2 11, 2021

CAF-BLS Cos. Without Locations in HUBB Must Contact USAC About Samples for Broadband Pre-Testing

2021-11-02T14:02:42-04:00November 2, 2021|e-Lerts|

Legacy CAF-BLS companies that may not have adequate locations in the HUBB for a random sampling before broadband performance pre-testing begins in January 2022 must contact USAC by Monday, November 8, 2021. All Legacy CAF-BLS companies, along with A-CAM II, Alaska Plan and CAF Phase II Auction carriers, must begin pre-testing in first quarter 2022 as part of the FCC’s performance measures testing framework. Companies will use a USAC-generated random sample of broadband locations deployed (and reported in the HUBB) that have active subscribers.

However, USAC has identified three scenarios where CAF-BLS companies may not have any locations or enough locations reported in the HUBB for the random sampling:

  1. Fully Deployed Prior to May 25, 2016 – Under this scenario, CAF-BLS companies have not reported any locations into the HUBB because they were fully deployed in their service territory prior to May 25, 2016 and therefore have no HUBB filing obligations.
  2. No Reported Deployments to Date – Since CAF-BLS companies only have one deployment milestone at the end of 2023, there may be some companies that do have a HUBB filing obligation but have not yet submitted any locations in HUBB due to no deployment of 25/3 broadband during the period May 25, 2016 to present.
  3. Limited Deployment to Date – Under this scenario, CAF-BLS carriers have entered some locations in the HUBB due to deployment of 25/3 broadband after May 25, 2016 but must rely on locations that were fully deployed prior to May 25, 2016 to meet their buildout obligations. For example, a company may have a buildout requirement of 3,000, but 2,800 of these were prior to May 25, 2016 and therefore only 200 locations are in the HUBB.

USAC has asked any Legacy CAF-BLS companies that fall under scenarios 1 and 2 to contact them at HCproduct@USAC.org by November 8. USAC is meeting with the FCC to discuss scenario 3 and is planning to send an updated email with language that is directly applicable to this situation. USAC is likely to ask companies under scenario 3 to tell them how many locations and at what speeds were deployed pre-2016 to be added to those that they did upload into HUBB. Regardless, USAC will follow up with CAF-BLS companies under each of the three scenarios on how to obtain random location samples for speed and latency pre-testing in 2022.

If you have any questions about this requirement or any other questions related to broadband performance testing, please contact Lans Chase at 770-569-2105 or Paul Nesenson at 651-452-2660.

5 04, 2021

First Broadband Speed Pre-Test Results Due Wednesday

2021-11-02T13:14:35-04:00April 5, 2021|e-Lerts|

JSI Encourages Companies to File Early

All A-CAM I, Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE), and Alaska Plan recipients must file their first quarter broadband pre-test results in USAC’s Performance Measures Module (PMM) by Wednesday, April 7, 2021. This pre-test year is being used to work out the bugs in broadband testing procedures. During the pre-testing year, you will not be penalized for missing the speed and latency benchmarks; however, your company can be penalized for late-filed data (see JSI’s March 11, 2021, e-Lert).

JSI is encouraging companies to start their filings early to ensure that they meet this week’s filing deadline. Companies have reported encountering issues that cause their filings to fail in the PMM. It can take hours of work to fix formatting or to research issues that are causing the filing to fail. Missing the filing deadline could result in fines by the FCC.

If you have trouble with your filing, you can contact Paul Nesenson in our Minnesota office at 651-691-4045 or Bob Ragsdale in Georgia at 770-569-2105.

11 03, 2021

JSI Encourages Companies to Communicate Issues with Broadband Pre-Testing

2021-11-02T13:15:04-04:00March 11, 2021|e-Lerts|

All A-CAM I, Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE), and Alaska Plan recipients are required to submit their first quarter of broadband speed and latency test results in USAC’s Performance Measures Module (PMM) by the April 7, 2021, deadline for the first quarter’s results. Since 2021 is the “pre-testing” year for this group of companies, it is important to work though the steps involved with the PMM and resolve issues with your equipment and processes prior to 2022 when missing the target measurements will impact funding. During the pre-testing year, companies will not be penalized for missing the speed and latency benchmarks; however, companies can still be penalized for filing data late. It is best to submit whatever testing data you can produce and not be concerned about getting the results perfect in this first pre-testing round, as USAC will work with companies by identifying errors and failed tests.

JSI has heard of issues arising regarding data input into the PMM, running the randomizer, finding test servicers, and actual test results. With only a few weeks left in the quarter, JSI encourages A-CAM I companies experiencing difficulties to have some test results to file. That may mean testing only a portion of the customers selected by the randomizer (i.e., test customers that don’t need any on premise equipment first, then move to customers that do required CPE installation). Issues with equipment and finalizing testing locations can be addressed throughout the year.

Issues include: –

  • In December, the FCC released an Order that permits companies to pre-test only 70% of their USAC-generated random samples during 2021 (See our December 23, 2020, e-Lert). This could alleviate issues with finding suitable replacement locations in time if the testing sample contained locations that need to be replaced.
  • A-CAM I, RBE, and Alaska Plan companies having trouble with completing the testing on time due to COVID hardships can file a waiver. The FCC “may take into account considerations of hardship, equity, or more effective implementation of overall policy on an individual basis.” Certain hardship waivers could include company employee deaths, equipment delays due to COVID, customers not permitting technicians in their homes, or other unplanned situations that prevent the testing from being completed and submitted. Even with a waiver, companies should work towards resolving their individual hardships to comply with the rules and be ready for the 2022 testing period.

JSI and N-Com can assist companies with the final leg of the first quarter of broadband testing with reviewing data prior to filing, troubleshooting equipment challenges, drafting a hardship waiver, and providing guidance on the PMM and randomizer process. We encourage A-CAM I, RBE, and Alaska Plan clients to engage us on the filing process and with any assistance you need in resolving issues with USAC or completing the follow-up analysis after the quarterly filings.

If you have questions about the broadband pre-testing or need assistance with this upcoming filing, please reach out to Valerie Wimer in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Paul Nesenson in our Minnesota office at 651-691-4045.

23 12, 2020

FCC Delivers Holiday Gift of Reduced Broadband Testing Locations

2021-11-02T13:21:19-04:00December 23, 2020|e-Lerts|

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.

8 12, 2020

Webinar: Getting Up To Speed on 2021’s Broadband Pre-Testing

2020-12-08T14:53:31-05:00December 8, 2020|Webinar Recordings|

Beginning January 1, 2021, all rate-of-return (RoR) companies receiving A-CAM I funding, as well as Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE) winners and Alaska Plan companies, are required to begin their year of pre-testing for the broadband measurement filing requirements. In a recent webinar, we cleared up much of the confusion about who has to start testing, how to test, and what equipment to use. JSI’s regulatory experts and N-Com’s engineers presented critical information about both the technical and the USAC filing aspects of the FCC’s broadband testing rules.

Our webinar provides you with the most up-to-date information and extensive analysis of this challenging requirement, including:

  • An overview of the rules adopted in the 2019 Performance Measures Order on Reconsideration;
  • How to use USAC’s Performance Measures Module (PMM), including how it will generate random subscribers to test;
  • Which testing equipment is available now and is best suited to different technologies; and
  • Technical considerations, such as the testing end point and other important factors.

This webinar recording would be good for both technical and management/regulatory staff who will be involved in your company’s broadband testing process. And even though only some RoR carriers begin pre-testing in 2021, all high-cost recipients of A-CAM II, Legacy RoR and CAF Phase II auction winners would benefit from JSI’s first comprehensive broadband testing webinar, as those companies will begin pre-testing in January 2022.

A recording of the webinar is available for $249. Contact Brenda Cordwell in the Maryland office at 240-556-1295 if you’d like to purchase the recording of this webinar.

9 11, 2020

First Group of High-Cost Recipients Must Prepare for Broadband Measurement Pre-Testing

2021-11-02T13:22:37-04:00November 9, 2020|e-Lerts|

On January 1, 2021, three categories of high-cost funding recipients will begin their year of pre-testing for the broadband measurement filing requirement: A-CAM-I and A-CAM-I Revised companies, Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE) winners, and Alaska Plan companies. The pre-testing year will give these funding recipients an opportunity to complete the quarterly testing requirements without being held accountable for attaining certain metrics. The pre-testing itself is required, but companies will not be penalized for the results of the subpar tests until 2022. In 2020, the price cap carriers are completing their pre-testing year, which will hopefully provide some insight for rate-of-return companies.

In order to begin pre-testing, companies must have a selection of active subscribers indicated on their HUBB data for USAC to randomly select from. There has been considerable uncertainty over how this process will be completed prior to January. USAC will be having a webinar on November 19 at 2pm ET to provide an overview of the testing requirements and their Performance Measures Module (PMM), which will generate the random subscriber locations to test. We encourage all A-CAM-I, RBE and Alaska Plan companies to attend this webinar to better understand the PMM and random selection process. JSI plans to hold a comprehensive webinar in early December, which will cover the various solutions that currently exist and a reminder of the rules and procedures.

For more information about the testing requirements or USAC’s webinar, please contact Valerie Wimer at 301-459-7590 or Lans Chase at 770-569-2105.

4 11, 2019

Broadband Testing Is Finally Real; RLECs Given Extra Time to Prepare

2019-11-04T12:44:53-05:00November 4, 2019|e-Lerts|

On Halloween afternoon, the FCC released its recently-approved Order on Reconsideration on the much-maligned broadband testing rules. While the Order provides more flexibility than the original Performance Measures Order from two years ago, it still does not grant all of the requests to ease burdens, submitted by the many rural associations. In our previous e-Lert about the draft Order on Reconsideration, we reviewed the delayed time frames for implementing the testing and reporting results. It included a one-year pre-testing period for Rural Broadband Experiment (RBE) awardees, rate-of-return companies, and recipients of CAF Phase II auction support where no penalties would be imposed for results below the FCC’s requirements. Now, with the release of the Order, the earliest that any RBE, rate-of-return or CAF Phase II provider will be required to report results that could cause penalties will be January 2022, with the majority not being required to report results until January 2023.

ETCs receiving high-cost support will still be required to test speed and latency metrics to ensure that the services for which they get support are meeting the technical standards required for the receipt of that support.

The following points summarize some of the key rules established in the Performance Measures Order, whether a rural broadband association sought reconsideration, and how the FCC ultimately decided in the Order on Reconsideration.

End Points for Testing
Original rule: Speed and latency should be measured on each ETC’s access network from a customer-side interface to the nearest Internet access point (IXP), which is the closest peering point between the broadband provider and the public Internet. The FCC designated 16 metropolitan areas as IXPs.

Recon petition: Testing to an FCC-designated IXP point can create conditions beyond the ILEC’s control that might impact the speed and latency tests. At the very least, the FCC should provide a “safe harbor” to protect carriers from adverse test results caused by other networks.

Order decision: The FCC denies the petitions but revised its definition of what it considers an IXP after finding that designating metropolitan areas was too vague. Under the revised definition, the FCC has now identified 44 specific locations and listed them in Appendix B of the Reconsideration Order. The FCC also states that small carriers “do have some influence and control over the type and quality of Internet transport they purchase,” but that carriers can seek waiver if the only transport option available would certainly degrade the testing results. Additionally, the FCC clarifies that testing should be conducted from the customer side of any network equipment that is being used.

Number of Test Locations
Original rule: Carriers must test a maximum of 50 subscribers per funded service tier offering per state, with some scaled flexibility for especially small providers, those with fewer than 500 customers in a state and service tier or those with fewer than 50 subscribers.

Recon petition: Testing even 10 percent of fewer than 500 subscribers might be too difficult, and the FCC’s rules require small providers to test a significantly higher proportion of customers than large providers’ tests.

Order decision: The FCC will not modify the testing sample size for speed and latency because the FCC has determined a margin of error whereby reducing the sample size could make the test results less of an accurate representation of the network’s performance. The FCC leaves an option for providers with particularly special circumstances to file a waiver. Additionally, carriers may use the same subscriber locations to test both speed and latency in order to avoid the burden of having two separate sets of subscriber locations.

Quarterly Testing Requirement
Original rule: To capture “seasonal effects” and differing conditions throughout the year, providers are required to test for speed and latency quarterly.

Recon petition: Quarterly testing is a substantial burden for small providers, and there is no certainty that quarterly testing would produce any more accurate information than a single week per year.

Order decision: The FCC maintains that quarterly testing is necessary to account for different conditions throughout the year based on changes in foliage, weather, and customer usage patterns.

Standards for Full Compliance
Original rule: To achieve full compliance with latency and speed standards, 95% of latency measurements during the testing windows must fall below 100ms round-trip time and 80% of speed measurements must be at 80% of the required network speed.

Recon petition: There is a significant disparity in compliance thresholds for speed and latency and, therefore, the ETCs’ latency measurements should be changed to meet 175ms at least 95% of the time to better align the latency standard with the speed standard.

Order decision: The FCC declines to modify the standards for full compliance and maintains the longstanding latency standard requiring that 95% of round-trip measurements be at or below 100ms, in addition to the speed standard that 80% of speed measurements must be at 80% of the required network speed. However, the Order clarifies that carriers are not required to provide speeds beyond what they are already obligated to deploy as a condition of their receipt of high-cost support.

Remedies for Non-Compliance
Original rule: Established a four-level framework that calls for reductions in support if performance testing shows that carriers have failed to meet the required speed and latency standards.

Recon petition: The non-compliance with speed and latency requirements is subject to support withholding under the established framework that is more severe than non-compliance with build-out milestones and should, therefore, be adjusted.

Order decision: FCC generally declines to revise the established compliance and certification framework, but will more narrowly tailor end-of-term non-compliance provisions, as follows. If a carrier cannot demonstrate compliance at the end of the support term, the FCC will only withhold support for the amount of time since the carrier’s network performance was last fully compliant. However, if a carrier has never complied with performance testing requirements at any time during the testing period, then the carrier will have the appropriate amount of support withheld at the end of the support term for the entire term. Additionally, in response to concerns regarding the fairness of potentially reducing carriers’ support amounts for both lack of deployment and non-compliance with speed and latency standards, the FCC clarifies that it will ensure that the total amount of support withheld from the carrier because of failure to meet deployment milestones and performance requirements does not exceed a certain limit. Finally, the FCC also has prescribed a remedy for carriers that fail to meet their deployment obligations at the end of the term as a result of failing to meet their speed and latency requirements.

Schedule to Commence Testing
Original rule: Established a deadline of July 1, 2020, for carriers to report the results of testing, with an accompanying certification, for the third and fourth quarters of 2019.

Recon petition: The testing schedule is too burdensome and does not provide carriers with enough time to figure out how to conduct testing and meet the requirements.

Order decision: The FCC has decided that it is appropriate to modify the scheduled start of performance testing to link speed and latency testing to the deployment obligations for carriers receiving support from each of the various high-cost support mechanisms. Pushing back testing will provide carriers with more time to develop solutions for how to undertake the required testing. Additionally, the FCC will implement a pre-testing period that will occur prior to the beginning of each carrier’s testing start date. The pre-testing period will also line up with the carrier’s deployment obligations for the specific high-cost program under which it receives support and will require the carrier to file data regarding pre-testing results. Under pre-testing, carriers will be required to conduct testing, using a USAC-determined random sample of subscribers, and submit their results to USAC within one week of the end of each quarter (i.e., by April 7 for the first quarter, July 7 for the second quarter, etc.). However, carriers are not at risk at having their support reduced during the pre-testing period, as long as each carrier actually undertakes pre-testing and reports their results. If a carrier fails to conduct pre-testing and submit timely results, they will be considered as Level 1 non-compliance. The random sample for pre-testing can be used by the carrier for a total of two years, meaning that carriers will need to obtain a new random sample after two years of pre-testing/testing. The FCC adopts the following rolling testing schedule:

Type of Company Pre-Testing Start Date Testing Start Date
CAF Phase II (Price Cap carriers) January 1, 2020 July 1, 2020
Rural Broadband Experiment Winners January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
Alaska Plan Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM I Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM I Revised Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM II Companies January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
Legacy Rate of Return Companies January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
CAF Phase II Auction Winners January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
New NY Broadband Program Carriers January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023

Please contact John Kuykendall, Valerie Wimer or Cassandra Heyne in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590 with any questions you have regarding the broadband testing requirements.

7 10, 2019

FCC Delays Broadband Testing for CAF Recipients in Draft Order

2019-10-07T16:15:20-04:00October 7, 2019|e-Lerts|

Denies Most Requests for Additional Changes   

Last week, the FCC released draft texts of the items that will be voted on at its October 25th Open Meeting, including a draft Order on Reconsideration of the broadband speed and latency measurement requirements that all Connect America Fund (CAF) recipients must begin collecting in January 2020. Rate-of-return companies have been anxiously awaiting this Order so they can get their equipment in place before testing starts. Earlier this year, the FCC delayed the implementation of the rules for six months but did not elaborate on any other aspects. According to the FCC, changes in the Order provide more flexibility, “taking into account the operational, technical, and size differences among providers when establishing minimum standards, to ensure that even the smallest rural carriers can meet testing requirements without facing excessive burdens.”

One of the biggest wins in this Order is that the testing requirements will be delayed based on buildout obligation milestones for A-CAM I, A-CAM II, Legacy, and CAF Phase II recipients. The FCC will also establish a “pre-testing” period where penalties will not be applied and companies required to do the testing will have an opportunity to work out any issues with the technology. The new, proposed schedule for pre-testing and testing implementation is as follows:

Type of Company Pre-Testing Start Date Testing Start Date
CAF Phase II (Price Cap carriers) January 1, 2020 July 1, 2020
Rural Broadband Experiment Winners January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
Alaska Plan Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM I Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM I Revised Companies January 1, 2021 January 1, 2022
A-CAM II Companies January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
Legacy Rate of Return Companies January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
CAF Phase II Auction Winners January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023
New NY Broadband Program Carriers January 1, 2022 January 1, 2023

Other Requested Changes Denied
Despite good news about delaying the start date for the testing requirements, the FCC denied or made only modest changes to many of the requests in petitions filed by rural associations. Notably, the FCC did not take any meaningful action to resolve the challenges that rate-of-return providers have raised about obtaining customer consent for placing testing equipment on the customer premises. The FCC noted that this “may prove difficult,” but believes that the delay, coupled with vendors developing software that allows the tests to be conducted without any additional hardware, may suffice. The FCC also said that prior to the pre-testing period, the agency will release information to explain to customers the nature and purpose of the testing, and reminded companies that no CPNI will be transferred in the testing process. Additionally, the Order found that USAC will be selecting the “random” sample of locations with active subscribers, which was not made clear in the initial ruling.

Because this is a draft order, advocacy efforts over the next two weeks could impact the final outcome. Accordingly, please contact John Kuykendall or Cassandra Heyne in JSI’s Maryland office at 301-459-7590 if you would like to discuss conducting ex parte calls or making a filing on any issues raised in the Order. After the final text has been released later this month, JSI will be providing more in-depth analysis of the broadband testing requirements. In the meantime, feel free to contact us with any questions you may have about the broadband testing requirements.

30 05, 2019

FCC Delays Broadband Testing Until First Quarter 2020

2019-05-30T15:05:55-04:00May 30, 2019|e-Lerts|

In a brief Public Notice released today, the FCC’s Wireline Bureau announced that it will delay the requirement for recipients of Connect America Fund (CAF) to begin testing broadband speed and latency until first quarter 2020. The testing requirements were established in a July 2018 Order (see our July 11, 2018 e-Lert for details). That Order required all CAF recipients with defined buildout obligations to conduct the testing beginning third quarter 2019 and report the results of tests conducted during the third and fourth quarters of 2019 by July 1, 2020.

When the Order was released, Legacy carriers with 80% or more 10/1 broadband deployment did not have defined buildout obligations and thus were not subject to the testing requirements. On May 2, 2019, the Wireline Bureau released a Public Notice with revised buildout obligations under the 25/3 speed standard that are now applicable for all Legacy carriers. Accordingly, beginning first quarter 2020, all Legacy carriers will be required to conduct the tests in addition to A-CAM I and A-CAM II electors, Rural Broadband Experiment winners, CAF Phase II auction winners, and Price Cap carriers receiving CAF Phase II support.

As explained in today’s Public Notice, the delay is due to several factors, including the need for the FCC to address pending petitions seeking changes to the rules and develop interfaces required to collect the data. As these developments occur, JSI will keep clients informed through e-Lerts and will conduct a webinar once all the rules are final. We are also available to work with companies on an individual basis with meeting the testing requirements.

Please contact Cassandra Heyne or John Kuykendall in our Maryland office at 301-459-7590 if you would like our assistance or have any questions about broadband testing.

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