On July 7, 2017, just six days after the 2017 Form 481 filing deadline, the FCC released an Order simplifying future annual reporting requirements for ETCs receiving high-cost support. These changes eliminate the following information currently collected: 1) network outage information; 2) unfulfilled service requests; 3) number of complaints per 1,000 subscribers for voice and broadband services; 4) voice and broadband service rates; and 5) the requirement for ETCs to certify compliance with service quality standards. These changes will become effective after approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which we hope will happen before the 2018 filing is due next July.
The FCC believes that the eliminated Form 481 information is either available in other formats, such as in the Network Outage Reporting System (NORS); duplicative; not cost efficient to provide; or does not provide the information that it was originally intended to provide, such as to monitor the progress of rate-of-return carriers’ broadband deployment pursuant to the reasonable request standard, which has been replaced with specific broadband obligations. The FCC believes these changes will reduce the reporting obligations for ETCs, but still keep with its goal of protecting the program against waste, fraud and abuse.
The FCC has also directed USAC to work with other stakeholders including states and Tribal governments to improve access to publicly filed information. To reach this goal, USAC will develop an online portal to provide access for high-cost ETCs’ information, eliminating the need for filing duplicate copies of the annual report with the FCC, states and Tribal governments beginning in 2018 or upon completion of the online portal.
Although these changes in reporting simplify some aspects of the annual ETC compliance filing process, in 2018, rural ILECs must report location data for the first time, either in USAC’s High Cost Universal Service Broadband (HUBB) portal or on Form 481 if the company remained on legacy support and has over 80% 10/1 coverage (see JSI’s February 27 e-Lert for more information on HUBB reporting).