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False Claims Act Lawsuit Ensnarls NECA Member Companies

Posted on October 30, 2014

A False Claims Act lawsuit, also known as a qui tam action, has been filed on behalf of the United States Government against NECA member companies in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.  A private individual alleges that certain NECA member companies violated the Civil False Claims Act for failing to correctly report income related to their ownership of stock in the Rural Telephone Bank, and their use of unapproved “mass asset” depreciation accounting methods.  The “whistleblower” alleges that both violations have allowed the companies to fraudulently draw inflated universal service fund support.  The case was initiated over six years ago, but remained under seal for a lengthy period of time while the allegations were investigated.  It was reopened in February 2014.  In January 2014, the U.S. Government notified the court that it has elected not to intervene in the case.

For additional information, please contact Tony Veach.

FCC Confirms Opt-Out Notice Requirements Applicable to All Fax Advertisements

Posted on October 30, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has released an Order confirming that a sender of fax ads must include “opt-out” information, even if the consumers to whom the faxes are sent previously agreed to receive fax ads from the sender. Though it confirmed the requirement, the Commission noted that some parties not in compliance with the requirement “may have reasonably been uncertain about whether [the] requirement for opt-out notices applied to them.” As such, the Commission granted retroactive waivers of the opt-out requirement to certain fax advertisement senders to provide such parties with temporary relief from any past obligation to provide the notice. Waiver recipients will also receive a six-month window to comply with the opt-out requirement. Other similarly situated parties may also seek waivers like the ones granted in the Order, but the Commission expects that such parties will make every effort to file waiver petitions within six months.

For additional information, please contact Erin Fitzgerald.

Bureau Adopts Methodology to Calculate Reasonable Comparability Benchmarks

Posted on October 30, 2014

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) has adopted a specific methodology for calculating reasonable comparability benchmarks for fixed broadband services.  On an annual basis, it will allow the Bureau to determine whether recipients of high-cost support are offering broadband services in their supported areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates for similar services in urban areas, as required by the FCC’s rules.  Generally speaking, the Bureau will collect data from its annual survey on voice and broadband rates offered by providers of fixed services in urban areas, and then plug that data into its methodology, which will apply a weighted linear regression to the data to produce an estimated mean rate for a specific set of service characteristics.  The methodology then adds two standard deviations to the mean to determine the benchmark for a specific broadband service offering.  The Bureau’s methodology produces benchmarks that will vary depending on the supported service’s download and upload speeds and the service’s monthly data usage allowance.  According to the Bureau, it also is flexible, meaning it can account for any changes that may be adopted regarding the required minimum performance characteristics, such as raising the minimum broadband download speed to 10 Mbps.

For additional information, please contact Tony Veach.

NTIA Extends Deadline to Comment on Arctic Notice of Inquiry

Posted on October 30, 2014

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has extended the deadline to comment on its Notice of Inquiry (NOI) into the current and potential availability of communications services in the Arctic region.  Comments on the NOI are now due no later than December 3, 2014, and may be submitted via email to arcticnoi@ntia.doc.gov or by U.S. mail to NTIA’s Washington D.C. address.

For additional information, please contact Tony Veach.

2015 E-Rate Eligible Services List Now Available

Posted on October 30, 2014

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) has released the E-Rate program’s eligible services list (ESL) which shows the specific products and services that are eligible for a discount under the E-Rate program for funding year 2015.  It has also authorized the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to open the annual E-Rate application filing window no earlier than December 29, 2014.  The 2015 ESL contains most of the formatting and substantive changes proposed in the Bureau’s draft ESL, but with a number of modifications to clarify for applicants and vendors what services  are eligible for E-Rate support following the FCC’s decision to phase down or eliminate support for certain legacy services in the July 2014 E-Rate Modernization Order.  The 2015 ESL also clarifies certain eligibility conditions and provides guidance to USAC on implementing the program changes adopted in the E-Rate Modernization Order.

For additional information, please contact Tony Veach.

Wheeler Names FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force Members

Posted on October 29, 2014

Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) Chairman Tom Wheeler recently named 31 members to the FCC-Native Nations Broadband Task Force. These members represent 20 Tribal Nations and 11 FCC Bureaus/Offices. The Task Force, which comprises elected and appointed leaders from federally-recognized Tribal governments or governmental entities and senior staff from across the Commission, was established in March 2011. It is responsible for assisting in executing the Commission’s consultation policy, eliciting input from Tribal governments, ensuring that Tribal concerns are considered in all Commission proceedings related to broadband, developing additional recommendations for promoting broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands, and coordinating with Tribal Nations in their respective regions. Chairman Wheeler named Geoffrey Blackwell, Chief of the Commission’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy in the Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, the federal co-chair of the Task Force. At its first meeting, the Tribal Nation representatives on the Task Force will elect a Tribal Nation Co-Chair.

For additional information, please contact Erin Fitzgerald.

Deception Alleged by FTC against AT&T for Throttling “Unlimited” Data Customers

Posted on October 28, 2014

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed a lawsuit against AT&T under the Federal Trade Commission Act alleging that AT&T deceptively misled millions of its customers with “unlimited” mobile data plans by throttling their data speeds.  The FTC’s complaint also alleges that AT&T failed to adequately disclose the data speed restrictions that were imposed on its “unlimited” mobile data plan customers.  The FTC asks the court for a permanent injunction against future violations by AT&T and redress to affected AT&T customers, including but not limited to reformed contracts and refunds.  In a statement, AT&T has denied the FTC’s allegations and claims to have been “completely transparent” with customers since it began throttling.

For additional information, please contact Bob Silverman.

Bureau Commences 2015 Urban Rate Survey

Posted on October 28, 2014

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) has announced it is initiating an urban rate survey to collect information to develop voice and broadband benchmarks that will be used in 2015 to determine whether recipients of high-cost support are offering voice and broadband services in their supported areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates for similar services in urban areas.  Like the process used for the last rate survey, the Bureau will collect data on voice and broadband rates offered by providers of fixed services in up to 500 urban census tracts.  Using the most recent FCC Form 477 filings, the Bureau will randomly select a number of service providers to complete the survey, and notify them via an email to each selected provider’s FCC Form 477 contact person on or around October 28, 2014.  Selected providers must complete the survey online by November 26, 2014.  Based on the Bureau’s experience with the first rate survey, the following changes will be made to the 2015 survey: all questions regarding non-recurring charges have been removed from both the voice and broadband portions of the survey; and a question about taxes, surcharges, and TRS charges has been removed from the voice portion of the survey.  Additional information on the urban rate survey is available online at www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/urban-rate-survey-data.

For additional information, please contact Tony Veach.

Comment Deadlines Set for Regulatory Fees FNPRM

Posted on October 27, 2014

On August 29, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) adopted and released the fiscal year (FY) 2014 Regulatory Fees Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM).  The Commission is also seeking further comment on methods to ensure or encourage compliance with the new toll free regulatory fee requirement as well as a proposal to adopt a new direct broadcast satellite (DBS) regulatory fee category. On October 27, 2014, the Commission published the FNPRM in the Federal Register.  Interested parties have until November 26, 2014 to file their comments, and until December 26, 2014 to file their reply comments.

For additional information, please contact Erin Fitzgerald.

FCC Delays Incentive Auction to 2016

Posted on October 27, 2014

Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) staff has announced that the 600 MHz Incentive Auction, initially planned for mid-2015, will instead be held in early 2016.  Gary Epstein, Chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, published an Incentive Auction Progress Report blog post late last week stating that the Task Force anticipates that  auction applications will be accepted in the fall of 2015.  The Incentive Auction was delayed due in part to a lawsuit filed by the National Association of Broadcasters and Sinclair Broadcast Group that is not expected to be resolved until the middle of next year.  The Task Force anticipates that the Commission will vote on an Incentive Auction Comment Public Notice before the end of 2014.  This Public Notice will propose detailed directions for how the auction will be conducted, and seek comment on the proposals.

For additional information, please contact Erin Fitzgerald.