High Cost

Trainings & Outreach

HC Reporter - March 2015

March 2015

In this issue...

Program Happenings   |   Don't Forget   |   At the FCC

Supporters Say Phone Fee Would Create Parity

In the Statehouse Report, Andy Brack reports that a South Carolina Senate proposal to make cell phone users pay a fair share of a service fee would take an increasing burden off those who have traditional landline phones. The problem, says state Sen. Luke Rankin (R-Horry) who sponsored the bill, is that all phones rely on landline technology – and cell phone users have been piggybacking for free on landline infrastructure. In addition, because the number of landline phones keeps dropping, the universal service fund fee on landline phones has been increasing to keep up with government requirements. Meanwhile, cell users have not put money into the pot.

Bulk Upload Templates Now Available

FCC Form 481 bulk upload templates are now available on the Upload Templates page. Use these templates for bulk uploading data in sections 200, 700, 710, and 800 of FCC Form 481. Carriers must use these templates for the filing due July 1, 2015. Previous versions of these templates will not work for this filing. Carriers may use these templates to begin preparing for this year's filing ahead of the system launch in April 2015.

Upcoming Webinars

USAC will be holding webinars in early April to familiarize carriers with both the FCC Forms 481 and 690 systems, particularly changes since last year. Further information will be provided here and on our Trainings & Outreach page. Stay tuned!

 

The High Cost Program team is here to help you! Visit the Contact Us page and let us know how we can help you.

 

If a carrier has relinquished its ETC designation, send a copy of the relinquishment order to HC Orders within one week. If USAC does not receive a copy of the relinquishment order within one week, USAC will invoice the carrier for any support paid following the relinquishment. 

Prepare for the Filing of FCC Forms 481 and 690

FCC Forms 481 and 690 are due July 1, 2015. To facilitate the filing process, we encourage you to confirm that the contact information on your FCC Form 498 is up-to-date. The General Contact listed in Block 2 and the Company Officer listed in Block 18 of the FCC Form 498 have access to create, modify, and submit the FCC Forms 481 and 690. These individuals also have the ability to create "Authorized Users," which include carrier staff or agents, who may then create and modify FCC Forms 481 and 690. 
 
Please remember that only authorized officers are allowed to certify. More details can be found in the E-File User Guide and an overview of this process can be found in the E-File Roles and Responsibilities: Managing Entitlements Webinar. If you still have questions, please contact USAC's Customer Operations team at (888) 641-8722.

Survey is Still Open!

The survey is still open. We'd love your feedback on what topics would be most helpful for you to read about in this new High Cost Program-only publication, the HC Reporter. Take some time to give us your feedback using this survey

FCC Issues Reminder of Default Comment Cycle

The FCC released a Public Notice (DA 15-128) on January 29, 2015, reminding interested parties that comment cycles for universal service High Cost Program support waiver requests, petitions for reconsideration, and applications for review will be governed by the default comment dates provided in sections 1.45, 1.106, 1.115, and 1.429 of the FCC's rules. The FCC said it may extend the comment cycle by public notice in individual cases if a particular request for waiver or review raises complex or difficult issues of industry-wide significance, but parties should not expect an extension to be made for their request.

FCC Denies Petitions to Waive Audited Financial Statements Requirement for Rural Broadband Experiments

The FCC released an Order (DA 15-139) on January 30, 2015, denying fifteen provisionally selected bidders' petitions for waiver of the rural broadband experiments' requirement to file three years of audited financial statements. The FCC also removed Lennon Telephone from further consideration for not submitting a waiver request, and denied petitions filed by Agile Network Builders, Cricelli, and Last Mile Broadband for a waiver of the requirement that their network diagram be certified by a professional engineer. 
 
The FCC removed these entities from further consideration for rural broadband experiments support, and the $55 million in funding those entities had sought will now be available to other bidders. The FCC announced the provisionally selected next-in-line bidders in a Public Notice (DA 15-157) on February 3, 2015 (see below). The FCC also denied the request by the Alliance of Rural Broadband Applicants to delay the February 3 deadline for provisionally selected bidders to file their letter of credit commitment letters.

FCC Announces Next-in-Line Bidders for Rural Broadband Experiments

The FCC issued a Public Notice (DA 15-157) on February 3, 2015, announcing the next-in-line bidders for the rural broadband experiments that successfully submitted the required financial and technical information by the deadline. The FCC said once it determines whether any additional funding is available due to the failure of any current provisionally selected bidders to file a commitment letter by the deadline, it will announce which among those next-in-line bidders, listed in the above notice, will become provisionally selected bidders.

FCC Adopts 25 Mbps/3 Mbps Broadband Benchmark 

The FCC issued a News Release on January 29, 2015, announcing the adoption of a 2015 Broadband Progress Report at its January 29th open meeting. In the report, the FCC updated its broadband benchmark speeds to 25 Mbps download/3 Mbps upload, from the current 4 Mbps/1 Mbps standard, to reflect advances in technology, market offerings by broadband providers, and consumer demand. The report found, among other conclusions, that 17 percent of all Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps service, while 53 percent of rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. By contrast, only 8 percent of urban Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband. The accompanying Notice of Inquiry seeks comment on what additional steps the FCC can take to accelerate broadband deployment.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Congress on Broadband Speed Increase

Chairman Wheeler sent a letter (DOC 331923) to Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV) on January 16, 2015, in response to Rep. Amodei's letter (DOC 331923-2) regarding implementation of certain aspects of Connect America Fund Phase II and his concerns with increasing the current broadband speed benchmark for the program. Chairman Wheeler said the FCC, consistent with its statutory obligation to ensure that rural Americans have access to services that are reasonably comparable to those available to their urban and suburban neighbors, voted in December to increase the minimum broadband speed from 4 Mbps to 10 Mbps.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Congress on Mobility Fund Support

Chairman Wheeler sent letters (DOC 331923-3) to Greg Harper (R-MS) et al. on January 20, 2015, in response to their letter (DOC 331923-4) urging the FCC to ensure that the final rules for Phase II of the Mobility Fund provide adequate support for wireless services in rural areas. Chairman Wheeler said the FCC completed the auction for Mobility Fund Phase I in 2012, with 33 winning bidders eligible to receive a total of up to $299,998,632 in one-time support to provide 3G or better mobile voice and broadband services, including $1,829,212 in support for Mississippi.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Congress on Rural Broadband Experiments

Chairman Wheeler sent letters (DOC 332051) to Reps. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), and Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) on January 29, 2015, in response to their letter (DOC 332051-2) supporting the rural broadband experiments application submitted by the High Plains Regional Education Cooperative and Terastream Broadband. Chairman Wheeler said that in December 2014 the FCC announced the provisionally selected bidders, and said Terastream's submission was one of the provisionally selected bidders under category one, as an entity seeking support to build networks capable of delivering 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Congress on Non-ETC Participation in CAF Phase II

Chairman Wheeler sent a letter (DOC 332044) to Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) on January 23, 2015, in response to Rep. Cole's letter (DOC 332044-2) on the implementation of certain aspects of Connect America Fund Phase II, urging the FCC to create an inclusive process where all eligible providers, including electric cooperatives, have an opportunity to compete for support. Chairman Wheeler responded that last April the FCC adopted a Report and Order (FCC 14-54) that sought to encourage a variety of providers to participate in the competitive bidding process meant to award support for service in high-cost and extremely high-cost areas. He also said that in December the FCC adopted a Connect America Fund II Order that adopts NRECA's proposal regarding the right-of-first-refusal.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Congress on Broadband Access on Tribal Lands

Chairman Wheeler sent a letter (DOC 332049) to Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on January 23, 2015, in response to her letter (DOC 332049-2) on the lack of broadband access for Americans living on Tribal lands, and expressed concern regarding recent High Cost Loop Support (HCLS) reforms. Chairman Wheeler replied that he has emphasized the importance of establishing a reinvigorated Tribal consultation process, and said expanding high-speed broadband connections to all corners of the country is a top priority for the FCC. He also noted that last year the FCC took steps to reinvigorate the FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force, with the appointment of 31 members representing 20 Tribal nations and 11 bureaus and offices within the FCC. 

Big Bend Seeks Waiver of ETC Designation Requirement for Rural Broadband Experiments

Big Bend Telecom (BBT) filed a petition (BBT Petition) on February 12, 2015, seeking a waiver of the March 5, 2015 deadline to submit appropriate documentation of its ETC designation in each census block for which it is provisionally selected to receive rural broadband experiment support. BBT said it anticipates the Texas PUC will issue a decision within weeks of the March 5 deadline provided that no party intervenes or requests a Hearing on the Merits under the Texas Administrative Procedures Act.

FCC Adopts Treble Damages Method for Violations of Federal Program Payment Rules

The FCC released a Policy Statement (FCC 15-15) on February 3, 2015, adopting a treble damages methodology to assess forfeitures for violations of universal service fund and other federal program payment rules. Under this approach, each violator's apparent base forfeiture liability will be three times the delinquent contributor's debts to the universal service fund, TRS, LNP, NANP, and regulatory fee programs. The FCC said assessing forfeitures for payment violations on this simpler and more straight-forward basis will enable the FCC to resolve investigations more quickly and thereby promote increased compliance with the federal program payment rules.

CCA Discusses Impact of Open Internet Rules on Universal Service Fund

The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) spoke with Chairman Wheeler on February 4, 2015, to discuss the impact of open Internet on the universal service fund. The CCA said its members are most concerned about uncertainty regarding available High Cost Program support for operating, upgrading, and expanding wireless networks in rural areas. The CCA asserted that should the FCC reclassify mobile broadband Internet access service as a Title II service, they should recognize mobile wireless providers' need for the flexibility to reasonably manage their networks.

FCC Issues Declaratory Ruling on VoIP Symmetry Rule

The Commission issued a Declaratory Ruling (FCC 15-14) on February 11, 2015, on the VoIP symmetry rule that was adopted in the USF/ICC Transformation Order. The FCC, on its own motion, confirmed the VoIP symmetry rule is technology and facilities neutral, explaining the VoIP symmetry rule does not require an entity to use a specific technology or its own facilities in order for the service it provides to be considered the functional equivalent of end office switching. The FCC indicated that this clarification on the VoIP symmetry rule is applied on a retroactive basis.

NECA Submits Latest Universal Service Fund Data

NECA filed a letter (NECA letter) on February 12, 2015, providing the latest view of universal service fund data for the periods of 2011, 2012, and 2013, as requested by FCC staff in connection with analyses related to universal service fund reforms. This data includes all changes reported during the past three months and reflects the data as of January 2015 processing.

FCC Lists Census Blocks Removed from Model-Based Support and Updates FAQs

The FCC issued a Public Notice (DA 15-215) on February 13, 2015, releasing the list of census blocks that will be removed from the offer of Connect America Fund Phase II model-based support in funding category one projects. The list provides the census block ID numbers and census tract ID numbers of those census blocks. The FCC also announced it has posted updated answers to FAQs regarding the rural broadband experiments on its website.

CCN Seeks Waiver of ETC Designation Requirement for Rural Broadband Experiments

Consolidated Communications Networks (CCN) filed a petition (CCN Petition) on February 13, 2015, seeking a waiver of the March 5, 2015 deadline to submit appropriate documentation of its ETC designation in each census block for which it is provisionally selected to receive rural broadband experiment support. CCN said the North Dakota PSC process for review and approval of its ETC designation will extend beyond March 5 and could be further delayed if a party intervenes or requests a hearing.

Alliance of Rural Broadband Applicants Files Reply on its Waiver Request of the Letter of Credit Requirements

The Alliance of Rural Broadband Applicants filed a reply on February 13, 2015, to its Petition for Waiver of certain letter of credit requirements for provisionally selected rural broadband experiment applicants. The Alliance said no one opposed its request and asserted that the LOC requirements are too burdensome for many rural broadband experiment applicants. 

RBSC Discusses FCC Denial of Petition to Waive Financial Statements Requirement

The Rural Broadband Services Corporation (RBSC) met with legal advisors to Commissioners O'Rielly and Rosenworcel on February 12, 2015, to discuss RBSC's application for funding through the rural broadband experiments program and the Order (DA 15-139) denying RBSC's request for a waiver of the requirement that provisionally selected bidders provide three years of audited financial statements. RBSC explained that as a startup company operating for less than a year, at the time, it was impossible to produce three years of financial statements. RBSC said, however, it had provided other evidence of its financial ability to construct and operate the proposed broadband network. It also claimed the FCC did not have delegated authority to issue the Order, and that it constituted an unacknowledged change in position.

Minnesota Telecom Alliance Comments on LTD Request for Extension of Time to Comply With Letter of Credit Requirements

The Minnesota Telecom Alliance (MTA) filed comments on February 13, 2015, on LTD Broadband's Request for an Extension of Time to submit a commitment letter from an acceptable bank committing to issue an irrevocable stand-by letter of credit to LTD. MTA said it does not oppose the grant of this specific extension, but would oppose additional extensions.

 

High Cost Program

Newsletter

March 2015

  

 

 

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