USTelecom Seeks Major Temporary Dereg Help from FCC

Telecom ISPs have provided the FCC with a laundry list of coronavirus-related temporary deregulation, including waiving a bunch of deadlines, suspending rules, and providing more funding, all to address the teleworking and telemedicine and distance-learning load of a homebound workforce and student population. 

That came in a letter from USTelecom to FCC chairman Ajit Pai and the other commissioners. They conceded it could be costly and said they would press Congress to appropriate the money. 

And while ISPs have all signed the FCC chairman's connectivity pledge, which includes not terminating customers and waiving late fees for 60 days, the association said the reality is that such a promise comes with a revenue loss, "revenues they expected to have available," in addition to which it is becoming clear that some may not be able to pay even after the 60 days, and broadband providers are already being pressed to extend that period.  

For some, particularly smaller companies, that could have a substantial impact on revenues and operations, it said. "The Commission should be mindful of this fact and consider how it can provide appropriate assistance and support as outlined [below]," it told the FCC. 

"The effects from the inability to access or afford broadband access are particularly acute during this national health crisis," USTelecom said. "Therefore, it is essential that industry and government work together in partnership to do everything we can to make sure every American has access to broadband. The Commission’s long history and expertise in serving healthcare providers, schools and libraries, and low-income Americans, in addition to fueling the deployment of broadband infrastructure, can serve as a substantial tool in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic." 

The association first thanked the FCC for what it has already done--granting special temporary authorities and streamlining regs among them--and more under consideration. 

Then came the asks, "in the spirit of cooperation," focused on its four tranches of Universal Service Fund advanced telecommunications subsidies: healthcare, lifeline, E-rate, and Connect America Fund. 

Here are the actions USTelecom wants the FCC to take during the pandemic: 

On Healthcare: 

1. "Temporarily increase the annual undiscounted cost of eligible expenses Healthcare Connect Fund Program applicants may apply for and remain exempt from the competitive bidding requirements to up to $100,000..."

2. "Open a new application filing window for Funding Year (FY) 2019 funding requests and waive competitive bidding requirements as well as the FY 2019 rural health care support mechanism funding cap to allow HCPs to immediately access more bandwidth and associated support for the remaining months of Funding Year 2019..." 

3. "Waive or significantly increase the rural health care support mechanism funding cap for FY 2020 if necessary to accommodate increased demand..."

4. "Postpone the implementation schedule for the new rules adopted in the RHC Promoting Telehealth Report and Order by one year to allow healthcare providers (HCPs) to obtain services and apply for support with a minimum of disruption and uncertainty..." 

5. [S]uspend or postpone audit fieldwork and deadlines for responding to document or information requests from [Universal Service Fund] auditors..." 

6. "Make a separate allocation of funds available for “Category 2” Internal connections, basic maintenance and managed internal broadband services for eligible healthcare providers..." 

On Lifeline: 

1. "Suspend the prohibition on duplicative support to ensure that all students and adults in household have access to the broadband connections they need to while limiting interactions outside the home..."

2. "[T]he FCC should establish a temporary emergency Lifeline program separate from the existing Lifeline program. The emergency Lifeline program could support a discount of up to $25 per connection per month up to the total monthly service charge per connection (up to 180 days)..." 

On E-Rate: 

1. "Open an emergency funding request window (or expand the current window for FY2020) to provide additional E-rate support during this emergency..." 

2. "On a targeted, temporary basis to address this crisis, waive certain provisions of the competitive bidding process to allow schools and libraries fast access to emergency funds..."

3. "If within the scope of the Commission’s legal authority, allow schools to apply for funding to purchase wired or wireless broadband connectivity on behalf of studentsand/or teachers that do not currently have broadband access from home..."

4. "If within the scope of the Commission’s legal authority, support the purchase of, and distribution to students and/or teachers that do not currently have access at home, devices such as laptop computers, tablet computers, hotspots, smartphones or similar devices..." 

On Connect America Fund: 

1. "Authorize a one-time infusion of funds to ensure that all service providers can rapidly augment their existing infrastructure to support non-traditional usage demands, including funds to augment backhaul to prevent congestion..." 

2. "Allow Connect America Fund (CAF) and Alternative-Connect America Cost Model (ACAM) recipients to elect to receive advance payment of the future high-cost support they are eligible to receive, and waive programmatic requirements..."   

3. "Extend the CAF and A-CAM interim and final deployment milestones by, as an initial matter, six months..."

4. "Waive future CAF II performance measurement-related penalties associated with the inability to test or underperformance of testing..."

5. "Expedite the Digital Opportunity Data Collection by facilitating completion of the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric (“Fabric”)..."

6. "Grant relief on letter of credit (LOC) obligations..." 

And waive the following deadlines: 

"March 31 deadline for revisions to 2019 Form 499-A involving downward reductions in contribution obligations

"April 1 Form 499-A

"April 1 accessibility recordkeeping compliance certification

"April 22 supply chain information collection

"May 1 Form 499-Q

"June Tariff Review Plan and Access Recovery Charge data filing deadlines (deadlines not yet set)

"June 16 CAF ICC data submission deadline"

"July 1 Form 481 Annual ETC Report

"Urban rate survey (typically comes out in July and is due by the end of August)

"Explore options to reduce the burdens associated with the July 31 annual cost study filings for rate-of-return carriers (elements of which involve field work to produce a response)

"Extend deadlines associated with ongoing USAC audits."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.