FCC Seeks Comments on Rural Health Care Program, Communications Accessibility, and Universal Service Fund

2022-03-03T15:08:51-05:00March 3, 2022|e-Lerts|

Clients have several opportunities to provide feedback and insight to help the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) shape policy and inform upcoming congressional reports. JSI encourages clients to file comments in proceedings relevant to their business and share company-specific perspectives.

Rural Health Care Program

The FCC is proposing new rules and seeks comment on changes to the Telecommunications (Telecom) Program, a component of the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program. The Telecom Program ensures that rural health care providers do not pay more than their urban counterparts for telecommunications services by subsidizing the difference between rural and urban rates.

The FCC seeks comment on how to improve the accuracy of support provided by the Telecom Program and decrease administrative burdens. Clients that provide services to rural healthcare providers and receive support from the Telecom Program are encouraged to submit comments in response to the FCC’s proposals and inquiries. Although not yet published in the Federal Register, comments will be due 30 days after the FCC order is published.

Accessibility of Communications Technologies

The FCC also invites comment on issues relating to communications accessibility and plans to use such comments to inform its biennial report to Congress, which is required by the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA). The CVAA requires telecommunications, interconnected voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), and advanced communications service providers and equipment manufacturers to make their services and equipment available to and useable by people with disabilities. The CVAA also requires Internet browsers on mobile phones to be accessible to and usable by people who are visually impaired.

The FCC seeks comment on current levels of compliance with the CVAA, products or services that are not accessible, and the extent to which providers and manufacturers ensure the usability of their offerings through accessible manuals, bills, and product support. The FCC also seeks comment on developments in the accessibility of new communications technologies such as 5G, high-definition (HD) voice, the Internet of Things, and Bluetooth.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FCC is especially interested in whether equipment necessary to work, study, and obtain healthcare remotely is accessible to people with disabilities. The deadline for filing comments in this proceeding is April 4, 2022.

The Future of USF

JSI recently filed comments in response to the FCC’s Notice of Inquiry on the future of the Universal Service Fund (USF). JSI encouraged the FCC to adopt a policy framework that secures the future of needed federal high-cost universal service. JSI also encouraged the FCC to recognize and report to Congress the historic importance of the federal high-cost universal service programs. JSI emphasized that the programs provide crucial support to rural local exchange carriers who provide broadband services to rural customers in furtherance of the FCC’s goal to ensure all Americans have access to quality broadband. JSI also recommended the FCC adopt robust standards for universal service and further universal service in high-cost areas of the nation by:

  • Coordinating the use of grant funds with existing high-cost universal service support;
  • Reinforcing the importance of the Eligible Telecommunications Carrier designation for providers seeking universal service;
  • Requiring trained auditors to conduct reviews for waste, fraud, and abuse in high-cost programs;
  • Revisiting the distribution of the remaining Rural Development Opportunity Fund budget to better address deployment needs in rural areas;
  • Ensuring levels of universal service support to construct and maintain rural networks; and
  • Engaging in meaningful universal service contribution reform in 2022.

In response to its inquiry, the FCC received 75 comments. Of particular interest to the rural providers JSI serves, many commenters discussed funding USF with Congressional appropriations instead of contribution charges, reforming high-cost USF, and maintaining USF for operating expenditures. JSI plans to file reply comments addressing these issues and encourages clients to file company-specific comments in which they can provide their own perspectives on proposals made by commenters.

JSI’s seasoned advocacy experts are ready to provide strategic advice and assist in drafting company-specific comments. Reply comments are due on March 17, 2022, so we ask that clients interested in JSI’s help contact us no later than March 10, 2022.

If you would like JSI’s help with writing comments or are otherwise interested in discussing any of the topics raised in this e-Lert, just click below, and one of our FCC experts will contact you.

FCC Announces Filing Deadline for New Broadband Data Collection and Adds $86 Million to the Emergency Connectivity Fund

2022-03-01T18:49:00-05:00February 28, 2022|e-Lerts|

The FCC recently made two announcements impacting broadband providers’ reporting obligations and participants in the Schools and Libraries program. First, fixed and mobile broadband service providers must submit broadband availability data in the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection (BDC) system between June 30 and September 1, 2022, as required by the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act. Second, the FCC bolstered its Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and extended the deadline for beneficiaries to spend support payments.

The BDC’s biannual collection and dissemination of granular data applies to terrestrial fixed, fixed wireless, satellite, and mobile broadband internet access services. Although the FCC has established these filing dates now, it has yet to finalize the details. The FCC plans to make further announcements that instruct filers on how to prepare and format their BDC availability data. Instructions will address the types of data filers must submit, the proper file formats for upload, and the values that the system will accept and validate against other sources. The FCC may also move up or delay the filing window, depending on the progress of other parts of the BDC system, although any modifications must give filers at least 60 days’ notice. JSI will provide an update as soon as new information becomes available.

Meanwhile, until the FCC announces a sunset date, broadband service providers must continue to file broadband and voice subscribership deployment data using the Form 477 filing interface. Until the FCC decommissions that system, providers must submit such information in both the new BDC system and the existing Form 477 filing system. Voice-only service providers, however, need not submit their subscribership data in both systems and will instead continue to use the Form 477 filing interface.

Additional information can be found on the BDC website at https://www.fcc.gov/BroadbandData/.

On the ECF front, the FCC committed another $86 million in Emergency Connectivity Funding to support students and libraries and to help close the homework gap. Since it began in June of 2021, the ECF program has committed over $4.6 billion to support more than 12 million students and over 900 libraries. This latest infusion will provide over 350 schools, 29 libraries, and 8 consortia with over 239,000 connected devices and over 96,000 broadband connections.

In addition, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau extended the date by which beneficiaries must use the funding to June 30, 2023. This one-year extension establishes a new deadline for ECF beneficiaries to request equipment, other non-recurring services, and recurring services submitted during the first and second ECF Program application-filing windows (the first one closed on August 13, 2021, and the second on October 13, 2021). Program beneficiaries can use the funding to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework, to ensure students have the necessary support to keep up with their education.

If you would like JSI’s help with any FCC requirements or filings or have any questions about the information contained in this e-Lert, just click the button below to connect with a member of our team.

FCC Takes Another Look at Individual TN Pooling

2022-02-25T18:18:14-05:00February 25, 2022|e-Lerts|

Three state utility commissions have asked the FCC once again to consider individual telephone number pooling (ITN pooling) as a proposed method of conserving numbering resources within an area code. The process involves a numbering administrator assigning telephone numbering resources one telephone number at a time, rather than at the current pooling level blocks of 1,000 numbers. The industry previously studied the feasibility of ITN pooling in 2000 but the idea did not reach fruition.

Maine, New Hampshire, and North Dakota have requested that the FCC revisit the idea’s technical, operational, and cost requirements to implement individual telephone number pooling on a trial basis. Advocates of the trials believe ITN pooling may offer more efficient number assignments and help to avoid premature area code exhaustion.

Which States Want ITN?

  • Maine Public Utility Commission filed a petition asking the FCC to direct the NANPA to report on the requirements to implement individual telephone number pooling for the 207 area code on a trial basis.
  • New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission filed a petition to implement a trial for individual telephone number pooling in NPA 603.The NH PUC also supported the Maine petition.
  • The North Dakota Public Service Commission DPSC supported the Maine and New Hampshire petitions and asked the FCC to grant it the same relief to implement ITN pooling for its 701 area code.
  • The Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Cable filed comments supporting New Hampshire’s petition for the 603 area code but did not request its own ITN trial.

Next Steps

In response to the requests, the FCC has directed the North American Numbering Council (NANC), through its Numbering Administration Oversight Working Group (NAOWG) to investigate the feasibility of ITN pooling trials, including technical, operational, and cost considerations with respect to the entity administering the pooling (such as the Pooling Administrator), service providers, and other stakeholders. The FCC also asked to NANC for suggestions for alternatives to ITN. The NANC must submit a report to the FCC by August 15, 2022.

JSI’s Bridget Alexander White serves as Vice Chairwoman of the NANC and will be working on this report as part of the NANC’s NAOWG. Service providers in the applicable states are invited to share opinions with Bridget – good, bad, or ugly – on the proposed ITN trial. She can be reached via email or at 301-459-7590.

Numbering & Porting Essentials Service

Clients interested in educating their staff on the cavalcade of numbering, porting and robocall mitigation requirements all service providers will face in 2022 should consider subscribing to JSI’s Numbering & Porting Essentials service. The subscription includes breaking news alerts, a free webinar and web-based education sessions designed to keep companies informed about important numbering, porting and robocall mitigation decisions that will impact their internal operations and customers. Contact Bridget Alexander White for more details and to sign up.

NPAC Annual Continued Qualification Filing Due March 25

2022-02-14T11:43:28-05:00February 14, 2022|e-Lerts|

All service providers that are registered with the Number Portability Administration Center (NPAC) must complete their 2022 Annual Continued Qualification (ACQ) online no later than March 25, 2022. The ACQ submission is an annual attestation that no changes have occurred to the company’s status as submitted on the NPAC Customer Application. Any service provider that fails to file the ACQ may be removed from the NPAC, which will prevent them from porting telephone numbers in the NPAC.

The types of company changes that must be reported to the NPAC include:

  • Change to the Applicant Type (Wireless, Wireline, VoIP)
  • Addition or deletion of NPAC Region(s) in which you are doing business
  • Change in Proof of Operating Authority (e.g., Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN), FCC Radio License, or FCC Proof of Numbering Authority)

If your company’s proof of operating authority and/or application information has changed you should immediately contact iconectiv’s Account Management for assistance in updating your application. An updated application must be submitted prior to the 2022 ACQ being submitted.

New to this year’s process, the ACQ is now completed online at iconectiv’s NPAC Customer Portal. Your company’s project representative, as provided on your NPAC Customer Application, should have already received an email notification from iconectiv to complete this filing. If your company has not received this email you will need to contact NPAC Account Management to update your company’s project representative information.

Any questions about the ACQ requirements or filing process may be directed to Karen Hoffman in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590.

FCC Begins Process to Require Broadband Labels for ISPs

2022-02-09T08:29:51-05:00February 9, 2022|e-Lerts|

At its last Open Meeting on January 27, 2022, the FCC proposed to require Internet service providers (ISPs) to display “consumer broadband labels” containing important information about the provider’s services, such as prices, speeds, data allowances, and management practices.

FCC broadband label exampleAt a minimum, the FCC would require providers to display labels on their websites depicting the broadband services that are offered. The FCC seeks comment on how providers should display the labels in other retail settings, such as in-person, on apps, or for purchases made over the phone. The FCC proposes that the labels look like standard food nutrition labels.

These proposed rules would require ISPs to create labels for each of their broadband service offerings, update their websites to include these labels, and implement procedures to ensure the labels are displayed in the manner required by the Commission. Providers also might be required to email labels to customers before completing purchases over the phone, or to notify customers when the contents of a label associated with their broadband service changes.

To promote its goal of ensuring customers have information necessary to make informed decisions in the broadband marketplace, the FCC also seeks comment on, among other things: how customers evaluate broadband service plans; whether the labels will help inform customers purchasing broadband; and what information should be included.

Some form of consumer label regulation is coming. Congress directed the FCC to implement broadband labels by November 15, 2022, and providers likely will have six months to comply with the new requirements after their adoption.

JSI will keep you informed on this important proposal and urges you to consider how your company will comply with these new requirements. JSI is available to assist in drafting comments in response to these proposed rules. The deadline for filing comments is March 9, 2022, and for reply comments, March 24, 2022. If you have questions, please contact Terri Parilla at 240-556-1307 or Amanda Farenthold at 301-459-7590.

E-Rate Round-Up: Notable Changes for Funding Year 2022 and Beyond

2022-02-04T08:25:58-05:00February 4, 2022|e-Lerts|

Telecommunications carriers that participate in the federal E-Rate program should be aware of several upcoming deadlines and take note of two procedural changes for Funding Year 2022. Companies also should review the FCC’s proposed program rules and provide comments to the Commission about how these potential changes could affect your operations.

FCC Seeks Comment on Proposed E-Rate Changes
The FCC is proposing new E-Rate rules to decrease the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse, and to streamline program requirements. The proposed changes include:

  • Creating a bidding portal and centralized document repository maintained by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) for use by service providers and applicants.
  • Allowing service providers to anonymously submit questions in the bidding portal to applicants during the bidding process and making the answers available to all interested bidders.
  • Requiring applicants to submit bidding selection documentation, such as bid comparison matrices and related contract documents, at the time they request funding.

The FCC wants to hear from you on the possible benefits and burdens of these potential rule changes. Comments are due on or before March 28, 2022, and reply comments are due on or before April 27, 2022. If you would like to learn more or would like JSI to assist with filing comments, please contact JSI’s E-Rate team at services@jsitel.com or 512-338‑0473.

E-Rate Funding Year 2022 Reminders
The Funding Year 2022 filing window for FCC Form 471 is open until Tuesday, March 22, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. Eastern.

When submitting your bids, please keep in mind that the FCC updated both the Category One (Data Transmission and/or Internet Access) and Category Two (Eligible Broadband Internal Connections) eligible services list. The latest eligible services list can be found here. Two notable changes for this year include:

  • E-Rate support is available for both equipment and necessary software (e.g., right-to-use software or client access licenses) under Category Two if both equipment and necessary software are included on FCC Form 471, even if the software was omitted from the request filed on FCC Form 470. Historically, equipment and software had to be listed on both forms to receive E-Rate funding.
  • National Security Supply Chain Restrictions: The FCC provided the website that houses the prohibited communications equipment and services list, known as the Covered List. Remember, E-Rate support is not available for equipment and services deemed to pose a threat to national security that are identified on the Covered List.

Looking Ahead to E-Rate Funding Year 2023
The filing window for Form 470 will open mid-summer 2022 for schools, libraries, and consortia to post their service requests.

JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle is designed to help your company spot business opportunities in your area from local schools, libraries, and consortia. We monitor the USAC 470 database throughout the funding year’s window for new opportunities based on your zip codes. Subscribers also receive “breaking news” alerts, deadline reminders and more. If you have questions about E-Rate or JSI’s E-Rate Connect, please contact JSI’s E-Rate team at services@jsitel.com or 512-338-0473.

FCC Establishes Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

2022-01-31T14:25:06-05:00January 31, 2022|e-Lerts|

On January 21, 2022, the FCC released a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopting its final regulations for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which helps ensure that households can afford broadband for school, work, healthcare, and other needs. Congress authorized $14.2 billion for the ACP under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which is expected to last several years.

The FCC’s new ACP regulations build on the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP), which terminated on December 31, 2021, the same day the ACP began. Providers currently operate under the holdover EBBP regulations and FCC directives until the new ACP regulations become effective. Some ACP rules become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register and some become effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

JSI encourages current ACP providers and those companies interested in becoming ACP providers to fully understand these regulations since key EBBP provisions have changed, such as how to solicit and enroll customers and how to comply with the new reporting and certification requirements.

The FCC is also seeking comment on additional items related to ACP, including an outreach grant program, a federal public housing pilot program, and a mechanism where subscribers in high-cost areas may receive an ACP benefit between $30 per month and $75 per month. Comments on these items are due 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Due to the important need for you to understand these new regulations, JSI is offering a webinar on the ACP on Thursday, February 10 at 2 p.m. Eastern. If you have questions about the ACP, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Liz Kayser at 512-338-0473.

FCC Gives Guidance on Transition of the EBBP to the ACP

2022-01-12T13:45:06-05:00January 12, 2022|e-Lerts|

The FCC has been ramping up since November 2021 for the transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) to the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and has provided guidance in four separate releases on November 26, 2021, December 8, 2021, December 30, 2021, and January 7, 2022. Today we detail several key items from this guidance which includes a required customer notification, information for EBBP participating providers to navigate the transition to the ACP, and guidance on the interim rules governing the ACP. The biggest take-aways for JSI clients are:

  • The ACP became effective on December 31, 2021;
  • On non-tribal lands, the monthly support amount decreases to a maximum of $30 effective March 2, 2022. On tribal lands, the monthly support amount for eligible Tribal households remains unchanged at up to $75. For existing EBBP customers, the higher monthly support amount will remain in place during a 60-day transition that will end on March 1, 2022.
  • EBBP providers must notify customers about the transition from EBBP to ACP although a specific date for notifying the customer has not been established;
  • Eligible broadband service plans are no longer tied to plans offered on December 1, 2020; and
  • EBBP providers should continue to rely on EBBP rules until the new ACP rules’ effective date, which is not yet known.

Sending Required Customer Notifications
Providers participating in the EBBP must inform customers that the EBBP transitioned to the ACP effective December 31, 2021. There is no set date for when the customer notices must be sent, but the notice must include:

  • Announcement of the program transition from EBBP to ACP effective December 31, 2021;
  • The continued availability of their current EBBP support amount during the 60-day transition period;
  • The beginning and end dates of the 60-day transition period;
  • The available ACP support amounts after the 60-day transition period;
  • A statement that subscribers may switch service offerings at any time; and,
  • A statement that the subscriber will receive additional information after March 1, 2022, if they are required to take any steps to retain any benefits.

Navigating the Transition for EBBP Service Providers
Providers participating in the EBBP prior to December 31, 2021 were automatically transitioned to the ACP. However, providers do need to keep in mind that:

  • Eligible broadband service plans are no longer tied to the broadband plans participating providers offered on December 1, 2020;
  • ACP may be offered on any broadband service plan, regardless of whether it was offered prior to December 1, 2021;
  • Participating providers may expand ACP offers to new states or territories by filing the necessary approval applications and USAC election notices;
  • Participating providers must continue to retain documentation consistent with FCC rules;
  • ACP discounts must be available on at least one service offering; and
  • Participation in the ACP will continue to be voluntary.

Understanding the Interim Rules Governing the ACP
Until the FCC implements the ACP rules, participating providers should continue to rely of the EBBP rules except where they differ from the ACP provisions in the new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). One major change from the IIJA is the change to the program’s qualifying criteria, which:

  • Eliminates COVID-19 substantial loss of income from the list of qualifying criteria for the ACP;
  • Includes the USDA’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) as a qualifying program; and
  • Increases the maximum income for qualifying based on household income from 135% to 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Until the FCC’s final ACP rules become effective, providers may not require an eligible household to submit to a credit check to apply for the ACP benefit.

Providers that wish to participate in ACP must submit an election notice to USAC, including evidence that they offer broadband service in the state they want to participate. Please contact one of the JSI staff members listed below if you have any questions about the election notice process for ACP.

The FCC intends to release its final ACP rules this month. JSI will keep you informed on these developments and plans to host a webinar once the FCC releases its final rules. If you have any questions about the transition to the ACP, please contact Liz Kayser at 512-338-0473 or Lans Chase at 770-569-2105.

Carrier Identification Code Reports Due January 31

2022-01-06T15:11:20-05:00January 6, 2022|e-Lerts|

Failure to submit the required semi-annual reports may result in CIC reclamation by NANPA

The semi-annual Carrier Identification Code (CIC) Entity Access and Usage reports covering the period from July 1 through December 31, 2021, are due to the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA) CIC Administrator by January 31, 2022. These reports are the sole tool used by NANPA to confirm if a CIC is being used in accordance with the CIC Assignment Guidelines or to determine if a CIC is subject to reclamation by NANPA.

For purposes of usage and reporting, CICs are assigned as Direct Trunk Access Feature Group B or D (FG B / FG D) or Switchless Reseller. Companies assigned Direct Trunk Access CICs must have trunk access with a facilities-based LEC. The trunk access must be reported to NANPA by both the CIC assignee and the facilities-based LEC from which the CIC assignee purchases access. Holders of Switchless Reseller CICs must report the underlying carrier with which the CIC has FG D usage.

Companies also are reminded of several CIC-related items:

  • NANPA may initiate CIC reclamation if the required reports are not submitted
  • Make sure the CIC reports are accurate before submission as information provided is considered certified.
  • CICs must be used in the manner they were requested and assigned within the CIC guidelines.
  • Verify your company’s CIC contact on file with NANPA is current and accurate. If not, updates should be filed with NANPA.

For more information about the required reporting and how JSI’s CIC Management Service can help you better manage your CICs in the future, contact Lisa Cover in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590.

Lifeline Recertification Form 555 Due January 31

2022-01-04T11:06:36-05:00January 4, 2022|e-Lerts|

All eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) are reminded to submit and certify their FCC Form 555, the annual Lifeline ETC certification form, by January 31, 2022, through the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) E-File system.

Although most states are using the Lifeline National Verifier, if an ETC conducted any recertifications, it is still responsible for reporting the results of such recertifications on Form 555. Further, because Form 555 contains required certifications of compliance with Lifeline rules, all ETCs must submit the form even if they did not conduct any recertifications.

JSI is available to assist you by filing Form 555 through E-File or by guiding you through the process, depending on your needs. If you would like JSI to submit Form 555 in E-File, your company officer or general contact must create an account to designate a JSI employee as an Authorized Agent through the USAC website. ETCs must also file Form 555 at the FCC, or state commissions and tribal governments where applicable.  JSI can also assist you with these filings.

If you have any questions or you would like JSI’s help with this reporting obligation, please contact Lans Chase in JSI’s Georgia office at 770-569-2105, Diana Zake in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473, or Kim Waldvogel in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7950.

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