Connect America Fund, Radio-Frequency Exposure Hazards, Tribal Consultation, NORS, Rural Healthcare, Authorized Equipment
Connect America Fund Phase II
Last week, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking establishing a framework for the Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II Reverse Auction. The Order establishes four service tiers, ranging from a minimum performance tier of10 Mbps/1 Mbps to 1 Gbps/500 Mbps with an unlimited monthly data allowance and establishes a single “technology neutral” multi-round reverse auction. Flexible technical qualifications are established, supporting participation by new entrants such as electric cooperatives. The FNPRM seeks comment on how the FCC should weight various considerations for selecting winning bids, such as cost per defined area, service tier, and quality of service factors such as latency. Many aspects of the Report and Order and FNRPM are consistent with the positions and arguments advanced by Keller and Heckman’s client, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Comments will be due 30 days after the item is published in the Federal Register and Reply Comments 15 days thereafter. The FCC is expected to issue a Public Notice in the coming months requesting comment on the mechanics and related issues for bidding in the reverse auction.
Radio-Frequency Exposure Hazards
Partial findings from the National Toxicology Program (NTP)’s study on radio-frequency hazards were released last week showing a potential relationship between long-term RF exposures and the development of heart and brain lesions in rats.
Tribal Consultation Process
Earlier this month, a wireless communications company requested a Declaratory Ruling from the FCC to clarify key issues related to the tribal consultation process for deployment of antenna structures. Among other things, the request urges the FCC to prohibit or significantly limit the payment of fees for tribal review and require Tribes to identify under objective criteria areas where tower construction could reasonably be deemed to impact tribal sites. The company also urged the FCC to exempt from review proposals which it claims would never have an effect on tribal sites, including areas that have been previously disturbed and all collocations on existing structures.
Outage Reporting Rules
Last week, the FCC adopted a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopting changes to the agency’s network outage reporting requirements. The new rules clarify outage reporting obligations that significantly degrade communications to Public Safety Answering Points. The Further Notice seeks comment on FCC proposals that would expand reporting requirements to include certain broadband service and interconnected VoIP service disruptions. The Commission also is considering modifications that would change reporting requirements to include wireless service outages that impact rural areas. Comments will be due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register and Reply Comments must be filed 60 days after Federal Register publication.
Rural Healthcare Funding
Last week, the House passed a bill to reform the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) that included a provision that would make rural skilled nursing facilities eligible for grants from the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. Grants could be used by facilities to improve telecommunications and broadband Internet access though USF’s rural health-care program. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and become law soon.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has issued an advisory that ”Federal law prohibits the use of any authorized equipment in a manner that is inconsistent with the terms of its equipment authorization or that is in violation of the Communications Act or the Commission’s rules…An equipment authorization signifies that the equipment meets FCC technical standards, which often control radio frequency interference -- it is not an authorization to use a device in any possible way.”