FCC Delivers Holiday Gift of Reduced Broadband Testing Locations

In the days leading up to the Christmas holiday, and just over a week before some companies begin their year of broadband measurements pre-testing, the FCC released two items pertaining to broadband testing: a clarification order about end-of-term non-compliance and a waiver on its own motion to permit the 2021 pre-testing group to only pre-test 70% of their USAC-selected random location samples. Even with the release of these two items, nothing should prevent A-CAM I, Rural Broadband Experiment, and Alaska Plan companies from beginning their pre-testing in January. As a reminder, the Performance Measures Module in USAC’s E-File is now open to upload your subscriber data and produce your random location sample.

In the Clarification Order (released December 18), the FCC addresses questions regarding compliance calculations and end-of-term support recovery in order to give greater certainty to companies that have to do broadband testing as a condition of receiving high-cost USF support. The FCC clarified that if a company is not in compliance with the performance requirements at the end of the support term, “it is only then that a carrier may be subjected to final performance compliance withholdings.” Put another way, model-based funding recipients may get funding for 10 years even though their final buildout milestone is at the end of the sixth year. The performance testing must occur throughout the entire funding duration, but a company would only be subject to withholding at the end of that period if the performance measurements do not meet the speed and latency standards. Furthermore, if a company is not in compliance at the end of the support term, it is permitted an extra year to make adjustments and come into compliance. Finally, the clarification order noted that funded providers participating in multiple programs or subject to multiple speed tier tests will be rated in compliance or not in compliance for each program, state, and speed tier. For example, if a company gets A-CAM I and CAF II Auction 903 support, and it fails to meet the performance standards for the CAF II areas, it will not see any impact to the A-CAM I area. If a company has deployment milestones for 25/3 and 4/1 Mbps and fails the performance standards for the 25/3 tier, it will have support withheld based on the percentage of funding assigned to the 25/3 tier only-not the 4/1.

In the Order that the Wireline Competition Bureau granted on its own motion (released December 21), it acknowledged the additional hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic that are preventing some companies from accessing testing equipment and installing it at customer locations. The Order noted that NTCA has reported challenges obtaining equipment due to supply-chain issues and difficulties accessing customer premises to install equipment. The FCC agreed that it was appropriate to at least modify the sample size but continue forward with the pre-testing year due to its importance in getting providers prepared for meeting their required performance standards. For the A-CAM I/RBE/Alaska Plan 2021 pre-testing group, the FCC will require carriers to pre-test and file results for at least 70% of their USAC-selected random location sample for each required speed tier. If the required testing size is 50 locations, the company must pre-test at least 35 of those 50 random locations. The Bureau had also waived some requirements for the CAF Phase II recipients who began pre-testing in 2020.

JSI reminds companies in the 2021 pre-testing group that USAC’s Performance Measures Module (PMM) is now open. Companies that begin pre-testing in 2021 should clean up their HUBB data and upload 2020 deployment data prior to going to the PMM. Once in the PMM, companies will generate their HUBB data and identify all active subscribers in each speed tier prior to generating the random samples. Then, companies can proceed with pre-testing of at least 70% of the random samples generated by the PMM.

If you have any questions about the performance measurement pre-testing requirements or process, please reach out to Valerie Wimer in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590.