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Late Senate Confirmation on Wednesday Brings FCC Back to Five Commissioners, a First Since 2017

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WASHINGTON, January 3, 2019 – The Senate on Wednesday night confirmed Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr to another term at the agency, and confirmed Geoffrey Starks, a Democratic appointee, to begin serving as a commissioner at the agency.

The move means that the agency will finally have a full house of five commissioners, a first since the beginning of the Trump administration in early 2017.

While it was uncertain if the Senate would be able to act before the conclusion of the 115th Congress at Noon on Thursday, the two senators who had been objecting to the appointments – Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Joe Manchin, D-W.V. – had previously lifted their objections, or “holds,” on the nominations.

If the Senate had not acted on Wednesday or Thursday morning, President Trump would need to make re-appointments to the position.

Manchin had previously stated that he released his hold after obtaining a commitment from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai regarding the mobility fund auction of the agency’s Universal Service Fund. Sullivan stated that he had received reassurances from Pai about the Rural Health Care Program.

After the Senate’s action late Wednesday, Pai congratulated Starks on his appointment:

“He brings a wealth of experience and expertise, including having served most recently as Assistant Chief in the Enforcement Bureau.  During his confirmation hearing, I was excited to hear him highlight the need to expand rural broadband and the power of telemedicine.  I look forward to working with him and having a fellow Kansan on the Commission.”

He also congratulated Carr, a fellow Republican, on his work at the FCC on wireless infrastructure modernization, precision agriculture and advancements in telemedicine.

Industry groups weighed in with praise. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, said of Carr and Starks: “Both have deep experience in telecom policy issues that can help tackle thorny challenges and identify innovative, practical solutions as we strive for a more connected nation.

“Commissioner Carr has already demonstrated in his time on the FCC his willingness to roll up his sleeves and examine issues thoroughly through field visits and conversations with stakeholders of all kinds. Meanwhile, Commissioner Starks’ long-standing commitment to public service and his family’s own connections to rural America and telemedicine applications will suit him well in his new role. NTCA and its membership look forward to working with Commissioners Carr and Starks, as well as the other members of the FCC, to advance the statutory mission of universal service, protect consumers, and promote competitive markets and common-sense rules of the road wherever possible.”

The Internet Industry Association stated: “At a time when the nation is beginning the transition to much faster and more versatile 5G networks, we look forward to working with them on critical policies to accelerate broadband deployments and meet the country’s broadband needs.”

(Photo of Geoffrey Starks, a newly-confirmed Federal Communications Commissioner.) 

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

FCC

FCC Announces Largest Approval Yet for Rural Digital Opportunity Fund: $1 Billion

The agency said Thursday it has approved $1 billion to 69 providers in 32 states.

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Photo illustration from the Pelican Institute

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced its largest approval yet from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, greenlighting on Thursday $1 billion from a reverse auction process that ended with award announcements in December but that the new-look agency has been scrutinizing in recent months.

The agency said in a press release that this fifth round of approvals includes 69 providers who are expected to serve 518,000 locations in 32 states over 10 years. Its previous round approved $700 million worth of applications to cover 26 states. Previous rounds approved $554 million for broadband in 19 states, $311 million in 36 states, and $163 million in 21 states.

The agency still has some way to approve the entirety of the fund, as it’s asked providers that were previously awarded RDOF money in December to revisit their applications to see if the areas they have bid for are not already served. So far, a growing list have defaulted on their respective areas, some saying it was newer FCC maps that showed them what they didn’t previously know. The agency said Thursday that about 5,000 census blocks have been cleared as a result of that process.

The FCC also said Thursday it saved $350 million from winning bidders that have either failed to get state certification or didn’t follow through on their applications. In one winning bidder’s case, the FCC said Thursday Hotwire violated the application rules by changing its ownership structure.

“This latest round of funding will open up even more opportunities to connect hundreds of thousands of Americans to high-speed, reliable broadband service,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.  “Today’s actions reflect the hard work we’ve put in over the past year to ensure that applicants meet their obligations and follow our rules.  With thoughtful oversight, this program can direct funding to areas that need broadband and to providers who are qualified to do the job.”

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FCC

Local Government Advisors Concerned by Delay in Sohn Confirmation Process

They also believe Alan Davidson will be viewed more favorably to head the NTIA.

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Nominee for FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn

WASHINGTON, December 14, 2021 – Local government advisors are concerned by delays in the confirmation process of Gigi Sohn, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission, and what those delays will mean for broadband services in local communities.

At the moment, there are reportedly not enough votes from Democrats to confirm Sohn.

The panel of local advisors at a National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on Monday said the FCC would likely remain split 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans until at least February, when the panel says Sohn’s confirmation will probably pass the Senate.

Such a split would prevent the agency from making some major decisions that would ramp up programs to expand broadband access for Americans. For this reason, several civil society groups have asked the Senate for a swift confirmation process of Biden’s nominees.

The panel also said that Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Association, Alan Davidson, will likely be reported favorably out of committee.

Logistical problems for the Affordable Connectivity Program

Panelists also spent significant time discussing what current regulatory agency efforts mean for connectivity.

The panel critiqued the FCC’s transition from the Emergency Broadband Benefit to the Affordable Connectivity Program provided for by the newly-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to continue providing students with internet access for e-learning. The program provides monthly subsidies for connectivity and devices for eligible students.

This transition is planned to take place with the start of the 2022 new year, and the agency is fielding comments on how to transition.

The panel stated that because this transition takes place during the school year, it has the potential to strand students without connectivity services. Panelists noted that they have been trying to communicate these concerns to the FCC.

The FCC recently eliminated an enrollment freeze in the EBB that was planned to take place during the transition to the ACP.

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FCC

FCC Takes Stock of Telehealth Successes, But Acknowledges a Long Way to Go at Agency Event

Procedural hurdles lie ahead for the commission’s telehealth efforts.

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FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr and several leaders in healthcare said Monday the agency’s efforts to expand telehealth programs for Americans face procedural hurdles before Congress.

The cost of government telehealth expansion efforts is among key factors that create congressional hesitance to rubber stamp the FCC’s telehealth initiatives.

During panel discussions moderated by Carr at a commission event on Monday, experts also remarked that the commission’s efforts would require a good deal of regulatory flexibility that many members of Congress may not be willing to grant it.

Panel guest Deanna Larson, CEO of virtual health network Avera eCARE, testified before the Senate on the matter in October, urging Congress to extend or make permanent its regulatory flexibility toward telehealth.

The panels also spent time discussing the substantial success the FCC has had in expanding telehealth over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts emphasized accomplishments such as the employment of remote monitoring devices by physicians to physically examine patients when they cannot come into the office.

The panel stated that the move from fully in-person healthcare to telehealth can be compared to the significance of the move from “Blockbuster to Netflix,” referencing the at-home experience of the streaming platform.

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