BloostonLaw Telecom Update
Published by the Law Offices of Blooston, Mordkofsky, Dickens, Duffy & Prendergast, LLP
[Portions reproduced here with the firm's permission.]
| Vol. 13, No. 39 || October 6, 2010 |
CELL PHONES RING IN DISEASE
TMC.net reports that a recent study by British researchers and picked up by the Sacramento Bee has found that mobile phone handsets harbor 18 times more bacteria than the flush handle on a toilet in a typical men's restroom. As personal touchscreen devices — iPads, iPhones, Kindles, BlackBerrys and Droids — proliferate, they are harboring the kinds of bacteria and viruses that make winters a misery of colds, flu and stomach bugs, TMC.net said. And it is not just the kind of raised buttons on a keyboard you might imagine: the flat, smooth glass touch screens themselves can harbor significant bacteria. According to the study, “Virus Transfer Between Finger pads and Fomites,” which was published online in July by the Journal of Applied Microbiology, it's the touchability of modern devices that leads to the germ infestations.
NOVEMBER 1: FCC FORM 499-Q, TELECOMMUNICATIONS REPORTING WORKSHEET
All telecommunications common carriers that expect to contribute more than $10,000 to federal Universal Service Fund (USF) support mechanisms must file this quarterly form. The FCC has modified this form in light of its recent decision to establish interim measures for USF contribution assessments. The form contains revenue information from the prior quarter plus projections for the next quarter. Form 499-Q relates only to USF contributions. It does not relate to the cost recovery mechanisms for the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund, the North American Numbering Plan Administration (NANPA), and the shared costs of local number portability (LNP), which are covered in the annual form (Form 499-A) that was due April 1. BloostonLaw contacts: Ben Dickens, Gerry Duffy, and Mary Sisak.
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
- FCC proposes to draw from USF funds to support its new “Mobility Fund.”
- FCC seeks comments on problem of “Bill Shock.”
- FCC issues order to promote video service.
- NECA, USAC file 2011 average schedule high cost loop support, LSS formulas.
- 43% of EU households do not have Internet access.
FCC Proposes To Draw From USF Funds To Support Its New “Mobility Fund”
At last week’s open meeting, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking comment on using reserves accumulated in the Universal Service Fund (USF) to create a new Mobility Fund. According to the Commission, the purpose of the Mobility Fund is to significantly improve coverage of current-generation or better mobile voice and Internet service for consumers in areas where such coverage is currently missing, and to do so by supporting private investment. The Mobility Fund would use market mechanisms — specifically, a reverse auction — to make one-time support available to service providers to “cost-effectively” extend mobile coverage in specified unserved areas, the FCC says. This approach raises several issues, including whether small and rural carriers will be put at a major disadvantage vis a vis nationwide carriers in any reverse auction, and whether the reverse auction mechanism will reward installation of lower quality and less advanced technology. A question is also raised as to how the Mobility Fund will fit into the bigger USF picture, and whether the funds are better spent in other ways. BloostonLaw will be preparing comments to help our clients address these issues.
The NPRM proposes to support the Mobility Fund using a portion of USF funding voluntarily relinquished by Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Those funds had been helping support service in areas that, at least in some cases, were being served by other mobile carriers. Under the Mobility Fund, a portion of these funds will instead be distributed on a one-time basis using a market-based mechanism to target consumers in areas without advanced mobile services, ensuring that America gets the most bang for the USF buck, according to the FCC.
The NPRM proposes:
- To use $100 million to $300 million from the USF to create the Mobility Fund (an amount that will limit the usefulness of this Fund).
- To identify the areas unserved by 3G mobile wireless services.
- To use a reverse auction — in which the potential providers of services in identified areas without 3G service compete for support from the Mobility Fund by proposing the lowest amount of USF support they would require to serve areas that are currently unserved — to determine which providers get support, which specific geographic areas will receive support, and at what levels.
The NPRM also seeks comment on:
- Whether to make support available to any unserved area in the nation or to target support by making it available in a limited set of unserved areas.
- Minimum performance and coverage requirements that should be established for the service to be supported by the Mobility Fund.
In this NPRM, the FCC seeks comment on the creation of the Mobility Fund to provide an initial infusion of funds toward solving persistent gaps in mobile services through targeted, one-time support for the buildout of current and next-generation wireless infrastructure in areas where these services are unavailable. Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on the following proposals for the Mobility Fund:
- It proposes to use $100 million to $300 million from the USF to create the Mobility Fund. The FCC proposes to proceed by using a portion of the several hundred million dollars in annual USF support voluntarily relinquished by Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, which, as noted above, the Commission recently reserved as a down payment on broadband USF reform, so that the overall burden on consumers will not increase as a result of these proposals.
- It proposes to use a reverse auction — in which the potential providers of services in identified unserved areas compete for support from the Mobility Fund — to determine which providers get support, which specific geographic areas will receive support, and at what levels.
- It proposes to identify the areas unserved by advanced mobile wireless services and seek comment on alternative ways by which the FCC could distribute Mobility Fund support to those unserved areas. Specifically, the FCC proposes to use coverage data compiled by American Roamer and population data from the Census Bureau to identify unserved areas. The FCC seeks comment on whether to make support available to any unserved area nationwide or whether to further target support by making it available in a limited set of unserved areas, such as those in counties or states where the percentage of the population with access to 3G services is more than three percentage points below the percentage of nationwide population with such access, which according to data currently available is 98.5 percent. The FCC seeks comment on whether it should target Mobility Fund support in this way or whether the FCC should direct the Mobility Fund based on different criteria or in some other way.
- The FCC seeks comment on the minimum performance and coverage requirements it should establish for the service to be supported by the Mobility Fund, and on other ways to structure the support so as to ensure delivery of the desired service.
- The FCC proposes the following eligibility requirements for those seeking support from the Mobility Fund: (1) a provider must be designated (or have applied for designation) as an ETC for the area in which it seeks to provide service; (2) a provider must have access to spectrum capable of 3G or better service in the geographic area that it will serve; and (3) a provider must certify that it is financially and technically capable of providing service within the specified timeframe.
- The FCC proposes performance standards suitable for assessing and managing the program; mechanisms to deter waste, fraud, and abuse; and methods to recover improperly disbursed or used funds.
While supporting the initiative, Commissioner Meredith Baker noted: “With respect to the Mobility Fund itself, I note that the Fund would be created through a one-time payment. Operationally, I have a concern as to whether a one-time support mechanism will prove sustainable to provide mobile broadband services in unserved areas, or whether this effort will lead to a future further drain on resources to maintain the expanded infrastructure.”
Comments in this WT Docket No. 10-208 proceeding will be due 45 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register, and replies will be due 30 days thereafter.
BloostonLaw contacts: Hal Mordkofsky, Ben Dickens, Gerry Duffy, John Prendergast, and Mary Sisak.
FCC Seeks Comments On Problem Of “Bill Shock”
The FCC, at its open meeting last week, adopted a “bill shock” Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that would require mobile service providers to provide usage alerts and information that will assist consumers in avoiding unexpected charges on their bills. Our clients should participate in this rulemaking to make sure that any procedures adopted to guard against “bill shock” do not impose unrealistic and unjustified accounting and notification expenses on small and rural carriers, at a time when they can ill afford more costs.
The Commission’s data, including both complaint and survey results, indicates that many mobile consumers experience sudden, unexpected increases in their monthly bills that are not caused by intentional changes in their service plans. The Commission’s recent survey confirms that as many as 30 million Americans have experienced such unexpected increases in their wireless bills, commonly referred to as “bill shock.” Bill shock can result from a number of causes such as an unexpected increase that comes from high roaming fees or exceeding a monthly allotment of voice minutes, texts, or data consumption. This type of bill shock can be prevented by timely and easily accessible usage information. As mobile service is the fastest growing segment of the communications market, with more and more consumers taking advantage of the convenience and capabilities of mobile services, these unexpected charges result in significant expenditures of time, effort, and money for many American consumers each year.
The record developed in response to the Consumer Information NOI and Bill Shock PN and Bill Shock Survey persuaded the FCC that consumers face significant challenges in monitoring mobile usage and protecting themselves from substantial roaming charges or overage charges for exceeding their monthly allotments of voice minutes, text and data. In addition, the FCC has found that usage alerts offered by mobile providers vary widely between service providers and by type of service covered. For example, the FCC said, AT&T offers no alerts for voice usage and provides alerts only after text overages are incurred. Data usage alerts are provided by AT&T before or after overages depending upon the service plan. As another example, the FCC said, Sprint will send text or email alerts to certain subscribers on data plans before they reach their data limits, but will call subscribers by phone only after they “significantly” exceed their voice or text allotments Verizon Wireless provides alerts if a consumer is trending or has exceeded an allotment on or about the 20th day of a billing cycle. Other service providers have similar inconsistencies. Thus, the FCC said, providers are not consistent in the kinds of alerts they offer, or in the types of overages that are covered by these alerts. While several mobile providers offer voluntary tools for consumers to set limits on their usage, the FCC said, consumers are often unaware of how to access these tools, or even that such tools are available. As a result, the protections against bill shock that are currently afforded by providers have proven insufficient for many consumers. That conclusion is evidenced by the record compiled in this proceeding and the Commission’s own complaint data which indicate that large numbers of mobile consumers continue to experience bill shock each month. The FCC noted, for example, that approximately 10 percent of all wireless billing rate complaints filed at the Commission relate to voice, text, or data overages, along with overages due to roaming. In addition, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that 34 percent of wireless subscribers had experienced unexpected charges on their wireless bills.
The costs to consumers resulting from these unexpected charges can be significant. For example, the FCC said, two-thirds of bill shock complaints received by the Commission in the first half of 2010 were for amounts of $100 or greater, and a few bill shock complaints even exceeded $10,000 in disputed charges.
Comments in this CG Docket No. 10-207 proceeding will be due 30 days after publication of the item in the Federal Register, and replies will be due 30 days thereafter.
BloostonLaw contacts: Hal Mordkofsky, Ben Dickens, Gerry Duffy, and John Prendergast.
FCC ISSUES ORDER TO PROMOTE VIDEO SERVICE: The FCC has issued a Third Report and Order and Order on Reconsideration (Third R&O) to promote innovation and consumer choice in the video device marketplace. Recommended in the National Broadband Plan, the rules adopted in the Order are intended to promote the statutory goal of creating a competitive retail market for devices that can access cable video services. The Commission said at last week’s open meeting that it is taking these steps as an interim measure while it considers new rules that would allow consumers to buy smart video devices that can access all multichannel video programming services, enabling them to change service providers without replacing their video devices. The FCC noted that the overwhelming majority of digital cable subscribers currently lease set-top boxes from their cable providers. Although the CableCARD regime has made it possible for manufacturers to develop innovative devices that consumers can buy to access cable services, the FCC said its full potential has not yet been realized. The National Broadband Plan indicated that these devices promote broadband adoption and use because they enable consumers to merge Internet-delivered content with cable services. The Plan identified discrete problems that have hindered the consumer experience with retail devices and therefore restrained the development of a retail market. In April 2010, the Commission issued a Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposed solutions to remove the obstacles that have hindered a vibrant retail market for CableCARD devices. The FCC said adoption of the Third R&O specifically remedies the CableCARD regime’s shortcomings identified in the Fourth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by: (1) ensuring that retail devices have access to all video programming that is prescheduled by the programming provider; (2) making CableCARD pricing and billing more transparent; (3) streamlining CableCARD installations; and (4) streamlining requirements for manufacturers who build CableCARD devices. The Third R&O also updates the Commission’s rules to encourage consumers to connect their cable boxes to home networks and to ease the regulatory burdens on cable operators that are modernizing their systems. BloostonLaw contact: Gerry Duffy.
NECA, USAC FILE 2011 AVERAGE SCHEDULE HIGH COST LOOP SUPPORT, LSS FORMULAS: On August 24, 2010, the National Exchange Carrier Association (NECA) filed its 2011 Modification of Average Schedule Universal Service High-Cost Loop Support Formula. On September 30, 2010, the Universal Service Administrative Company filed its 2011 Average Schedule Company Local Switching Support Formula. The proposed formulas, if approved, would be scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2011, and remain in effect through December 31, 2011. The Wireline Competition Bureau seeks comment on the proposed formulas. Interested parties may file comments on or before November 12, 2010 and reply comments on or before November 29, 2010. All filings should reference WC Docket No. 05-337. BloostonLaw contacts: Ben Dickens, Gerry Duffy, and Mary Sisak.
43% OF EU HOUSEHOLDS DO NOT HAVE INTERNET ACCESS: Carrier Evolution reports that approximately 43 percent of European Union households still do not have Internet access, according to a European Commission survey which questioned 27,000 households throughout the EU on their use of Internet, telephones and TV services. That fact might come as a surprise to some observers, especially those who think the United States is "behind" other regions in broadband adoption, Carrier Evolution said. Equally surprising, perhaps, is the survey's finding that nearly 20 percent of respondents say the "high cost" of Internet access is why they do not have it at home. “Observers who decry the high prices of broadband service in the U.S. market might be surprised to find the complaint is heard at least as often in EC countries as in the United States,” Carrier Evolution said. “Also, as is the case in the U.S. market, ‘availability’ is not the barrier. Many of those non-connected at home state that they are not interested in the Internet, the EC study suggests.” According to the survey, 61 percent of EU mobile phone users and 49 percent of landline subscribers limit their calls because of cost concerns. In households with broadband connections, 30 percent of respondents say that the download speed does not remain constant, 36 percent experience connection breakdowns and 24 percent say that performance does not match contract conditions, the study reports. The point is that "best effort" Internet access connections do experience relatively wide variations in experienced speeds, based on time of day and network congestion. Those concerns are not unique to the U.S. market, Carrier Evolution said.
This newsletter is not intended to provide legal advice. Those interested in more information should contact the firm.