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USF Tracker – March 2021 – Media, Telecoms, IT, Entertainment


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In March, the FCC and USAC worked hard to stand up the first of
three pandemic-related special programs, the Emergency Broadband
Benefit Program (EBBP). Rules for the $3.2 billion EBBP were
adopted in February and the Wireline Competition Bureau
(Bureau) issued milestones in March for ETC election notices,
non-ETC applications and applications to use alternative
verification systems. Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said in
mid-March that over 100 applications or election notices were filed
(we believe the number is much higher now); clearly the program is
attracting a lot of interest from service providers and, in
particular, from service providers that have not heretofore
participated in the Lifeline program. Moreover, our experience has
been that the Bureau is moving quickly on non-ETC applications, and
many received approval after only a week. All signs are pointing
for a running start to the EBBP in April (exact date still

Recent News


  • On March 25, the FCC issued a Public Notice (DA 21-355) seeking comment on
    the Supply Chain Reimbursement Program Study, a preliminary Catalog
    of Eligible Expenses and Estimated Costs, and a preliminary List of
    Categories of Suggested Replacement Equipment and Services to
    assist with establishing the Secure and Trusted Communications
    Networks Reimbursement Program (aka the “Rip and Replace”
    program). Comments are due April 26, 2021.
  • On March 25, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB)
    released an Order (DA 21-351) granting Tata Communications
    a waiver of section 54.706(a)-(c) of the FCC’s rules to allow
    Tata, as a predominantly international carrier, to maintain its
    eligibility for the limited international revenue exemption for
    contribution purposes.  The Commission’s waiver is
    retroactive to revenues from 2020 and prospective for calendar year
    2021, for the portion of its interstate revenues that exceed the
    current qualifying threshold (of 12%) for LIRE exemption. The
    Bureau granted the waiver in recognition that the current
    contribution factor significantly exceeds the 12% threshold,
    concluding that the disparity between the contribution factor and
    the LIRE threshold could result in a contributor being required to
    contribute to the universal service fund an amount that exceeds its
    interstate end-user telecommunications revenue.   


  • On March 19, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-336) seeking comment on
    the state of the Lifeline marketplace by June 30,
    .  Comments are sought to inform the report the
    WCB will submit to the FCC, including the prevalence of
    subscriptions to various service offerings in the Lifeline program,
    the affordability of both voice and broadband services, the pace
    since adoption of the 2016 Lifeline Order at which voice and data
    usage has changed, minimum service standards, and the net benefits
    of continuing to support voice service as a standalone option. The
    WCB also seeks comment on the intersection between the Emergency
    Broadband Benefit Program and the Lifeline marketplace.
  • On March 4, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-265) announcing upcoming
    milestone dates for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.  The
    portal for non-ETC providers to apply for participation in the
    program and for approval of alternative verification programs
    opened on March 8, and for ETCs to file election notices on March
    11.  The Bureau committed to providing priority evaluations to
    all applications submitted on or before March 22.  The start
    date for the EBB will be announced in a future public notice.
  • On March 2, USAC implemented an automated database connection
    between the Lifeline National Verifier and the Minnesota Department
    of Human Services. The National Verifier now has 25 state and
    federal connections.

High Cost/Connect America Fund (CAF)

  • On March 16, the WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 21-319) the April 1,
    opening of the Eligible Locations Adjustment Process
    (ELAP) filing window for CAF Phase II auction support recipients.
    Participating Phase II auction support recipients must submit all
    required information and certifications during a four-month filing
    window beginning April 1 and ending August 3,
  • Also on March 16, the WCB adopted a Protective Order (DA 21-318) applying to the
    review and use of confidential information submitted through the
    ELAP module of the USAC High Cost Broadband Portal (HCBP) as
    described in the ELAP Order.
  • On March 8, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-279) seeking comment on
    multiple petitions for designation as an Eligible
    Telecommunications Carrier (ETC), for the purpose of becoming
    eligible to receive universal service support. The petitioners are
    winning bidders, or those assigned support through the division of
    winning bids, in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction.
     Comments are due April 7, 2021 and reply
    comments are due April 22, 2021.

Schools and Libraries (E-Rate)

  • On March 25, the WCB sent a letter (DA 21-353) notifying USAC of approval
    of the E-Rate Funding Year 2021 Program Integrity Assurance (PIA)
    FCC Form 471 review procedures.
  • On March 19, WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 21-332) E-Rate and RHC
    Programs’ inflation-based caps for Funding Year 2021.  The
    new caps represent a 1.2% inflation-adjusted increase in each
    program cap from funding year 2020.
  • On March 16, the WCB issued a Public Notice (DA 21-317) seeking comment on
    the Emergency Connectivity Fund for educational
    connections and devices to address the homework gap during the
    pandemic.  The Emergency Connectivity Fund will provide up to
    $7.1 billion in support for remote learning and off-campus library
    services during the pandemic.  The FCC has 60 days to adopt
    rules implementing the new ECF.  Comments are due
    April 5, 2021 and reply comments are due
    April 23, 2021.

Rural Health Care

  • On March 30, the FCC adopted (FCC 21-39) rules for round 2 of
    the COVID-19 Telehealth program.
  • On March 19, WCB announced via Public Notice (DA 21-332) E-Rate and RHC
    Programs’ inflation-based caps for Funding Year 2021.  The
    new caps represent a 1.2% inflation-adjusted increase in each
    program cap from funding year 2020.

12th Annual USF Update Webinar

On March 22, 2021 Kelley Drye’s Commuications practice
presented our annual webinar discussing the state of the federal
Universal Service Fund. This webinar, back for its 12th year,
provided an in-depth look at all four USF programs and the USF
contribution mechanism, highlighting major developments in the last
year and trends for the upcoming year. In addition, this year we
discussed how the ongoing pandemic has influenced the importance of
the USF and related policy decisions. 

Click here to access the recording and 
here to access the slide deck.

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