Local Competition and Broadband Report filing interface, which had been unavailable since October 7 due to ongoing technical difficulties, has been reopened. The new deadline for filing the form is December 11.
As we noted in our previous filing alert, the reporting requirements for the Form 477 were recently revised. This report previously only collected data about the number and types of broadband and voice subscribers served by reporting entities. As of 2014, however, the FCC assumed responsibility for the collection of data on broadband deployment, which collection was previously overseen by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration. As a result, in addition to collecting broadband and voice telephone subscription data, the new Form 477 will collect data on the locations where broadband facilities are deployed and this data will be used to populate and update the National Broadband Map.
Specific changes to the filing requirements include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Filers will submit the required deployment and subscription data on a nationwide, rather than state-by-state basis;
- Fixed and mobile broadband service data (coverage areas and number of connections) must be provided in terms of advertised upload/download speed, rather than speed tiers;
- Providers of mobile voice services must report coverage areas by technology and spectrum band; and
- Providers of fixed voice and interconnected VoIP services must report the number of subscriptions by census tract.
Reporting entities should be mindful that going forward, the deadline for filing Form 477 will be October 1 annually.
After adopting the E-rate Modernization Order in July, Chairman Wheeler announced that the Commission is poised to take the next step in updating the E-rate program for schools and libraries. At the Commission’s next meeting in December, Chairman Wheeler will circulate a draft order to his fellow Commissioners for their consideration.
July’s E-rate Modernization Order aimed to close the Wi-Fi gap by creating a $1 billion annual target for promoting broadband development and encouraging digital learning in the nation’s schools and libraries. The Modernization Order also sought to increase the transparency and efficiency of the E-rate program.
Chairman Wheeler’s draft order will be in line with the policy goals of the July Order and perhaps most notably, the draft order will include a proposal to raise the E-rate program cap by $1.5 billion. If approved, this increase will bring the total E-rate program cap to $3.9 billion, up from $2.4 billion. According to the Chairman’s Office, more than half of the $1.5 billion increase accounts for inflation since the E-rate program began in 1997, while the remaining amount reflects the Commission’s commitment to building much needed bandwidth.
On November 12, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the implementation of electronic filing procedures for common carrier complaints and pole attachment complaints under Sections 208 and 224, respectively, of the Communications Act.
Literally years in the making, the change constitutes the FCC’s latest step in expanding electronic docketing and filing as well as electronic notification regarding developments in open proceedings. The new procedures increase the accessibility of documents to members of the public by making Section 208 and Section 224-related filings available for review online through the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System.
After months of cryptic messages ostensibly in support of new open Internet rules (a policy colloquially known as “net neutrality”), on November 10th, President Obama issued a formal policy statement on the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC’s” or the “Commission’s”) Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”). In his statement, the President called for the Commission to reclassify broadband Internet access service (including mobile broadband) as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended.
On October 30, 2014, the FCC released an order that effectively resolves nearly half of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) petitions pending before it. This order addresses 24 petitions seeking clarification of the Commission’s rules requiring individuals and entities that send fax advertisements to include certain information on the fax to allow recipients to “opt-out” of receiving such transmissions in the future. The FCC denied all of the petitions insofar as they requested the FCC to rule that the “opt out” language requirement did not apply to faxes sent with the prior express consent of the recipient, but granted a retroactive waiver to the petitioners and other similarly situated parties because the scope of the opt-out requirement was previously unclear. The order thus will address a key issue in many pending TCPA class action cases. Moreover, by permitting similarly situated parties to seek the same waiver, the FCC essentially sets the stage to remove this issue from all TCPA cases involving fax transmissions. Any party facing a claim based on opt-out notices should take note of this order.