The FCC took another significant step in the C-Band reallocation process, releasing its Final Cost Category Schedule for Relocation Expenses of C-Band (3.7-4.2 GHz) satellite licensees. The Public Notice accompanying the cost schedule also established August 31, 2020 as the deadline for C-Band earth station licensees to elect whether they wish to receive a lump sum reallocation payment.
With much of the United States under COVID-19 stay-at-home directives, and frost warnings still in the forecast, it’s as good a time as any to review the upcoming cable and satellite carriage election process for television broadcasters. The FCC recently completed an overhaul of its rules governing how eligible television broadcasters provide notice of their carriage elections to cable and satellite companies. The first deadline under those new procedures is July 31, 2020, when broadcasters must update their online contact information at the FCC as a precursor to implementing the FCC’s new paperless MVPD carriage notification procedures.
On April 2, 2020, the FCC established the COVID-19 Telehealth Program (Program), which will guide the disbursement of $200 million to health care providers for connected care services to their patients. We published our summary of the Program on April 3, 2020, and followed up with a discussion of the FCC’s application procedures on April 9, 2020, and a review of the first wave of proposals granted on April 16, 2020.
With the fourth tranche of proposals approved on April 29, 2020, the FCC has now granted 30 funding proposals in 16 states. The FCC has pledged to review and grant eligible proposals on a rolling basis until either the FCC runs out of funds or the national pandemic ends.
As discussed in our prior alerts, the CARES Act of 2020 provided $200 million for the FCC to distribute to eligible parties with proposals to provide connected care services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The funds could be used for (i) telecommunications services and broadband connectivity services, (ii) data and information services, and (iii) internet-connected devices and equipment.
While the FCC has not released for public review most of the approved proposals, based on the public notices that have been released, it is clear that the FCC is willing to provide funding for proposals to implement connected care services and devices. Most of the approved proposals requested funding for a combination of:
- Remote patient monitoring;
- Portable equipment for screening at remote centers and nursing homes;
- Video services including patient visits; and
- Connected devices (tablets) for staff and high-risk patients.
On May 1, 2020, the FCC announced that, as of May 3, 2020, all applicants must submit their applications through the online portal.
Recently, there has been a push by groups to expand the pool of eligible entities. The American Hospital Association requested that the FCC reconsider its decision to only provide funding for nonprofit applicants. Other organizations like HCA Healthcare and the American Dental Association supported the expansion of eligible entities, arguing that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all health care providers (including dentists) and that the CARES Act did not require the nonprofit limitation. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also supported the expansion of funding opportunities, noting that 20 percent of the nation’s hospitals are prevented from filing proposals for COVID-19 funds.
It is unclear whether the FCC will adjust its eligibility standards to include for-profit hospitals and medical practices, especially in light of the availability of funds that have yet to be allocated. We will continue to monitor the program’s progress and report any changes in the FCC’s rules.
On March 31, 2020, the FCC adopted a Report and Order to implement the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. The Program was established in the CARES Act, and the FCC was appropriated $200 million to provide to eligible medical facilities to provide telehealth services to their patients.
A more detailed discussion of the FCC’s Report and Order creating the Program, and a discussion of the procedures to apply for funding, can be found here and here. The Program’s intended purpose is to provide emergency funding for expenses arising from the COVID-19 pandemic that fall outside of the normal procurement process. Under the new program, non-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, rural health clinics and skilled nursing facilities can apply for funds from the FCC to be used for voice and internet service, remote patient monitoring platforms, and Internet-connected devices and equipment.
The window for submitting applications opened on Monday, April 13th, and the FCC announced today that the first wave of applications had been granted. Below is a summary of each approved funding proposal:
- Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, was awarded $727,747 to implement telehealth video visits, virtual check-ins, remote patient monitoring, and e-visits to patient’s hospital rooms, which it said would enable it to continue to provide high quality patient care, keep patients safe in their homes, and reduce the use of personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Hudson River HealthCare, Inc., in Peekskill, New York, was awarded $753,367 for telehealth services to expand its COVID-19 testing and treatment programs serving a large volume of low-income, uninsured, and/or underinsured patients throughout southeastern New York State, encompassing the Hudson Valley, New York City, and Long Island.
- Mount Sinai Health System, in New York City, was awarded $312,500 to provide telehealth devices and services to geriatric and palliative patients who are at high risk for COVID-19 throughout New York City’s five boroughs.
- Neighborhood Health Care, Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio, was awarded $244,282 to provide telemedicine, connected devices, and remote patient monitoring to patients and families impacted by COVID-19 in Cleveland’s West Side neighborhoods, targeting low-income patients with chronic conditions.
- Ochsner Clinic Foundation, in New Orleans, Louisiana, was awarded $1,000,000 for telehealth services and devices to serve high-risk patients and vulnerable populations in Louisiana and Mississippi, to treat COVID-19 patients, and to slow the spread of the virus to others.
- UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh was awarded $192,500 to provide telehealth services to children who have received organ transplants and are thus immune-compromised and at high risk for COVID-19.
The FCC will continue to process applications until the earlier of (i) granting proposals for the full $200 million budgeted; or (ii) the end of the national emergency.
Even though the FCC stated that it would likely not grant proposals for more than $1 million, considering the rapid processing and approval of the first seven applications, interested parties will want to move quickly to submit their applications.
On April 4, 2020, the White House issued an Executive Order creating the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector (the “Committee”). The Committee, chaired by the Attorney General, includes the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Defense, and any other executive department head so designated by the President, is seen as an attempt to formalize the long-standing “Team Telecom” review process that began in the 1990s. The Committee’s stated goal is similar to Team Telecom’s, i.e., to assist the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) in its public interest review of national security and law enforcement concerns that may be triggered by foreign investment in the US telecommunications sector. But there may be some notable differences. Continue reading →
The FCC announced the opening of a new filing window to modify pending applications proposing new digital Low Power TV and TV translator service in rural areas. This filing window will permit applicants with long-pending applications who have subsequently been displaced by the Incentive Auction and the repacking process to submit amended proposals, subject to certain conditions.
In June 2009, the FCC announced a filing window for new digital LPTV and TV translator stations to serve rural areas. The window opened on August 25, 2009, and the plan was for the FCC to permit similar new, non-rural proposals to be filed starting on January 25, 2010. However, at the same time that the FCC was accepting applications for new rural LPTV and TV translator stations, it was also considering the adoption of the National Broadband Plan, which, inter alia, proposed to re-purpose a portion of the UHF television spectrum. The FCC first delayed, and then cancelled, the “non-rural” filing window, and imposed a freeze on the filing and processing of the rural proposals.
As a result, there are now a significant number of pending applications for new LPTV and TV translator stations to serve rural areas that have been frozen since 2010. The new filing window, which will be open between December 2, 2019 and January 31, 2020, will permit applicants to submit amendments that (i) specify a new digital channel in the revised TV band and/or (ii) propose a change in transmitter site of 48 kilometers or less. The amendments must protect full-power, Class A television and LPTV/translator stations that have been licensed or that hold valid construction permits, along with any previously-filed applications for those services. Moreover, any amendment must continue to qualify as a rural service proposal.
After the window closes on January 31, 2020, the FCC will provide mutually-exclusive applicants the opportunity to resolve conflicting proposals through settlement or engineering amendments. If an engineering conflict cannot be resolved, the FCC will conduct an auction. The FCC will dismiss all pending applications that do not submit an in-core amendment during the filing window.
Given the holiday season and the short turnaround on filing amendments, applicants with long-pending applications should move quickly to find a new channel and/or tower site that will permit the FCC to process their application.
On October 10, 2019, the FCC announced that it will hold a full-power FM Broadcast auction for 130 new construction permits starting on April 28, 2020. For now, the FCC is seeking comment on the procedures for the auction, although it does not propose any significant changes from past FM broadcast auctions. In connection with the auction, the FCC also announced a filing freeze prohibiting minor change applications, petitions, or counter-proposals directly affecting or failing to protect the construction permits to be auctioned.
A majority of the construction permits will be for lower-power Class A facilities, but there are 28 new facilities that are authorized to operate at 25 kW or higher. For example, a Class B facility in Sacramento will be available, along with stations on the outskirts of major cities like Dallas and Seattle. Overall, Texas is home to the most available permits (32), with numerous opportunities also available in Wyoming (11), California (10), and Arizona (8).
Parties seeking to file comments regarding the list of available construction permits and/or the auction procedures should submit them by November 6, 2019. Reply comments are due November 20, 2019. After reviewing the record, the FCC will release the final list of available permits and auction procedures, most likely in early January 2020.
Originally intended as an “innovation band” for the testing of new wireless broadband services, the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) was created in 2015 to permit commercial and federal spectrum users to operate in the same spectrum band. By utilizing smaller geographic areas for licenses, and short-term authorizations lacking an expectation of renewal, the CBRS was seen as a test bed for a variety of different wireless broadband services, including those of rural wireless broadband service providers.
To that end, the FCC created two new classes of licenses, Priority Access Licenses (PALs) and General Authorized Access Licenses (GAAs). GAAs are permitted to operate anywhere within the CBRS band, so long as incumbent licensees and PALs are protected. PALs are required to protect the incumbent licensees, and will receive protection from GAAs. A key component of the CBRS licensing scheme is the implementation of a central database, the Spectrum Access System (SAS) (had enough acronyms yet?), maintained by third parties who will coordinate among licensees to prevent interference.
At its October meeting, the FCC revised its rules for the service with the stated goal of further encouraging the rapid development of 5G technologies. The revised rules were adopted in response to petitions filed by CTIA and T-Mobile in 2017 which proposed several changes to the original 2015 rules. The FCC sought comment on those proposals, which suggested several changes to the Priority Access Licenses, including adjusting the size of the geographic license, expanding the initial and renewal terms for licenses, and adopting performance standards. Although the FCC did not fully adopt the proposals, the revised rules make significant changes before the FCC has even issued the first CBRS authorization.
License Area: Under the 2015 rules, PALs were to be issued based on census tracts. The intent was to encourage local broadband development, especially in rural areas that may not receive service by nationwide carriers. By highlighting the difficulty of managing the licensing and build-out of service in 74,000 separate census tracts, CTIA, T-Mobile and several other parties argued that the FCC should expand the PAL geographic area to the more-manageable Partial Economic Areas. Ultimately, the FCC rejected that proposal, but instead expanded the PAL geographic area to county-based authorizations.
License Terms: In 2015, the FCC was concerned about the warehousing of spectrum, so it limited the license term of PALs in a particular geographic area to two sequential three-year periods, with no option for renewal. Several parties filed comments arguing that the three-year limit for licenses would serve as a roadblock to robust investment by wireless companies. The FCC has now agreed and extended the initial term to ten years. The FCC also modified its rules to permit licensees to renew their PAL authorizations.
Performance Standards: In light of its decision to extend the license term and permit renewals, the FCC imposed a “substantial service” performance standard for services operating in the CBRS band. For mobile and point-to-multipoint services, a licensee must demonstrate that it provides service to at least 50 percent of the licensed service area. For point-to-point service, a licensee must demonstrate that it provides at least four links in areas with a service population of 134,000 people or less, and at least one link per 33,500 people in service areas with a population greater than 134,000 people. This showing will be required when the licensee files its license renewal application.
Competitive Bidding: Finally, the FCC decided to grant PALs in accordance with its competitive bidding auction rules, permitting applicants to claim bidding credits as “small” or “very small business” entities, as a rural service provider, and/or if they propose to serve qualifying Tribal lands.
Support for the proposed rule changes was first signaled by then-Commissioner Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly in their concurring statements when the original rules were adopted in 2015. Because the FCC is still working on approval of the various SAS database proposals, and because there was a change in FCC leadership in January 2017, it was possible for the petitioning parties to seek revision of the 2015 rules before the FCC issued its first CBRS authorization. To date, the FCC has not issued authorizations for PALs or GAAs, but it is possible that new authorizations could be issued in 2019. Thus, while the rule changes will not impact any existing PAL or GAA licensees, these changes will have a significant impact on the operation of the CBRS band in the future.
Toll-free telephone numbers celebrated their 50th birthday this year (frankly, without much fanfare). These numbers allow callers to reach businesses without being charged for the call. When long distance calling was expensive, these numbers were enticing marketing tools used by businesses to encourage customer calls and provide a single number for nationwide customer service—for example, hotel, airline or car rental reservations.
Toll-free numbers are most valuable to businesses when they are easy to remember because they spell a word (1-877-DENTIST) or have a simple dialing pattern (1-855-222-2222). Like all telephone numbers, however, the FCC considers toll-free numbers to be a public resource, not owned by any single person, business or telephone company. Toll-free numbers are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, primarily by telecommunications carriers known as Responsible Organizations. The FCC even has rules that prohibit hoarding (keeping more than you need) or selling toll-free numbers.
But the rules will change if the FCC adopts its recent proposal to assign toll-free numbers by auction as it prepares to open access to its new “833” toll-free numbers. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued last week proposes to auction off approximately 17,000 toll-free numbers for which there have been competing requests. The proceeds of these auctions would then be used to reduce the costs of administering toll-free numbers.
The NPRM also contemplates revising the current rules to promote the development of a secondary market for toll-free numbers. This would allow subscribers to reassign toll-free numbers to other businesses for a fee (think 1-800-STUBHUB!). The FCC suggests this would promote economic efficiencies, as the number would presumably be better utilized by a business owner willing to pay for it than by the company that merely happened to claim it first.
The proposed rules are not without controversy. Some toll-free numbers are used to promote health, safety and other public interest goals (e.g., 1-800-SUICIDE). The NPRM seeks comments on whether toll-free numbers used by governmental or certain nonprofit organizations should be exempt from the auction process. There are also questions about whether the expected demand for the 17,000 new numbers will erode if claiming a number is no longer free.
Comments in this proceeding will be due 30 days after the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, with replies due 30 days after that. If you are interested in filing comments, you can reach us at 1-888-387-5714 . After all, it’s a toll-free call.
As he rushes to accomplish his list of objectives before the change in administrations, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was able to cross one off that list last week. For the first time, the FCC imposed privacy requirements on providers of broadband internet access services (BIAS). The much-anticipated Order requires BIAS providers to notify customers about the types of information the BIAS providers collect about their customers; how and for what purposes the BIAS provider uses and shares this information; and in some circumstances requires customer consent for the use and sharing of this information. This order was an outgrowth of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, which reclassified BIAS as a telecommunications service and wrested privacy jurisdiction from the Federal Trade Commission.