FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to ask his colleagues at the agency’s Oct. 25 meeting to give service providers that receive Connect America Fund (CAF) high-cost support more flexibility in meeting performance measures and testing requirements, as well as to clarify that discriminatory 911 fees on VoIP (voice-over-Internet-protocol) services are prohibited.
In a blog post today, Chairman Pai also described four other items on which he plans to seek votes at the Oct. 25: an order finding that Charter Communications, Inc., is subject to effective competition from AT&T, Inc.’s streaming service and is thus relieved from regulation of its basic cable rates in Hawaii and Massachusetts; an item to accelerate the conclusion of the Commission’s 800 megahertz band reconfiguration program; an order to eliminate certain rules regarding tariff-filing procedures; and a proposal to revise the agency’s regulations regarding the use of common antenna sites.
Chairman Pai noted that “[o]ver the past several months, the Commission has been reviewing our testing procedures for measuring whether carriers receiving support from our Connect America Fund high cost program are building networks that meet the performance standards we have set. On one hand, we want to make sure that subscribers are getting the quality of service that they have been promised and our rules require. On the other, we also want to make sure that our testing procedures don’t impose unnecessary burdens on small carriers located in hard-to-serve areas that often face unique challenges.”
He said that he was circulating a draft order today to address “testing procedures and performance measures that strikes the right balance … [by] maintain[ing] those requirements necessary to ensuring that carriers receiving universal service support are meeting our performance standards and providing subscribers the quality broadband service they deserve [while] also giv[ing] providers greater flexibility where it makes sense to do so. For example, it would change testing implementation dates so that they are now more closely aligned with when a carrier has its first mandatory build-out obligations. It would also create a pre-testing period that would allow carriers to ensure that their testing systems are performing correctly before testing begins. We expect that this added flexibility will reduce burdens on broadband providers without compromising the effectiveness of our testing regime. I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting this order.”
The FCC adopted performance requirements for CAF recipients in a 2011 order and directed the Wireline Competition Bureau, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, and the Office of Engineering and Technology to work together to refine the methodology for implementation, which they have done in the years since. In an order adopted last summer in WC docket 10-90, the bureaus and OET established “a uniform framework for measuring the speed and latency performance for recipients of high-cost universal service support to serve fixed locations” and required providers “to submit testing results as part of their annual compliance certification” (TR Daily, July 6, 2018). More recently, in an order on reconsideration, they adopted several variations on mean opinion score (MOS) testing and rejected arguments that the 2018 order’s “clarifications regarding testing are inapplicable to CAF Phase II support recipients awarded support in conjunction with New York State through its New NY Broadband Program” (TR Daily, Sept. 12).
In his blog post today, Mr. Pai also announced that the FCC plans to consider a draft declaratory ruling at its Oct. 25 meeting concerning 911 surcharges on voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) services.
Mr. Pai noted that “more than a decade ago, Congress passed a law prohibiting state, local, and Tribal governments from imposing higher 911 fees on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services than traditional telecommunications services. Nevertheless, we’ve seen litigation in Alabama and other states over whether VoIP business service subscribers can be charged higher 911 fees than subscribers to traditional telecommunications services. At our October meeting, the Commission will vote on a Declaratory Ruling clarifying that placing discriminatory fees on VoIP subscribers is prohibited and providing examples of fees that would be discriminatory and thus legally prohibited. This ruling would not only assure regulatory parity between VoIP and traditional telecommunications services, it would also encourage consumers and businesses to migrate to more advanced, IP-based services.”
The New and Emerging Technologies (NET) 911 Improvement Act of 2008 (HR 3403) was signed into law in 2008 (TR Daily, July 23, 2008), and the FCC adopted an order implementing the law three months later (TR Daily, Oct. 22, 2008).
Chairman Pai also said he would seek a vote on an order that would find that Charter is subject to effective competition from AT&T’s nationwide over-the-top (OTT) streaming video offering. This would affect price regulation of the company’s basic tier cable programming services in certain parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts. In 2015, the FCC reversed its long-standing rebuttable presumption that cable companies do not face effective competition, but allowed state and local cable franchising authorities to seek to rebut the presumption and retain authority to regulate basic tier prices, which resulted in rate regulation continuing in certain parts of Hawaii and Massachusetts.
“Charter has asked the Commission to find that it is subject to effective competition in the Hawaii and Massachusetts communities that it serves. Specifically, it points to the over-the-top streaming service offered throughout the country by AT&T, which provides video programming bundles comparable to those provided by cable operators. In three weeks, the Commission will vote on an order that would agree Charter is now subject to effective competition from AT&T’s streaming service. Adopting this order would be a major step toward the Commission recognizing the realities of the modern video marketplace, and the increasingly important role that streaming services are playing in it,” Chairman Pai said in the blog.
Mr. Pai also noted that he has circulated an item that is designed to accelerate the end of 800 MHz rebanding, which has been nearing completion for a while.
“This 14-year initiative has aimed to eliminate interference that once plagued first-responders operating in the band,” he noted. “With this re-banding effort nearing the finish line, I am proposing that we eliminate requirements that are no longer necessary and will only serve the purpose of delaying the end of this already lengthy process.”
The FCC approved a three-year 800 MHz rebanding transition in 2004 (TR Daily, July 8, 2004), but it has dragged on.
In its most recent report on the status of the transition, Sprint Corp. told the FCC on Tuesday that the carrier “and the remaining licensees for 800 MHz band reconfiguration continue to make progress in completing all of rebanding. Overall, there are only five total licensees remaining, and only one of those five remaining is classified as public safety. Forty-six NPSPAC Regions are fully complete. Only nine of the fifty-five NPSPAC Regions remain incomplete. One non-public safety licensee remains in the New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, and Lubbock NPSPAC Regions. All public safety retuning, however, is fully complete in these seven NPSPAC Regions. The last remaining public safety licensee is located in the Texas – El Paso Region.”
Chairman Pai also plans to seek a vote on an order to eliminate two tariff-filing requirements “that don’t make sense in an era when tariffs are filed and can be accessed electronically and lengthy review periods are no longer necessary,” he said. “First, we would allow carriers to cross-reference their tariffs as well as those of their affiliates, ending a long-standing prohibition on this practice. Second, we would eliminate the requirement that price cap carriers file certain supporting information—known as ‘short-form tariff review plans’—90 days before their annual interstate access charge filings are effective.”
Finally, the Chairman plans to ask his fellow Commissioners to approve an item seeking comment on whether to revise or eliminate rules regarding the use of common antenna sites for broadcast services. —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
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