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Better Access for Survivors

FCC Releases July Meeting Items, Proposes Enhanced Competition Incentive Program

A draft FCC notice of inquiry would seek comment on expanding access to the affordable connectivity program and Lifeline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, if adopted during the commissioners’ July 14 meeting. It would seek comment on the agency’s authority to adjust both programs to better assist survivors and whether the FCC should adopt certain requirements set in the proposed Safe Connections Act.

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The Safe Connections Act passed the Senate by unanimous consent in March. If enacted, it would direct the FCC to allow survivors of domestic and sexual violence to participate in Lifeline or ACP. The requirements for a survivor to receive assistance through either program include providing a signed affidavit or police report regarding a “covered act.” The draft item would also seek comment on whether the FCC has legal authority to amend the programs’ rules to allow survivors to participate based on demonstrating “financial hardship” without having to meet other eligibility requirements.

For survivors escaping domestic violence, sexual violence, dating violence, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, or stalking, reliable connectivity service can be life-preserving,” the draft says. Domestic violence affects more than 12 million people every year, it said, and is a "significant public health and safety issue that has many individual and societal costs." In 2021, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received 265,000 calls from survivors, their families and friends, service providers and abusers.

The draft NOI would seek comments on potential challenges for Lifeline and ACP rules requiring identity verification. This information “can be particularly sensitive to survivors, who may be seeking to distance themselves both physically and financially from abusers,” the item says. The item would seek comment on whether there are alternative ways to collect identity information and whether limiting collection of this information can “still adequately protect against duplicate benefits.” Comments would be due 30 days after release, 60 days for replies, in docket 22-238.

A draft order creating the enhanced competition incentive program largely follows what the FCC proposed in a November Further NPRM (see 2111180071). The draft includes an FNPRM asking whether to adopt “alternative construction requirements for services with less flexible metrics” and on a “use or offer to share” safe harbor metric. Both changes would be separate from the ECIP.

The draft proposes three main ECIP benefits: a five-year license extension for partitioning and disaggregation transactions, for the lessor in qualifying spectrum leasing transactions, and the assignee in full license assignments; a one-year extension of construction benchmarks for all parties and “for those entering into rural-focused transactions, substitution of the assignee’s coverage of the ECIP qualifying geography in lieu of current construction requirements.” Priority access licenses in the citizens band radio service would be explicitly excluded “because we do not believe the light-touch leasing model allows for the level of Commission oversight necessary to practically administer ECIP and avoid potential waste, fraud, and abuse,” the draft says.

Most buyers would be required to hold on to a lease for five years, but the draft proposes an exception for pro forma transactions that are part of a change in ownership structure or corporate reorganization. The draft also allows an exception for providers of contraband interdiction systems in correctional facilities, a change proposed by CTIA. It doesn’t provide an exception for licensees exiting the wireless business, as requested by the Rural Wireless Association.

The FNPRM asks whether to allow wireless ISPs and other non-common carriers to take advantage of ECIP, as proposed by the WISP Association. “Is there a reason that Congress in the MOBILE NOW Act limited the scope of entities that we were directed to consider to those with common-carrier obligations?” the draft asks: “We seek comment on two threshold issues: (1) how to define the specific category of eligible non-common carriers; and (2) what objective measure to determine relative small size is appropriate in this context.”

The draft also asks about “an alternate construction requirement and renewal standard” for “licensees with communications needs less suited to population-based requirements.” Some commenters “described the need for alternative requirements in cases where a licensee is putting spectrum to use for private, internal radio communications associated with its business functions,” the draft says.

Other questions focus on an alternate use or share safe harbor. “Commenters note the existence of a variety of enterprises in rural areas that serve critical industries and locations, such as hospitals, school campuses, public safety facilities, and mining and farming concerns," the draft says: “Some commenters argue that, given the nature of private enterprise networks, the construction and renewal requirements could be fulfilled as long as licensees make use of the spectrum to meet communications needs at any place within the geographic license area, regardless of population or geographic coverage.”

A draft Further NPRM would seek comment on several proposals to curb violations of access stimulation rules. The item would ask for diagrams showing all providers in the call path to "help clarify the various calling scenarios" for the FCC's proposals to combat access stimulation. The draft proposes to clarify that intermediate access providers don't charge interexchange tariffed charges for terminating switched access tandem switching and switched access tandem transport for traffic to IP-enabled service (IPES) providers whose traffic exceeds ratios in the FCC's 2019 access stimulation order.

The draft proposes requiring that IPES providers "be responsible for calculating its traffic ratios and for making the required notifications" to the commission and affected carriers. The item also asks whether there are challenges to requiring intermediate access providers to instead calculate IPES providers' traffic ratios. It would also seek providers' service information and access charges involved in routing calls.

The draft FNPRM proposes to clarify the definitions of an end user and end office based on AT&T-sought changes, saying a local exchange carriers is "serving end users when it provides service to a called or calling party, either directly or through arrangements with one or more VoIP providers or other entities that serve called or calling parties." The item proposes clarifying that an LEC is engaged in access stimulation "for purposes of that VoIP provider’s traffic when that VoIP provider has an interstate terminating-to-originating traffic ratio of at least 6:1 in a calendar month."

An order and NPRM on analog Part 74 rules for low-power TV stations and translators would delete or revise references to rules that “no longer have any practical effect” after the digital transition, says the draft version. The NPRM portion would seek comment on updates to reflect the digital transition, such as whether to amend FCC rules to assign LPTV/translator stations a three letter call sign, or whether to modify over-the-air identification requirements to permit use of station PSIP (program and system information protocol) short channel names.

An NPRM on updating FCC references to a Nielsen Station Index Directory that's no longer going to be published would seek comment on replacing it with another Nielsen publication, the Local TV Report. Broadcasters and MVPDs used the directory to determine station markets for carriage purposes, but Nielsen said it won't continue publishing it. The NPRM seeks comment on “whether there is information not published in the Local TV Report that is needed to comply with the Commission’s carriage rules” and on possible other rules that need changes in light of the directory's discontinuation.