Several FCC bureaus today granted additional relief to parties struggling to recover as a result of recent hurricanes, including by extending filing and regulatory deadlines, streamlining the environmental notification process for areas impacted by Hurricane Maria, and extending deadlines related to universal service programs. “We find good cause to waive certain of our rules, on our own motion, as described below, for six months, in order to alleviate the burden of regulatory compliance as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from Hurricane Maria,” the Wireless Telecommunications and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus said in a public notice. “We will also consider, as the six-month date approaches, whether additional relief on a broad or more targeted basis is needed.”
The bureaus extended “certain deadlines occurring between September 20, 2017 and March 19, 2018, until March 20, 2018, for affected licensees, applicants, and registrants in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In this context, ‘affected’ means those persons or entities that operate facilities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or the territory of the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as persons or entities that rely in a significant manner essential to their operations on personnel, records, or financial institutions located in those areas to provide services or to conduct substantial activities with the Commission.
“(1) We extend until March 20, 2018, any deadlines currently set within the period from September 20, 2017, to March 19, 2018, inclusive, with respect to Wireless Radio Service applications, notifications, and reports pursuant to Parts 1 (Subpart F only), 13, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30, 74 (excluding Subparts G, and L), 80, 87, 90, 95, 96, 97, or 101 of the Commission’s rules, including, but not limited to, filings regarding certain minor license modifications, license renewals, and notifications of construction,” the public notice said. “Licensees making delayed filings in accordance with this extension must include with those filings a certification made under penalty of perjury that the deadlines could not be met within the time otherwise provided in the Commission’s rules because of the hurricane. Pursuant to this Public Notice, licensees will not need to file individual waiver or extension requests, or to pay individual waiver fees.
“(2) We extend until March 20, 2018, all construction deadlines and other regulatory deadlines currently set within the period from September 20, 2017, to March 19, 2018, inclusive, applicable to Wireless Radio Services pursuant to Parts 1 (Subpart F only), 13, 20, 22, 24, 27, 30, 74 (excluding Subparts G, and L), 80, 87, 90, 95, 96, 97, or 101 of the Commission’s rules. Licensees making delayed filings in accordance with this extension must include with those filings a certification made under penalty of perjury that the deadlines could not be met within the time otherwise provided in the Commission’s rules because of the hurricane. Pursuant to this Public Notice, licensees will not need to file individual waiver or extension requests, or to pay individual waiver fees.
“(3) We waive certain requirements relating to the environmental notification process. First, we expand the exception that currently applies to antenna structures that will be in place for no more than 60 days, in order to allow temporary towers to remain in place for a longer period without requiring environmental notification. Specifically, we waive the Section 17.4(c) requirement to complete the environmental notification process for the construction or deployment of a temporary antenna structure that will be in place until no later than March 19, 2018, so long as the structure otherwise satisfies Section 17.4(c)(1)(vii)(B) through (E). Temporary structures that will be in place beyond that date will remain exempt from the environmental notification process under existing rules, so long as they will not be in place for more than 60 days from the time the structure was erected.
“We also waive the environmental notice requirement under Section 17.4(c) for structures constructed to restore service in the affected area. Pre-construction environmental notification will not be required in such cases, on the condition that applicants availing themselves of this waiver complete the environmental notice requirement as soon as practicable thereafter, but in any event no later than March 20, 2018. Entities relying upon these waivers must include with their applications for antenna structure registration a certification made under penalty of perjury that they meet the conditions for waiver.
“(4) We also waive Section 1.931(a) of the Commission’s rules through March 19, 2018, to allow the filing of STA requests for Wireless Radio Services in manners other than electronically on FCC Form 601, e.g., by requesting STAs by telephone call to Commission staff. Further, because the President has issued major disaster declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, all STA filings related to Hurricane Maria will be considered ‘emergency filings’ pursuant to Section 1.915(b) of the Commission’s rules and will be processed as expeditiously as possible. Affected licensees must include a certification that the STA request is in response to Hurricane Maria.”
Also today, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released an order in CC docket 02-6 and WC dockets 02-60 and 11-42 waiving, on its own motion, “certain E-rate, Rural Health Care (RHC), Lifeline, and contribution rules and deadlines to assist schools and libraries, RHC and Lifeline Program participants, and contributors” in the areas hit by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. “We also grant the requests of PRWireless, Inc., d/b/a Open Mobile and Telrite Corporation (Telrite), for an extension of the previously granted temporary waiver of the Lifeline Program’s non-usage and recertification rules.”
Regarding the E-rate program, the order said, “For schools and libraries located in areas of Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) that have been designated as Major Disaster Areas eligible for Individual Assistance for the purposes of federal disaster relief by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (‘Affected Disaster Areas’), we waive, on an emergency interim basis … deadlines that may occur after the effective date of this Order, and provide those affected with up to 150 calendar days from the effective date of this Order to submit the required filing[.]”
The following deadlines are being waived (1) “[r]equests for review or waiver of decisions by USAC, directed to USAC or the Commission”; (2) “[f]iling FCC Form 472 (Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form)”; and (3) “[f]iling Form 474 (Service Provider Invoice Form).
“Additionally, we find that good cause exists to waive certain service implementation deadline rules, subject to the limitations herein, for applicants located in the Affected Disaster Areas. We find that the extensive damage to property, facilities, and resources resulting from the Hurricanes may have made it impossible for some applicants in the Affected Disaster Areas to complete the installation of internal connections and other non-recurring services by the September 30, 2017 deadline for Funding Year (FY) 2016, and that service installation and construction efforts may continue to be delayed or impaired as communities in the Affected Disaster Areas work to recover and rebuild,” the order said. “Accordingly, we extend the FY 2016 implementation deadline for non-recurring services, other than special construction, to September 30, 2018 for applicants in the Affected Disaster Areas. For applicants located in the Affected Disaster Areas that receive FY 2017 commitments for special construction, we extend the June 30, 2018 deadline to complete special construction and light the new fiber until June 30, 2019, subject to the applicant filing a valid FCC Form 500 certifying that construction for the special construction project was unavoidably delayed due to damage caused by the Hurricanes.”
The bureau added that it recognizes “that applicants and service providers in the Affected Disaster Areas may have lost records in the destruction caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. We waive section 54.516(a) of our rules with respect to such destroyed records, which requires schools, libraries, consortia, and service providers to retain all documents related to their application for at least 10 years after the latter of the last day of the applicable funding year or the service delivery deadline for the funding request. Applicants and service providers will not be penalized for failure to retain records destroyed by the Hurricanes.”
As for the RHC program, the bureau waived the following deadlines and provided participants up to 150 calendar days to submit the required filings: (1) “[r]equests for review or waiver of decisions by USAC [Universal Service Administrative Company], directed to USAC or the Commission”; (2) “[f]iling FCC Form 463 (Healthcare Connect Fund (HCF) Program Invoice and Request for Disbursement Form)”; and (3) “FY 2016 Annual Report Questionnaire by consortia under the HCF Program.” It also waived its rules requiring the retention of all documents, for RHC records lost due to the storms.
The order also granted in part and denied in part the emergency petition for waiver of Open Mobile and the emergency petition for waiver of Telrite. “Both petitions requested, among other requests, an extension of the Bureau’s previously granted 90-day waiver of certain Lifeline program rules in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We also, on our own motion, waive the Lifeline non-usage and recertification rules for subscribers residing in the Affected Disaster Areas in Florida and Georgia. We decline to waive these rules in Texas, because the Public Utility Commission of Texas (Texas PUC) administers eligibility and recertification processes in that state and has indicated that such processes continue to function at this time. Based on the record before us, we find that good cause exists to waive through February 28, 2018 sections 54.405(e)(3), 54.405(e)(4), 54.407(c)(2), 54.410(f), and 54.411 of the Commission’s rules for eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs) serving Lifeline subscribers residing in Affected Disaster Areas in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Georgia,” the order said.
“To promote the maintenance and rebuilding of communities affected by the Hurricanes and to facilitate continued access to telecommunications services for disaster victims, we find it is in the public interest to extend the Bureau’s temporary waiver of sections 54.405(e)(3) and 54.407(c)(2) of the Commission’s rules. Under these rules, ETCs must de-enroll Lifeline subscribers who do not pay a monthly fee for their Lifeline-supported service and do not use that service for 30 consecutive days,” the bureau said.
“We find it is also in the public interest to extend the temporary waiver of sections 54.405(e)(4) and 54.410(f) of the Commission’s rules for ETCs with subscribers whose service anniversary dates fall on or between September 7, 2017 and February 28, 2018. Waiver of these rules will allow ETCs serving Lifeline subscribers in Affected Disaster Areas in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Georgia additional time to complete the recertification process for those subscribers whose service anniversary dates fall within this waiver period,” it said.
But the bureau declined “to grant Open Mobile’s and Telrite’s respective requests for an additional 90-day waiver of the rules, absent further action from the Commission. We find that, combined with our previous temporary waiver, an additional 84-day waiver period is an appropriate time period that accommodates the extraordinary circumstances of the Hurricanes while continuing to protect program integrity. Additionally, ending the waiver period at the end of a calendar month will accommodate the common industry practice of recertifying subscribers in monthly batches. ETCs in the affected areas that are unable to comply with the Lifeline non-usage and recertification requirements at the end of this period for specific households may request additional, narrowly tailored relief from these requirements from the Bureau.
“We also, on our own motion, temporarily waive the Lifeline port freeze rule in the Affected Disaster Areas in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida, and Georgia through February 28, 2018. This temporary waiver will permit subscribers to apply their Lifeline benefit to a different Lifeline provider even if they would otherwise be prohibited from doing so due to section 54.411 of the Commission’s rules,” it said. “At the expiration of this waiver period, subscribers will be subject to the port freeze requirements of section 54.411, as measured from the date of that subscriber’s latest Lifeline enrollment or transfer.”
In addition, the order said, “To provide further relief for affected companies, we waive additional rules and requirements for contributors to the Universal Service Fund (USF). We find that good cause exists to waive these rules and requirements, subject to the limitations herein, for providers serving the Affected Disaster Areas. … First, we extend the 45-day revision deadline for Form 499-Q filings made on August 1, 2017, by contributors serving the Affected Disaster Areas, as well as for the upcoming Form 499-Q filing due November 1, 2017. … We next temporarily waive section 54.713(c) for providers with headquarters in the Affected Disaster Areas and direct USAC to refrain from assessing late fees on Form 499-Q filings made by these providers after the upcoming November 1 deadline. … We also temporarily waive section 54.713(b) and direct USAC to suspend certain collection activities for providers with headquarters in the Affected Disaster Areas.”
The order added, “We are committed to guarding against waste, fraud, and abuse in the USF programs. Although we grant the limited waivers described herein, program participants and service providers remain otherwise subject to audits and investigations to determine compliance with USF Program rules and requirements.”
Meanwhile, other parties continued to seek relief from the FCC due to hurricanes.
In an emergency petition, Vitelcom Cellular, Inc. (d/b/a/ Viya Wireless) and Choice Communications LLC asked the FCC to provide emergency supplemental universal service support to aid in the restoration of wireless services in the Virgin Islands. They asked the Commission to “make available a supplemental, one-time infusion of up to $50 million for carriers to restore wireless networks using hurricane-hardened facilities. The Petitioners propose for these funds to be awarded through a process similar to a request for proposals (‘RFP’), and to be subject to verification of the appropriate use of the support. Further, the Petitioners propose for the funds to be subject to reasonable requirements, consistent with those adopted for facilities built with Mobility Fund Phase II support, to ensure that facilities constructed with the support will be available to benefit all carriers serving the USVI.”
Meanwhile, affiliated companies operating under the Viya brand in the Virgin Islands separately filed an emergency petition in WC dockets 11-42, 10-90, 02-60, 06-122, 14-58, and WT docket 10-208 asking the FCC to “adopt a comprehensive universal service relief package for the USVI following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. The relief requested herein is consistent with and builds upon the similar relief that the Commission provided following Hurricane Katrina.”
The petition continued, “The Commission has already used the Katrina Order as a model in providing relief from Hurricanes Irma and Maria by making clear that network recovery efforts in the USVI and Puerto Rico represent a permissible use of universal service support. The Commission also has recognized that the enormity of the reconstruction effort in the USVI calls for additional specific relief by allowing eligible telecommunications carriers (‘ETCs’) in the USVI and Puerto Rico to receive up to seven months’ of high-cost support on an up-front, lump-sum basis to assist in the immediate reconstruction effort. Viya is enormously grateful for these quick and decisive efforts.
“Given the magnitude of the network reconstruction challenge to the insular U.S. Territories following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, however, Viya is obliged to seek additional relief. Specifically, as explained in more detail below, Viya requests that the Commission provide the following universal service relief to carriers and customers in the USVI impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
It said the Commission should provide (1) “[s]pecial Lifeline support to ensure that customers impacted by the storms that are not already Lifeline customers can retain access to telecommunications services despite the extensive damage to wireline facilities”; (2) “[s]pecial Link Up support to ensure that current Lifeline customers in the USVI can retain their service despite the extensive damage to wireline facilities and wireless networks providing service to Lifeline customers”; (3) “[w]aiver of the 45-day deadline to revise revenue projections filed in the August 1, 2017 FCC Form 499-Q so that the contribution obligations of carriers operating in the USVI align with their significantly decreased revenues resulting from the effects of the storms”; and (4) “[f]urther extension of recently granted universal service filing deadlines and extension of additional universal service filing deadlines.”
Meanwhile, the FCC reported today that Puerto Rico’s main public safety answering point (PSAP), which had been out of service yesterday, “has been restored to operational status.” It also said that 83% of cell sites were out in Puerto Rico, which was down from 84.6% yesterday.
“All counties in Puerto Rico, except Bayamon, Carolina, Guaynabo, San Juan, and Toa Baja, have greater than 75% of their cell sites out of service. 22 (down from 24 yesterday) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service. Wireless communications providers are deploying to Puerto Rico Cell Sites on Wheels and Cell Sites on Light Trucks,” the FCC said in its outages report, which uses data submitted to the FCC’s Disaster Information Reporting System (DIRS).
In the Virgin Islands, “57.0% (down from 60.3% yesterday) of cell sites are out of service. 100% of cell sites in St. John are still out of service,” the report said.
There were no changes from yesterday in the number of switches (13) that were out of service in Puerto Rico or the operational status reported for TV and radio stations in Puerto Rico.— Paul Kirby, email@example.com