November 28, 2018 by Tom Cohen

Regulations and Policy - Always More Questions than Time to Answer Them


After the regulatory and policy panel session at the Calix ConneXions Innovation and User Conference and in the halls later on, attendees asked me to follow-up on some questions. So, here goes with responses:

When will the FCC act to give additional universal service support to Tier 3 carriers? The FCC has been considering this issue for some time, and it just announced it will act on this matter at its December 12 meeting. From the draft order released on November 21, it will provide to rate of return carriers that have already opted into the ACAM process additional funding if they build networks capable of providing 25/3 Mbps. As for rate of return carriers that have not opted into the ACAM process, they will have an opportunity to do so also in exchange for providing 25/3 Mbps services. Finally, the order sets a long-term budget for rate of return carriers that do not opt into the ACAM process.

Will Congress consider an infrastructure bill in 2019 to provide funding for broadband deployments? Both the Republicans and Democrats have discussed moving a major infrastructure bill forward in 2019, but there is still a lack of consensus about what should be included and how to pay for it. In addition, the Congress may wait and see how the new rural broadband pilot program, with an additional $600 million in funding, will work. I expect the RUS will issue rules for that program shortly. It may turn out that in the long run this new program becomes the vehicle to provide more broadband infrastructure support for rural areas.

Pole attachment problems continue to crop up; when will the new FCC rules take effect? The new rules adopted this past August become effective on February 3, 2019, or 30 days after the Office of Management and Budget completes its review, whichever is later. Keep in mind that the FCC’s rules only apply in states that have not adopted their own pole attachment regulatory regime, although states may decide to follow the FCC’s lead. Utilities (pole owners) are challenging the new rules at the FCC and in the courts, but it will be difficult to overturn them.

The National Broadband Map counts census blocks as unserved even though service may be available to one location in that area. Is the FCC going to address this problem? Yes, I expect the FCC will issue an order requiring more granular data collection next year, perhaps as early as the first quarter. The problem the FCC faces is that there is no database with geocoded locations of all housing units in the US. The industry has asked the FCC to build such a database first before it asks providers to supply more granular data about where they have service available. Because this task is so enormous, the FCC is reluctant to do it, especially since it lacks funding. Instead, the FCC is investigating whether alternative methods of collection, such as providing service availability data by shapefiles or street segments, would work. Also, NTIA has its own proceeding underway to examine whether it can find ways to make the map more accurate. So, stay tuned for updates.

The FCC has issued orders to facilitate 5G deployments; what is it doing to help speed fiber deployments? The FCC has not forgotten fiber. In addition to this past summer’s pole attachment order, the FCC issued rulings prohibiting local governments from: adopting moratoria on processing applications for any telecommunications deployment, imposing onerous requirements that would effectively stall deployments, and imposing non-cost-based fees for access to public rights-of-way. That’s good news. Local governments are challenging these rulings, but they face an uphill fight.

Have more questions about how policy and regulations are shaping the communications service provider industry? Please be sure to let me know and I’ll address them in future blogs.

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