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Federal Communications Commission Designates ‘988’ for Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Requires Close Location Information

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Screenshot of the Federal Communications Commission July Open Meeting

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.”

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

FCC

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.

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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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FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel Shares Proposal to Promote Broadband Competition In Apartment Buildings

If adopted, the FCC’s regulations would increase broadband options for tenants.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, January 21, 2022––Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared a draft regulation that aims to would promote competition and greater broadband choice for tenants in apartment buildings.

If adopted, the regulations would prevent practices that keep tenants from choosing their own broadband provider.

“With more than one-third of the U.S. population living in apartments, mobile home parks, condominiums, and public housing, it’s time to crack down on practices that lock out broadband competition and consumer choice,” said Rosenworcel.

The proposal would prohibit broadband providers from entering into revenue-sharing agreements with apartment building owners. If approved by her fellow commissioners and hence adopted as official agency rules, the regulation would also require providers to disclose any existing marketing arrangements they have with building owners to tenants.

“Consumers deserve access to a choice of providers in their buildings. I look forward to having my colleagues join me in lifting the obstacles to competitive choice for broadband for the millions of tenants across the nation,” Rosenworcel said.

Her proposal builds on a September 2021 notice that invited a new round of comments during an examination of broadband access In apartment and office buildings. The FCC said the proceedings revealed “a pattern of new practices that inhibit competition, contrary to the Commission’s goals, and limit opportunities for competitive providers to offer service for apartment, condo and office building unit tenants.”

More than one third of the U.S. population lives in condominiums or apartment buildings.

Exclusive agreements between broadband providers and buildings owners limit options for tenants, who are precluded from access to new carriers. “Across the country throughout the pandemic, the need for more and better broadband access has never been clearer,” Rosenworcel added.

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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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