Telecom Alert - Emergency Broadband Benefit Fund; 2.5 GHZ Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses; IBM Fined More Than $24 Million; Round 2 of COVID-19 Telehealth Program; New FCC Fee Schedule - Vol. XVIII, Issue 2
Emergency Broadband Benefit Fund
Last week, the FCC issued a Public Notice seeking comment on how to best administer a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created by Congress to help low-income consumers access the internet. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 directs the Commission to create the program, which would reimburse companies for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during the COVID-19 pandemic. Participating providers may offer a monthly discount up to $50 per month to eligible households, and up to $75 per month for eligible households on Tribal lands. Participating ISPs also will be reimbursed up to $100 for providing eligible households with a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet for use during the pandemic.
2.5 GHz Rural Tribal Priority Window Licenses
On December 30, the FCC issued a News Release announcing that 22 additional applications were granted as part of the Rural Tribal Priority window for licenses of unassigned spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band (Vol. XVII, Issue 46). These licenses provide for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz band spectrum that can be used by Tribes to provide broadband and other wireless services, including 5G to their communities. This group of applications were granted to licensees in 10 states, including Arkansas, California, Florida, Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. To date, the FCC has granted 179 2.5 GHz licenses to help address Tribal broadband connectivity.
IBM Fined More Than $24 Million for E-Rate Violations
IBM agreed to a Consent Decree with the FCC on December 23 to settle alleged violations of the FCC’s E-Rate program rules in connection with the New York City and El Paso school districts. During its investigation, the Commission found that IBM had not satisfied the competitive bidding rules in New York for Funding Years 2005-2008 and had provided ineligible equipment and services to El Paso for Funding Year 2001. E-Rate program rules require applicants to seek competitive bids from prospective service providers and to treat prices for eligible products and services as the primary factor when selecting among competing service providers. IBM agreed to repay $24.25 million to the Universal Service Fund.
Comment Sought on Round 2 of COVID-19 Telehealth Program
Last week, the FCC released a Public Notice seeking comment on how to administer Round 2 of the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (Vol. XVII, Issue 14), which received an additional $249.95 million in support under the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. The Commission seeks input on the metrics it should use to evaluate applications for this round of funding, how the Commission should treat applications that were filed during the initial funding round, and other ways to improve the program. The COVID-19 Telehealth Program was designed to help health care providers offer telehealth and connected care services to patients at their homes or mobile locations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New FCC Fee Schedule
The FCC issued a Report and Order on December 29, 2020, adopting a new application fee schedule that adopts lower fee increases than those proposed by the Commission. Applications for new site-based licenses and major modifications now cost $95, while the application fee for renewals/leases was lowered from $50 to $35. The Commission also lowered the fees for an assignment or transfer of control from $50 per-call-sign to $50 for the first call sign and $35 for every additional call sign, capping the number of call signs chargeable per application to ten for a maximum potential fee of $365.
Wesley K. Wright, Michael T. N. Fitch, C. Douglas Jarrett, Timothy A. Doughty, Kathleen Slattery Thompson, Jason P. Chun, and Adam (AJ) Reust contributed to this article.