July 16, 2020 — The Federal Communication Commission’s five members voted to finalize the designation of ‘988’ as the three-digit number Americans can dial to reach the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The agency discussed the suicide hotline decision, as well as numerous other issues, at its July open meeting on Thursday.
Commissioners voted to adopt a proposed two-year timeline that will begin the transition process to implement the ‘988’ number nationwide by July 16, 2022.
The decision is an important step to combating and destigmatizing mental illness in America, commissioners said.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel supported the designation, but pointed out that voice service is not the primary means of communication for most young people.
“I regret today’s decision is anchored in old technologies, and takes a pass on developing texting capabilities with this three-digit hotline,” she said. “We should have done so here, and I sincerely hope we can do so in the future.”
The agency also approved new rules in their continued effort to target illegal and unwanted robocalls.
To further encourage phone companies to block suspected illegal or unwanted robocalls, the agency moved to establish two safe harbors from liability for companies, which may unintentionally block wanted calls in the process of fielding robocalls.
Commissioners also approved a ruling that would integrate provisions of the recently enacted Secure and Trusted Communications Act of 2019 into its supply chain rulemaking, in an effort to further protect the nation’s communications networks from security threats.
As a result of this ruling, money from the agency’s annual $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund may no longer be used to purchase any equipment or services provided by Huawei Technologies Company or ZTE Corporation.
The commission built on its efforts to help first responders quickly locate individuals who call 911 by rejecting a proposal to weaken z-axis requirements.
Z-axis requirements are the location accuracy metric used, which provides the caller’s location within three meters of the device on which 911 is dialed.
Rosenworcel was the only commissioner to dissent in part to the ruling. She explained her reasoning by pointing out that the ruling fails to provide these services to all Americans.
“Full location data only accompanies calls if you opt into the new system or bought the right phone,” she said. “That is not an outcome I can accept.”
Further, the agency ruled to modernize its rules for programs that help first responders communicate during disasters, voting to modernize its priority services rules to cover voice, data and video services for emergency personnel.
The ruling which drew the most controversy, although it ultimately passed, dealt with whether to modernize leased access rate rules, which require cable operators to set aside channels for commercial use by unaffiliated video programmers.
Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Mike O’Rielly approved the ruling, Commissioner Brendan Carr approved in part and concurred in part, and Commissioners Geoffrey Starks and Rosenworcel concurred.
The ruling establishes the maximum monthly rate that a cable operator can charge a leased access programmer.
The current rate formula, which utilizes a weighted system, has proven to be complex for cable operators to calculate. The adoption of a simpler tier-based formula is intended to improve upon this current complication.
“Anyone who thinks the U.S. has enough diverse sources of video programming isn’t paying attention to media ownership data,” Starks said. “Those without high-speed broadband especially benefit from leased access rules, which help ensure a diversity of information sources on cable systems.”
FCC Encouraged to Limit Data Collection on Affordable Connectivity Program, Others Want More
One trade group warns about providers leaving the program if data collection too onerous.
WASHINGTON, August 9, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is being warned not to overly burden internet service providers with its Congress-mandated order to collect pricing and subscription rates data from participants in the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the FCC is required by November 15 to adopt rules to collect annual data relating to the price and subscription rates of each internet service offering by a provider participating in the broadband subsidy program, which offers up to $30 per month for low-income households (up to $75 per month on tribal lands) and a one-time $100 off a device.
But a number of submissions are warning the FCC against rules that require any additional data collection efforts beyond the scope of the law so as not to unduly burden providers and, at least one other trade group said, push providers away from participating in the program.
Telecommunications company Lumen, for example, recommended the commission limit the scope of the annual reporting to monthly pricing and to exempt “excessively granular” requirements, such as promotional rates, grandfathered plans, or subscriber-level data, which the commission is proposing to collect.
Communications companies and industry groups want to limit data collection
T-Mobile said in its submission that Congress told the FCC to rely on the broadband consumer labels, which are due this November, for pricing. The commission asked for comment on the interpretation of the IIJA requiring a reliance on price information displayed on the consumer labels.
For subscription information, T-Mobile urges the commission to look at data collection from the Universal Service Administrative Company – which administers high-cost broadband programs for the Universal Service Fund – to avoid “adopting a largely redundant collection that would impose additional burdens” on all parties.
“The IIJA leaves the Commission no discretion to collect any additional price information, and the statute does not require collection of data on other service plan and network characteristics,” such as speed and latency and data allowances, the submission said.
“Collection of this additional data would create additional burdens and is unnecessary,” the submission added.
Similar limitations were also proposed by telecom Starry Inc., which pushed for privacy protection by collecting data at a higher level (such as the state) and working with information collected in other transparency efforts, such as the consumer labels.
Industry association IMCOMPAS, which represents internet and competitive communications networks, told the FCC in a submission that data collection should be limited to the state level to protect consumer privacy and proprietary information of the providers; streamline other data collection, including the consumer labels; and provide instruction on how to providers to better understand the data collection rules.
Concurring with this position is the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which said data collection must be simple and should not go to a level of detail that goes beyond what the IIJA calls for. The trade group, which represents small providers, said such data collection beyond that required in the law could burden companies with small teams.
The included data, WISPA said, should be an annual aggregate of items including broadband plans subscribed to by ACP customers, number of subscribers for each plan, and pricing minus promotional rates, taxes, discounts or pricing breakdowns for bundled services. Any additional onerous collection could see providers leave the program, it added.
Industry groups US Telecom and NCTA – Internet and Television Association similarly urged a simple annual report that captured undiscounted monthly pricing of each broadband service offering and the number of customers subscribed. The Competitive Carriers Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association also recommended a limited data collection approach.
ACA Connects, a trade group representing small and medium-sized independent operators, said the FCC should direct providers to report numbers of ACP households “that are applying their benefit to each speed tier along with the standard price of each tier on a state-by-state basis” – rather than the FCC-proposed continuous collection of subscriber-level data via the National Lifeline Accountability Database, it said, adding the commission should be mindful of the time it takes for completion, as smaller providers have limited resources.
Others pushing for subscriber-level, more data
The cities of New York and Seattle, in their submissions, said the FCC should collect subscriber-level information to assess different service adoption rates on different plans over time – publishing categories based on price, plan and performance by the zip code. It added it is not seeking information about the households itself, and said this would not be a privacy concern as others have pointed out.
Similarly, the Connecticut Office of State Broadband said the commission should go beyond the IIJA requirements by mandating information including performance of the plans and whether a device is offered.
For the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, data collection on the ACP should include data beyond what’s included in the consumer labels, and should include other items such as installation, equipment, service, miscellaneous, data and usage fees, and state and local taxes.
In a joint submission, non-profit media group Common Sense and internet advocacy group Public Knowledge recommended data collection that is necessary to monitor the ACP, which include promotional rates, taxes, overage costs and device and equipment costs. This way, they say, the FCC can get a better idea of how much is going toward internet access after applying the subsidy. They are also asking for the commission to collect information on whether the subsidy is being used to upgrade or discount current service, and how customers are becoming aware of the program.
The commission is currently trying to get more Americans on the program, which has over 13 million households signed up. That number, the commission said last week, should be much higher. As such, it ordered the development of an outreach program to market the subsidy.
Former Commissioners Commend FCC in Absence of Fifth Commissioner
But there’s concern a Senate vote on a fifth FCC commissioner will not happen before midterms.
WASHINGTON, July 25, 2022 – Former chairs of the Federal Communications Commission commended the current FCC administration at a symposium on Wednesday for working together on important issues with a 2-2 party split, but expressed increasing uncertainty about the fate of a fifth commissioner.
The Senate vote to confirm Gigi Sohn, a Democrat and net neutrality advocate, has stalled for months. And former FCC commissioners were wary of her prospects before the midterm elections in November. Some Republican critics are concerned that Sohn, nominated by President Joe Biden in October, won’t be able to remain non-partisan on the issues she would encounter as a commissioner.
“Confirmation is still possible, but with the extended August recess and looming midterm election, there aren’t a lot of legislative days to get the job done,” said former FCC Chair Richard Wiley. With each passing day, the confirmation becomes more difficult, agreed panelists, as the Senate could flip to a Republican-controlled chamber come November.
In the meantime, the former commissioners praised the efforts of the current staff. “A lot of credit should go to the Chairwoman [Jessica] Rosenworcel and indeed to all the commissioners for maintaining a robust agenda over the last year and half and really getting decisions made,” said Wiley. “Two Democrats, two Republicans have worked together to serve the public interest.”
William Kennard added that, “this is an energetic commission, they want to get things done.”
Some initiatives that have received unanimous FCC votes include spectrum-sharing initiatives and robocall enforcement.
Editor’s note: The comments in this story were quoted from and attributed to a July 20, 2022, symposium. That symposium was hosted by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council.
FCC Adopts Spectrum-Sharing Incentives, Proposal on Call Traffic Arbitrage
The agency voted to incentivize the sharing of underutilized spectrum to increase connectivity in the nation.
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted at its July open meeting Thursday to adopt spectrum-sharing incentives and to crack down on the practice of driving up revenue from call traffic inflation.
The commission voted to adopt a program that will build incentives for larger spectrum holders to make underutilized spectrum available to smaller carriers, tribal nations and entities serving rural areas. The program, called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program, will have incentives including longer license terms, extensions on buildout obligations, and more flexible construction requirements.
The commission is also seeking comment on whether to expand the program eligibility to non-common carriers serving non-rural areas.
“I’m excited to see the new deployments this program will foster,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I think it will help expand wireless deployment in rural and tribal communities… to make sure we reach 100 percent of us with high-speed service.”
Experts have advocated for more carve-outs for unlicensed spectrum to tackle the growing demand for connections and relieve congestion on existing frequencies. The Rural Wireless Association applauded the FCC Thursday on the vote, saying it believes that program can “encourage the necessary transactions that can expand telecommunications and broadband service in rural America.”
Cracking down on call traffic arbitrage
The commission also proposed rules to address the practice of telephone companies inflating traffic to generate more revenue, which raises costs for long-distance carriers.
Intercarrier compensation is the system of regulated payments that sees carriers compensate each other for cross-carrier call traffic. Some companies, however, continue to take advantage of the system by inflating traffic to extract additional revenues, the FCC identified. As a result, the FCC proposes to adopt monitoring rules to identify illegal arbitrage practices.
“This rulemaking is designed to shut down the loopholes these companies are exploiting,” said Rosenworcel. It would require providers to tally and report call traffic volumes to the FCC to verify its compliance with access stimulation rules, which were adopted in 2019 to clarify financial responsibility for calls.
The FCC also proposed a $116 million fine against ChariTel Inc. for a robocall scheme that made nearly 10 million robocalls to toll-free numbers, which then generated revenue for the company from payments by the toll-free service provider.
FCC commissioners further voted to open an inquiry to evaluate how the Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program can be modified to support the connectivity needs of domestic abuse survivors.
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