FCC Seeks Comment on the Future of USF

2021-12-20T12:37:45-05:00December 20, 2021|e-Lerts|

Clients Encouraged to Provide Input and/or File Company-Specific Comments

The FCC is inviting public comment on the future of federal Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. The FCC plans to use these comments for a report it must submit to Congress by August 12, 2022, on its options “for improving its effectiveness in achieving the universal service goals for broadband” as part of the broadband provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). Last week’s Notice of Inquiry (NOI) set deadlines of January 18, 2022, for comments and January 31, 2022, for reply comments.

JSI plans to file comments in response to the NOI, with particular focus on the High-Cost program (Legacy Rate-of-Return, A-CAM I and II, and reverse auction support including the Rural Digital Opportunities Fund (RDOF) Phase II support). We seek client input on the topics outlined below, as well as any others specified in the NOI. For example, the NOI seeks comments on how best to integrate USF with ReConnect and the new funding programs established by the IIJA. We would like to hear from clients with multiple funding sources whether streamlining and aligning reporting and other compliance requirements with these programs and USF could be beneficial or whether such alignment could add additional burdens and requirements to some funding mechanisms.

We also encourage clients to file company-specific comments in which they can provide the FCC with their own proposals for the future of USF. Given that the NOI seeks data on potential changes to all programs, clients should consider filing comments not only on potential changes to the High-Cost program, but also changes to other USF programs. For example, several clients have expressed frustration with the requirements imposed by Lifeline’s Representative Accountability Database (RAD) process. Others are concerned with overbuilding that takes place through the E-rate program. Because the NOI seeks comment on potential comprehensive reform to all of these programs, now is the time to raise any concerns along with viable alternatives. JSI’s seasoned advocacy experts are ready to provide strategic advice and assist in drafting company-specific comments. Due to the FCC’s tight deadlines for commenting in this proceeding, we ask that clients interested in JSI’s help contact us no later than January 7, 2022.

High-Cost USF
A major concern among our ILEC Rate-of-Return clients is the continuation of USF to support both the deployment and maintenance of fiber networks in rural America. The NOI highlights the billions of dollars that will be available in coming years to deploy broadband in unserved and underserved locations through the programs initiated by the IIJA. Here, the NOI seeks comment more broadly on what changes should be made to the High-Cost program considering the influx of newly authorized federal funding. The NOI asks for comment on the role the High-Cost program should have in the future given the evolving level of universal service, the type of data to collect from program recipients, and how to collect that data.

Next, the NOI discusses the newly authorized Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to be run by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration that will allocate $42.45 billion to states for broadband infrastructure grants and asks the following questions:

  • Should the FCC modify the High-Cost program to further support ongoing operating and maintenance costs of recently constructed broadband facilities funded by BEAD to ensure that rates remain reasonably comparable?
  • Should the Commission coordinate with the BEAD program to ensure that newly constructed networks have ongoing support?
  • At what point would USF support be necessary, if at all?
  • How should the FCC approach next steps for the RDOF program or any successor program?
  • In light of the 100/20 Mbps service standard required in BEAD, should the FCC reconsider its service requirements for future High-Cost support?

The NOI also asks for input regarding the best way to allocate funding in the future, including the potential use of reverse auctions, and whether there are “other incentive-based, competitive methods for allocating funding that would be effective and efficient.”

Additionally, the NOI asks what other congressional action could help the FCC accomplish its universal service goals. Specifically, the NOI asks:

If the High-Cost program were to place additional emphasis on supporting operating costs in light of the influx of funding for capital expenditures, are the existing programs a sufficient vehicle to distribute that support? If not, are there statutory changes that would help the Commission shift additional support to operating and maintenance costs for deployed networks? Likewise, if the focus of the BEAD Program funding is on fixed broadband deployment, would congressional action be necessary to shift the focus of the High-Cost program, for example, to support mobile broadband? Should Congress provide additional authority regarding the use of auctions, or price models, to allocate funding for operating costs?

These questions certainly raise the possibility that the FCC will not maintain the status quo for High-Cost USF. Accordingly, it is up to each rural broadband provider – and us collectively – to engage in a robust advocacy effort to ensure that any changes made to the USF continue to allow for sufficient and predicable funding for the provision, maintenance, and expansion of fiber-based networks in the rural communities in which these companies serve.

Other Programs and Contribution Factor
For Lifeline, the NOI seeks comment on whether any changes in the program should be made to best coordinate it with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), including any data that should be collected. Similar questions are raised regarding E-rate and Rural Health Care programs.

The NOI also observes the up and down nature of the quarterly USF contribution factor and seeks comment on ways to increase the stability of the factor. It also requests “general comment” as to the FCC’s USF priorities.

Please contact Guy Benson or John Kuykendall in our Maryland office at 301-459-7590 with any input you may have for JSI’s comments, if you would like assistance in filing individual comments, or if you have any questions about the NOI.

FCC Moves Ahead with New $7.1B E-rate Program to Support Remote Learning

2021-11-02T13:14:51-04:00March 29, 2021|e-Lerts|

The FCC is beginning to roll out the new $7.1 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which should be a huge step forward in efforts to close the nation’s homework gap. The ECF, which was included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, would provide support to schools or libraries to purchase eligible equipment or advanced telecommunications and information services (or both) for use by students and staff at locations other than the school and library patrons at locations other than the library. The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released a Public Notice on March 16, seeking comments on the best ways to provision support from the ECF. The ECF:

  • Reimburses 100% of costs associated with the purchase of eligible equipment and/or advanced telecommunications and information services, except that reimbursement for costs associated with any eligible equipment may not exceed an amount to be determined by the FCC;
  • Provides support from funding made available from the ECF and not from universal service contributions;
  • Defines “connected device” as a laptop computer, tablet computer, or similar end-user device that is capable of connecting to advanced telecommunications and information services;
  • Defines “eligible equipment” as Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine a modem and router, and connected devices; and
  • Defines the “COVID-19 Emergency Period” as beginning on January 27, 2020, and ending on the June 30th that first occurs after the date that is one year after the date that the Secretary of Health and Human Services determines that a public health emergency no longer exists.

The FCC is inviting interested parties to comment on the proposed rules until April 5. Reply comments are due April 23. The Commission is asking how ECF support may be distributed fairly and efficiently, including suggestions for applying, competitive bidding, reimbursement, and prioritization of funding. Specific questions raised for comment in the Public Notice include:

  • Should the FCC adopt specific performance goals and measures with respect to the administration of the Fund similar to E-Rate?
  • Has the Act sufficiently defined certain terms (e., “eligible equipment and services,” “advanced telecommunications and information services,” “eligible schools and libraries” etc.) or should the definitions be more specific, expansive, or restrictive?
  • Do you agree with the FCC’s proposal to limit eligible advanced telecommunications and information services to those services that can be supported by and delivered with eligible equipment as defined? Are there any specific services currently eligible as category one services in the existing E-Rate program that the FCC should consider ineligible for the ECF? Should funding for dark fiber and construction of new networks, including the construction of self-provisioned networks, be excluded from funding?
  • Should “advanced telecommunications and information services” also include costs for items such as equipment necessary to deliver services to connected devices, installation, taxes, and fees?
  • Should the FCC’s current speed benchmarks apply as a minimum standard here?
  • Should the FCC impose restrictions on what locations can receive wireline and fixed wireless services supported by ECF for remote learning?
  • Should the FCC reimburse for purchases of eligible equipment and services made by eligible schools and libraries since January 27, 2020?
  • What amount is reasonable to reimburse applicants for previous purchases or pay for new purchases? Should the FCC establish a range of costs reasonable for each category of equipment and service eligible for funding through the ECF? Should costs vary depending on location?

JSI will continue to provide updates as the rules governing the ECF are hammered out and finalized. We plan to review and discuss the more detailed regulations on our next E-Rate Connect Call (requires a subscription to JSI’s E-Rate Connect bundle). If you are not currently subscribed to JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle and would like more information, please contact Chresanthe or Terri, listed below.

If you would like more information on the ECF or are interested in filing comments, please contact Chresanthe Staurulakis in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Terri DeLong in the Texas office at 512-338-0473.

FCC Seeks Input on Using E-rate Funds for Remote Learning

2021-11-02T13:15:49-04:00February 10, 2021|e-Lerts|

We encourage clients to comment in favor of this emergency relief

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact schools and libraries nationwide. In response, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released a Public Notice on Feb. 1 seeking comments on whether or not E-rate program funds can be used to support remote learning during the public health emergency. The FCC has received at least 11 Petitions for Emergency Relief because school and library closures across the country have exposed how many students, teachers, staff, and patrons are without critical broadband connections at home, leaving them unable to participate in any virtual studies.

Interested parties, including JSI clients, have an opportunity to illustrate in their comments how the pandemic has made funding for remote learning an absolute necessity. Comments are due Feb. 16 and reply comments are due Feb. 23. Questions raised for comment in the Public Notice include:

  • What specific equipment and services should E-rate fund to connect remote students and staff to broadband access for online learning?
  • Should the E-rate competitive bidding rules be waived?
  • If the demands for funding for online learning exceed the budget, how will these services be prioritized?
  • Should these services be only directed at students and staff that remain without adequate online learning broadband access?
  • Should students be given vouchers using E-rate funding for discounted broadband service?
  • Should relief apply retroactively to services and equipment purchased during funding year 2020?

For those who subscribe to JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle, our E-rate experts will be discussing the Petitions for Emergency Relief as well as submitted comments on our next E-Rate Connect call on Friday, Feb. 19. They’ll also be discussing the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which will use available funding from the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund to support participating providers’ provision of certain broadband services and connected devices to qualifying households, as well as any new initiatives from the FCC and USAC relating to E-rate and Rural Health Care Programs. If you already participate in JSI’s E-rate Connect Bundle, watch your inboxes for the invite!

If you’d like more information on JSI’s E-Rate Connect Bundle or are interested in filing comments, please contact Chresanthe Staurulakis in the Maryland office at 301-459-7590 or Terri DeLong in the Texas office at 512-338-0473.

FCC Opens Second 2020 E-Rate Funding Year Window

2021-04-05T14:59:51-04:00September 22, 2020|e-Lerts|

Other E-rate program waivers extended to year’s end

The FCC last week announced the opening of a second funding year 2020 filing window to allow schools to request additional E-rate funding specifically to address increased on-campus bandwidth needs. The second 2020 filing window will allow schools to purchase additional bandwidth to help with 1:1 student-to-device ratios in the classroom, live streaming to students at home, and it will expand the use of cloud-based educational tools and platforms. The second filing window opened on September 21 and will close on October 16, 2020.

During this expanded 2020 window, schools may only request E-rate discounts for additional on-campus Category One Internet access and/or data transmission services needed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the urgent need for these services, schools may submit FCC Form 471 during the second funding year 2020 application window requesting E-Rate discounts without initiating a new competitive bidding process for the requested services if: (1) the school or library has already submitted a Form 470 application for the services; (2) the school or library has received a Funding Commitment Decision Letter approving a funding year 2020 funding request for eligible Category One Internet access and/or data transmission services from that Form 470; and (3) it requests additional E-Rate discounts during the second application window to purchase additional bandwidth through the existing service provider or a new one.

For the second funding year 2020 window only, USAC will accept bids where the price per megabit is the same or less than the original contract. If the price per megabit is higher, USAC will limit the funding to the price per megabit in the original contract.

Gift Rule and 30-Day Extension Requests Extended
As well, the FCC has extended the waiver of the E-rate program gift rules through December 31, 2020:

  • During the extended waiver period, service providers can continue to offer, and E-rate program participants can continue to solicit or accept, broadband connections, Wi-Fi hotspots and other devices, networking gear, system upgrades, or other things of value that could help students, teachers, and patrons while schools and libraries prepare for extended remote learning and remain fully or partially closed as a direct result of COVID-19.
  • In addition, service providers may offer, and schools and libraries may solicit or accept, gifts of additional bandwidth through December 31 to meet the increased on-campus connectivity needs of schools and libraries in response to the pandemic without running afoul of the E-rate program rules.

The order also provides a 30-day extension, if program participants can provide an explanation of the need for the extension, for information requests issued between September 1 and December 31 related to the following:

  • Pending USAC appeals;
  • Invoices;
  • Pending FCC Form 500 requests, including service substitutions, Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) changes, or funding request cancellation requests;
  • Audits, including BCAP and PQA audits; and
  • PIA requests.

If you have any questions about the second 2020 funding window or the extended waivers on the E-rate program rules, please contact Chresanthe Staurulakis at 301-459-7590 or Terri DeLong at 512-338-0473.

Webinar: Inside USAC Filings and Administration

2020-05-19T14:32:57-04:00May 19, 2020|Webinar Recordings|

As any long-term recipient of Federal Universal Service Fund (USF) support knows, getting funding means year-round filings, administration, and deadlines to submit data to the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC). Each funding mechanism – High-Cost, Lifeline, E-Rate, and Rural Health Care – requires numerous submissions to USAC, all in the name of accountability and transparency.

JSI recently hosted a free webinar where our USF experts discussed the important and often confusing USAC filings for each USF program. Attendees learned tips and best practices for USAC filings and overall administration of their USAC accounts.

This webinar is appropriate for newcomers to USF, as well as those with more experience who seek a better understanding of the rules and procedures for managing USAC filings.

If you have questions about the webinar or would like to request the webinar recording, please contact Brenda Cordwell at 240-556-1295.

FCC Relaxes Rural Health Care, E-Rate Rules in Light of COVID-19 Outbreak

2020-03-20T09:32:17-04:00March 20, 2020|e-Lerts|

This week, the FCC announced that it is waiving the gift rules under both the Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate programs to enable service providers to offer, and RHC and E-Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These rules will be relaxed until September 30, 2020.

The waiver of these rules will allow service providers to provide health care providers, schools, and libraries with improved capacity, Wi-Fi hotspots, networking gear, or other equipment or services to support doctors and patients, teachers and students, and librarians and patrons during the coronavirus outbreak. Normally these rules prohibit entities eligible for the RHC and E-Rate programs from soliciting or accepting anything of value from a service provider participating or seeking to participate in those programs.

Chairman Pai is strongly encouraging service providers and equipment makers to partner with schools and libraries to provide mobile hotspots and other broadband-enabled devices for students to help bridge the digital divide during the coronavirus pandemic. Medical facilities need telemedicine tools to fight the ongoing pandemic and serve patients more effectively. Providers are encouraged to increase capacity, distribute equipment, and provide additional services and other tools that will help medical staffs deliver the best possible patient care.

Chairman Pai called on all network operators to prioritize the connectivity needs of hospitals and health care providers and those that serve schools and libraries to work with them on remote learning opportunities.

For more information on the FCC’s actions related to the coronavirus pandemic, including the full list of signatories to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, visit: https://www.fcc.gov/coronavirus.

If you have any questions about the waived rules or anything related to the RHC or E-Rate programs, please contact Cassandra Heyne at 301-459-7590 or Terri DeLong at 512-338-0473.

Changes Coming to USAC Program Web Portal Access Dec. 4

2019-11-14T12:13:33-05:00November 14, 2019|e-Lerts|

Service providers will see increased security steps and a single portal for most USF programs when signing into the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC’s) website beginning December 4, 2019.

USAC is moving to a single online portal to access USF accounts for E-file, Lifeline, Rural Health Care, High Cost programs and E-rate. The E-rate forms, FCC Form 472 BEAR search, FCC Form 473, and FCC Form 474 will be available in the portal under one login. USAC also will add multifactor authentication (MFA) to the login process to tighten the site’s security. Next year in the spring, USAC will add the MFA process to the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC).

To prepare for this change, all USAC portal users should verify that the emails and passwords on all their current USF accounts are up to date and that each user has a unique login for each system which they access on USAC’s website. If your current login information is already up to date you are not required to do anything at this time. USAC will send your MFA login instructions on December 4, 2019.

If you would like assistance with this issue from one of JSI’s Lifeline team members, please contact Lans Chase in JSI’s Georgia office at 770-569-2105 or Lisa McLaughlin in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.

USAC Seeks New Information from E-Rate Providers

2019-08-14T17:29:07-04:00August 14, 2019|e-Lerts|

JSI provides guidance for clients on this new information request

On Monday, USAC asked E-rate providers to update their companies’ business types and D-U-N-S Numbers on their FCC Form 498 in USAC’s E-rate Productivity Center (EPC). We’ve received several questions from client companies about this information request in the last few days. This e-Lert provides JSI’s guidance as to how clients should respond to USAC’s inquiry.

According to the instructions provided in USAC’s email, E-rate providers can select up to three business types that best describe their companies. Among the selections are “small business,” which is defined by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as those companies with 250 –  1,500 employees, depending upon various factors. Based on the SBA definition, we believe that most, if not all, JSI clients should be able to select “small business” as their business type. Cooperatives also could select “Nonprofit” as one of their three business types.

USAC also would like each company’s Dun & Bradstreet D‑U‑N‑S Number. This is a unique nine-digit identifier for businesses. If you don’t know your company’s D-U-N-S Number, you can look it up online.

If you have questions about E-rate or would like additional guidance on this new requirement, please contact Terri DeLong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.

FCC Looks at Extending E-Rate’s Five-Year Category Two Budgets

2019-07-18T16:01:19-04:00July 18, 2019|e-Lerts|

The FCC is considering a proposal to make the E-rate program’s Category Two budget approach permanent. The approach provided schools and libraries a set amount of funding for five years to support their internal connections. The original five-year period extended from Funding Year (FY) 2015 to FY 2019.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) released earlier this month seeks comment on potential modifications that could simplify the Category Two budget, decrease the administrative burden on schools and libraries when applying for Category Two services, and determine how to make the transition to a permanent solution of the budget approach.

Comments on the NPRM are due by August 16, 2019. Reply comments will be accepted until September 3, 2019. The FCC is looking for comments on these items:

  1. Should applicants who began using their five-year budgets in FY 2015 (whose budgets end in FY 2019), have access to new funding in FY 2020? What if they did not use all of their funding? For existing five-year budgets, should funding be increased if this NPRM provides additional support to Category Two funding?
  1. Should there be a fresh start in FY 2020 to reset all applicant budgets?
  1. Should Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS) and Basic Maintenance of Internal Connections (BMIC) be made permanent Category Two services?
  1. Should the minimum budget floor be increased and, if so, what should the appropriate budget floor level be to address the needs of smaller entities and increase their participation in the program?
  1. Should the budget multipliers be adjusted to account for entities that experience higher costs due to geographic locations?

For FY 2020, Category Two funding is still to be decided and will be based on this NRPM. This may result in applicants waiting longer to submit FCC Form 470 requests for Category Two services.

If you have any questions about this E-rate proposal or would like assistance filing comments, please contact Terri DeLong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.

Do you know about JSI’s E-Rate Connect service?

Don’t miss out on valuable E-rate business by not knowing your local schools and libraries are accepting bids for services. JSI’s E-Rate Connect service monitors the USAC database for E-rate business opportunities specific to your operations. And when a request is found, we alert you with the necessary details needed to connect to the school, library, school district or consortia seeking E-rate services. All you need to do is check your inbox!

JSI can also assist with bid submissions, invoicing, and any other issues or questions about the E-rate Program. For more information, or to sign up, please contact Terri DeLong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.

E-Rate News: Upcoming Deadline for FY 2018 Contracts; FY 2016 Invoice Deadline Extended for Some

2018-03-09T14:32:05-05:00March 9, 2018|e-Lerts|

JSI alerts its clients that participate in the federal E-rate program of an upcoming deadline to complete contracts for Funding Year 2018, plus a change in the invoice deadline for those who have not yet received, or just received, their Revised Funding Commitment Decision Letters (RFCDLs) issued for post-commitment change requests submitted to USAC for Funding Year 2016.

March 22, 2018 – Last Day to Select Service Providers and Submit Contracts for FY 2018
Schools and libraries seeking E-rate funding for Funding Year 2018 completed the first step of the bidding process by submitting and certifying their FCC Form 470s by February 22. Since then, they’ve been collecting bids, choosing their service providers for FY 2018, and signing contracts for services other than those provided under tariff or on a month-to-month basis. On March 22, 2018, the last day of the filing window, schools and libraries must finalize the process and certify the FCC Form 471.

JSI strongly recommends that clients move quickly so that they can complete their bids and execute any required contracts well in advance of the last possible day, giving the schools/libraries time to review them before the March 22 deadline. We also recommend that in responding to a bid, clients remind schools/libraries of the impending deadline, especially if the entity waited until the last possible day, February 22, to submit its FCC Form 470.

FY 2016 Invoice Deadline Extended for Qualifying Entities
Due to problems and delays with Revised Funding Commitment Decision Letters (RFCDLs) issued for post-commitment change requests submitted to USAC for Funding Year 2016, the FCC granted a limited waiver late last month to certain schools, libraries and service providers that have not received their RFCDLs or did not receive them in a timely manner. Those affected now may submit the invoices for their FY 2016 recurring service charges on or before 120 days from the date of their post-commitment RFCDLs.

The original invoice deadline for most FY 2016 recurring service charges was October 30, 2017.  Even after extending that deadline to February 27, 2018, a technical problem with USAC’s online E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) delayed the processing of certain post-commitment requests. The FCC has determined that extraordinary circumstances exist to grant a limited waiver of its invoicing rules to allow additional time for these “affected program participants” to submit invoices to USAC.

If you have any questions regarding these deadlines or need assistance with E-rate matters, please contact Terri DeLong in JSI’s Texas office at 512-338-0473.

Go to Top