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FCC Takes First Step Towards Removing Bad Actors from the Universal Service Fund, TRS Fund, and National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) announced, via a news release , a rulemaking to adopt new procedures to protect federal funds from misuse. The proposed rules would give the FCC more power and flexibility to promptly exclude bad actors from the Universal Service Fund (“USF”), the Telecommunications Relay Services (“TRS”) Fund, and the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (“NDBEDP”). Interested parties have the opportunity to comment on these rules, thereby significantly influencing their development.

NOTE:  If your company is interested in learning more about the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program and how “good actors” (that are not yet participating) could benefit, please contact Michal Nowicki of Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, at mjn@commlawgroup.com or 703-714-1311. 

The current FCC bad actor rules cover USF programs only. These programs are (1) Lifeline, which helps make communications services more affordable for low-income consumers; (2) the High Cost program, which provides subsidies for rural broadband and voice service; (3) E-rate, which supports connectivity both to and within schools and libraries to the Internet; and (4) the Rural Health Care program, which subsidizes connectivity for rural health care facilities. The current rules cover a relatively narrow range of conduct and require the FCC to suspend or debar any entity for whom there has been a civil judgment or conviction related to serious misconduct involving the USF programs.

The new rules, if adopted as proposed, would broaden the current rules in several ways. First, they would give the FCC greater flexibility in preventing fraud, including the ability to consider a broader range of misconduct and to immediately suspend entities when necessary to protect the public interest. The proposed rules would specifically require program participants to verify that they themselves are not excluded from participating in federal programs and that they will not enter into new transactions with excluded third parties. This would keep bad actors out of covered programs and help prevent bad actors from using other companies to shield them from accountability and let them access federal support. The proposed rules would also allow the FCC to participate in a government-wide mechanism through which suspension or debarment by the FCC would apply to other federal agencies and vice versa. Finally, the proposed rules would also cover not only USF, but also TRS and NDBEDP participants. The TRS Fund supports relay services, which enable individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or who have speech disabilities to engage in communications with other individuals, whereas the NDBEDP provides equipment needed to make phone, Internet, and advanced communications services accessible to low-income individuals who have both significant vision loss and significant hearing loss.

If your company is impacted by the proposed changes and would like guidance in filing comments, or if your company has any questions/concerns regarding disability access-related issues (such as CVAA, ADA, NDBEDP), please contact Michal Nowicki of Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, at mjn@commlawgroup.com or 703-714-1311. 

Also contact Michal if your company is interested in learning more about the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program and how the program can benefit “good actors” that are not yet participating (but could be!).

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