USF Rural Health Care, Cable Notice Items Round Out Tentative Agenda

In addition to the draft Internet freedom order, draft “twilight” towers public notice, and draft notice of proposed rulemaking on the national TV ownership cap previewed last week (TR Daily, Nov. 21) and other items of particular interest to wireless entities (see separate story), FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is also planning to ask his fellow Commissioners to vote on a draft notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and order to address increased demand for the Rural Health Care (RHC) portion of the Universal Service Fund and a draft notice of proposed rulemaking to allow cable system operators to make certain communications with subscribers by e-mail rather than on paper.

The draft RHC NPRM in Wireline Competition docket 17-310 would propose raising the RHC program’s $400 million annual cap and creating a prioritization mechanism in the event that demand exceeds the cap, according to a fact sheet issued by the FCC.

“For the second funding year (FY) in a row, demand for RHC Program support is anticipated to exceed available program funding, leaving healthcare providers to potentially pay more for service than expected.  Unfortunately, part of that growth is due to an increase in waste, fraud, and abuse in the RHC Program,” the text of the draft item says.

According to the fact sheet, the RHC NPRM would also propose “[e]stablishing a process for evaluating outlier funding requests and reforming the calculation of urban and rural rates in the Telecommunications Program to improve fairness and transparency”; “[r]e-defining the ‘cost-effectiveness’ standard across the RHC Program to encourage price-sensitive purchasing and fair competitive bidding”; “[e]nsuring sufficient funding for rural and Tribal healthcare providers, while maintaining the participation of rural-urban provider consortia”; and “[s]implifying program participation and enhancing oversight.”

The accompanying draft RHC order would “[w]aive the RHC Program’s cap on a one-time basis and instruct USAC to carry forward any unused RHC Program funds from prior funding years for use in FY 2017” and “[e]nable service providers to voluntarily reduce their rates for qualifying FY 2017 requests while keeping constant the support amount provided by the Universal Service Fund.”

The draft cable NPRM in Media Bureau dockets 17-105 and 17-317 would propose “allowing certain written communications from cable operators to subscribers required by Subpart T [of the FCC’s part 76 rules] to be delivered to a verified e-mail address with an opt-out mechanism enabling customers to continue receiving paper notices” and allowing “cable operators to respond to consumer requests or billing dispute complaints by e-mail if the consumer used e-mail to make the request or complaint or if the consumer specifies e-mail as the preferred delivery method in the request or complaint,”  according to an FCC fact sheet.

The NPRM would also seek comment “on whether to permit cable operators to provide certain written notices to subscribers by posting the written material on the cable operator’s website”; “whether to adopt a rule specifying that subscriber privacy notifications required pursuant to Section 631 of the Communications Act may be delivered via e-mail, subject to consumer safeguards”; “on other proposals to update Subpart T in light of technological advances and market changes in the cable industry”; and “on whether and how to update the requirements that broadcast stations send carriage election notices to cable or satellite operators via certified mail.”

As reported previously, the draft Internet freedom order in WC docket 17-108 would reverse the agency’s 2015 regulatory classification of broadband Internet access services (BIAS) as telecommunications services subject to common carrier regulation under Title II of the Communications Act, along with the 2015 change in classification of wireless broadband service that subjected it to Title II as well (TR Daily, Nov. 21).

The draft order would also roll back the 2015 open Internet order’s “catch-all” Internet conduct standard; its three “bright-line” rules prohibiting blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization; the agency’s 2015 assertion of authority over Internet interconnection; its 2010 and subsequent interpretation of section 706 (advanced telecommunications capability) of the Act as an independent grant of regulatory authority; and the 2015 modifications to the BIAS transparency rules. And it would preempt local and state laws and regulations that are inconsistent with the light-touch regulation of information services established by the FCC.

As reported previously, the draft TV ownership NPRM in MB docket 17-318 would seek comment on the FCC’s authority to modify, retain, or eliminate the 39% national TV ownership cap, as well as the UHF discount that it reinstated earlier this year.  The UHF discount allows only 50% of the viewing audience for UHF stations to be counted toward the national cap. —Lynn Stanton,

Courtesy TRDaily