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As Next Year’s C-Band Auction Looms, FCC Officials Reflect on Innovation in Spectrum Auctions



Photo of FCC Senior Economic Adviser Evan Kwerel by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, November 12, 2019 – Increased attention surrounding next June’s impending C-Band spectrum auction was the occasion for legal experts to address the ways in which the Federal Communications Commission has improved its auction process – as well as how clients can improve communication during the bidding process.

Innovation in auctions is key as spectrum policy becomes more complex, said FCC Office of Economics and Analytics Acting Chief Giulia McHenry at a FCBA Wireless Telecommunications Committee event Tuesday. Auctions are no longer limited to the wireless space, she said, as they encompass radio airwaves, television as well as the Universal Service Fund.

The reality is that there is no more greenfield spectrum available, McHenry said. There needs to be a way to share spectrum with existing users as the number of incumbents increase. Satellite companies particularly, she said, are incumbents that use a great amount of current mid-band spectrum.

The FCC retains four priorities with future spectrum proceedings, McHenry added. Make significant spectrum available for 5G wireless services, deploy it quickly, provide auction revenue for the U.S. Treasury and make sure that users get the amount of spectrum that they need.

Looking back at how the agency has transformed its auction process, said FCC Office of Economic Advancement and Analytics Auctions Division Chief Margaret Weiner, is beneficial for future endeavors. Over the years, physical bidding seminars have been replaced with online tutorials and an online application process for bidders.

Electronic auction participation used to be much more costly, Weiner said. The relationship between the bidding system and the bidding interface has changed dramatically. For example, online adaptation has mitigated the frequencies of “fat-finger” bids, where participants place a bid that was higher than intended.

Another key change, she added, is how the FCC determines eligible entities for auctions. Not only is participation offered at a license-by-license basis, but the agency also created credit caps to better support small business and avoid unjust enrichment of large incumbents.

As accessible as the FCC has made auction processes, said Wilkinson Barker Knauer Partner Jonathan Cohen, clients and lawyers involved need to better understand auction rules. This is especially important if they are unaware of certain regulations, such as buildout requirements and license renewal expectancy.

One of the most important auction aspects to understand, Cohen said, is knowing what behavior constitutes as prohibited communication. Industry members don’t necessarily agree to these regulations, he said, however the FCC can impose meaningful penalties to those that fail to comply.

Bigger companies are more at risk to fail compliance, Cohen continued, because they tend to have a large volume of business units. These units are more likely to discuss auction proceedings internally rather than with the FCC auction staff.

To avoid compliance problems, Cohen suggested some ways that auction participants can improve the system. A built-in redundancy system with more than one authorized bidder, he said, can help expedite the process and ensure bidders don’t miss their rounds.

Overall, said Cohen, clients should understand the limitations of the auction staff and avoid asking them questions that they cannot answer. Lawyers in turn should avoid sharing bids or bidding strategies if they represent multiple clients in the same auction, for the sake of competition.


FCC Announces New RDOF Accountability and Transparency Measures, Additional Funding

Results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will be made public.



Photo of reels of cabling in Hinsdale, Mont., in August 2016 by Tony Webster used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Friday said that it will implement new accountability and transparency measures, and make public the results of verifications, audits and speed and latency testing for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The measures are part of a new known as the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund that monitors several universal service high-cost programs.

Additionally announced in a press release, the Rural Broadband Accountability Fund will speed up the FCC’s audit and verification processes.

Audits and verifications are projected to double in 2022 as compared to 2021 and include on-site audits, and a particular focus will be placed on auditing and verifying the largest-dollar and highest-risk RDOF recipients.

The agency also announced that it would commit more than $1.2 billion more to RDOF, the largest funding round for the program to date.

The new funding will bring broadband service to more than 1 million locations through deployments in 32 states, with 23 broadband providers assisting the effort.

Going forward, the commission will deny waivers, it said, “for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.”

All winning bidders will undergo “an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review.”

Finally, the commission says a list of areas will be published which details where providers have defaulted, “making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.”

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Broadband Data

Federal Communications Commission Approves New Provider Transparency Requirements

Broadband providers must now create “broadband nutrition labels” which list pricing and speed information.



Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel from January 2015 by the Internet Education Foundation used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require that broadband providers create “broadband nutrition labels” that list information on the pricing and speed of internet service they provide.

The labels mimic food nutrition labels in format and aim to increase transparency of providers in their marketing to consumers.

With their approval at the commission’s monthly open meeting Thursday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the new rules are crucial to consumers being able to find the best deals on broadband service for their personal needs.

Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel praised the label format, saying that it allows consumers to “easily compare” information and that it is “black and white, simple to read, and easy to understand.”

The long-simmering idea was enacted by Congress in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by the president on November 15. It directed the FCC to revive the project by one year from the law’s passage.

On Thursday, Joshua Stager, New America’s deputy director for broadband and competition policy at its Open Technology Institute, called the vote “a welcome step forward and a win for consumers.” The think tank began promoting the idea last decade, and it had been endorsed by the Obama administration before being canned by the Trump administration.

Industry group Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the transparency afforded by the new policy “provides consumers with important tools to make informed choices.”

Additionally in Thursday’s meeting, when the agency tentatively revoked telecom operator China Unicom Americas’ operating authority in the United States, the agency said they had reached out to the Department of Justice for assistance in responding to what they say are potential threats from the China-based company. This inter-agency review is routinely part of determinations involving foreign-owned telecommunications companies.

The agency also updated its definition of “library” to make clear that Tribal libraries are eligible to receive funds under the Universal Service Fund’s E-rate program.

Starks emphasized that the commission’s action represented progress on digital inclusion efforts, but that unfamiliarity of Tribal libraries with the E-rate program remains a problem.

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Federal Communications Commission Implements Rules for Affordable Connectivity Program

The agency implemented new rules on the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes a new subsidy permanent.



Photo of Jessica Rosenworcel by Rob Kunzig of Morning Consult

WASHINGTON, January 24, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules Friday for its Affordable Connectivity Program that changes and, in some cases narrows, the eligibility requirements for the subsidy to allow for more households to be connected.

An extension of the former Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which offered discounts to broadband service providers to subsidize connectivity and devices, the new program will make it easier for providers to get in the program by automatically making eligible providers in good standing.

Additionally, the FCC maintains that the monthly discount on broadband service is limited to one internet discount per household rather than allowing the benefit for separate members of a household. “Adopting a one-per-household limitation best ensures that Program funding is available to the largest possible number of eligible households,” the agency said in its report.

To accommodate the volume of eligible households enrolling in the ACP, the FCC allowed providers until March 22 – 60 days after its Friday order is published in the Federal Register– to make necessary changes to ensure that the ACP can be applied to providers’ currently sold plans.

“So much of our day to day—work, education, healthcare and more—has migrated online. As a result, it’s more apparent than ever before that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have, for everyone, everywhere,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “But there are far too many households across the country that are wrestling with how to pay for gas and groceries and also keep up with the broadband bill. This program, like its predecessor, can make a meaningful difference.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act transformed the EBB to the longer-term Affordable Connectivity Program by allocating an additional $14.2 billion to it.

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