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Legal Representation in Section 214(e) ETC Designations process from State Commissions & the FCC

FCC Section 214(e) ETC Designation

While most Wireline, VoIP and Wireless Common Carriers understand the Universal Service Fund (USF), Connect America Fund (CAF) and USAC as Fund Contributors. The Fund is designed to support specific needs that have been traditionally under-served by ILECs and Competitive CLECs, IXCs, Wireless Carriers and Broadband providers. Those carriers that qualify may be designated as an “Eligible Telecommunication Carrier (“ETC”) and receive subsidies to provide services to programs funded by the Universal Service Programs and the Connect America Fund. All ETCs are designated under the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, under 47 U.S.C. § 214(e). Our firm represents applicant carriers seeking ETC designation in State, Non-Tribal territories and Tribal territories. We offer reasonable and flexible rates for small-sized ETC applicants based upon the applicant’s qualifications and service area. Contact our firm for requirements and quotes for particular ETC petitions or projects.

What an applicant should know about becoming an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier (“ETC”) under 47 U.S.C. § 214(e):

State, Non-Tribal Territory & Tribal Territory ETC applications.

State regulatory Commission qualification is the first step to any federal designation as an ETC. Specifically 47 U.S.C. § 214(e)(2) gives state utility commissions the primary responsibility for designating ETCs in their states. Each state maintains an individual process for designating ETCs. Some states require that a carrier be previously certified by the state to provide either CLEC or IXC services as a prerequisite to applying for ETC designations, other simply allow any common carrier to apply. In the case of Wireless Providers, some states defer regulation of Wireless to the FCC and retain jurisdiction over only Wireline Services. Those carriers contemplating becoming an ETC are well advised to be clear on their desired footprint of services, and, indentify what state territories that particular footprint implicates. The process for each state may be particular, and some state may require more stringent examination of the ETC candidates, including in-person hearings.

Our firm represents wireline and wireless telephone companies seeking to obtain ETC designation from state regulatory commissions. This includes review of particular state requirements; applying for any pre-requisite CLEC or IXC certification; and petitioning the state commission for wireline or wireless ETC designation; and appearances at hearings, either directly in the State of Florida or por hoc vice by and through local counsel in other states, where applicable.

In regard to state ETC designation, three scenarios generally apply to the service footprint of an ETC. The distinction in each is whether the ETC will serve Tribal Sovereign territories, Non-Tribal territories, or traditional state-wide Universal Service markets. ETCs that seek to service Non-Tribal territories, rural markets, libraries and schools and traditional state-wide High Cost and Lifeline service markets must apply to the State Commissions for designation, or abide by their exceptions, including referral to the FCC for designation. Where a question exists as to whether a state has jurisdiction and/or procedures for ETC designation, applicants must first formally request clarification from the State Commission. If the state does not have jurisdiction and/or or procedures for ETC designation, the carrier may petitioned the FCC directly under CC Docket 96-45 for ETC designation on Non-Tribal territory. However, any such petition must be filed formally and include documentation from the State Commission that denied it had jurisdiction.

Our firm represents wireline and wireless telephone companies seeking to obtain ETC designation from the FCC when state commissions lack jurisdiction and/or procedures for ETC designation. This process with the FCC typically takes 6 to 8 months, depending upon the qualification of the carrier.

ETCs that seek to service Tribal territories may directly petition the FCC, if, the Tribal Territory has no Tribal Utility Commission governing its sovereign borders with rules and procedures in effect for ETC designation. In such cases, the ETC applicant need no seek or obtain ETC designation from the State Commission, unless the Tribal territory has non-continuous borders or segmented territory separated by lands governed by a State. Again, clear understanding of the ETC footprint is critical. In any petition to the FCC, an applicant must at a minimum submit: (1) a certification and supporting facts demonstrating that the applicant is not subject to the jurisdiction of a state commission; (2) a certification that the petitioner offers all services designated for support by the Commission pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 254(c); (3) a certification that the applicant will offers the Universal Services “either using its own facilities or a combination of its own facilities and resale of another carrier’s services;” (4) a description of how the petitioner “advertise[s] the availability of the [supported] services and the charges therefore using media of general distribution;” and (5) if the petitioner is not a rural telephone company, by submitting a detailed description of the geographic service area for which it requests an ETC designation. All such applications also require fact-specific support and relevant case law, statutes, and treaties. Feedback from the relevant Tribal authority is also critical. Informative, statements, analyses from the tribal authority regarding the carrier's request for ETC designation may be sought and considered by the FCC.

ETC Designation Petitions Before the FCC

Prior to designating an ETC pursuant to 47 U.S.C. § 214(e)(6), the FCC must determine whether such designation, be it wireline or wireless, is in the public interest. In determining the public interest, the Commission considers a variety of factors, including the benefits of increased consumer choice and the unique advantages and disadvantages of the applicant’s service offering. An ETC must also: (1) certify that it will comply with the service requirements applicable to the support that it receives; (2) submit a five-year plan that describes with specificity proposed improvements or upgrades to the applicant's network throughout its proposed service area, estimating the area and population that will be served as a result; (3) demonstrate that it will remain functional in emergency situations; and (4) demonstrate that it will satisfy applicable consumer protection and service quality standards. In the case of Wireless ETCs, they must further submit a “commitment by wireless applicants to comply with the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's Consumer Code for Wireless Service will satisfy this requirement.

Our firm represents Wireline and Wireless carriers in preparing, submitting and prosecution of formal ETC designation from the FCC through the 214(e) Application process. This process is not standardized, but applicant driven based upon the qualifications of the applicant. Part of our process involves intake and inventorying of the applicant’s pre-filing qualifications. Often, solid pre-filing preparation and organization is paramount to a successful application process.

Tribal ETCs and the Standing Rock Petitions

Standing Rock is a Tribally owned commercial mobile radio service (CMRS) provider operating within the boundaries of the Standing Rock Reservation. After a series of conflicting decisions by the FCC’s Bureaus on Standing Rock’s ETC Designation Petition, the matter was referred to the full Commission that concluded that the FCC has jurisdiction to designate Standing Rock within the service area of its own Reservation, and if a tribal company meets the statutory and regulatory requirements for being designated an ETC, the FCC directly may designate it as such for purposes of receiving Universal Service Support. The decision has opened up the opportunity for Tribal telephone Companies to serve their sovereign territories as ETCs, in addition to any other designations that may be granted by the Tribal Authorities or by Tribal Utility Commissions.

Our firm represents Tribal Telephone Companies seeking to be designated ETC on their sovereign territories through Petitions principled on the Decisions of the FCC under the Standing Rock Petitions. Our firm also works with Native American enterprises seeking to build tribal owned and controlled communication services and networks to service reservations and tribal territories through grants, infrastructure projects, and development of ETCs, CLECs, IXCs and Wireless tribal companies. This work has specifically included work with Native Link, LLC on various projects.

The FCC ETC Mobility Fund Phase I

This past October 2011, the FCC comprehensively reformed and modernized the high-cost component of the Universal Service Fund (USF) to help ensure the universal availability of fixed and mobile communication networks capable of providing voice and broadband services under the USF/ICC Transformation Order. Under the same Order, the FCC also created the Mobility Fund.

Phase I of the Mobility awards by a reverse auction up to $300 million in one-time support to immediately accelerate deployment of current and next generation networks providing mobile voice and broadband services in areas not presently covered by such networks. In the auction applicants bid for the amount of support they need to meet the Mobility Fund Phase I service and other public interest obligations in the eligible census blocks covered by the geographic area on which they bid. Applicants, except for Tribally-owned and controlled entities, must be designated as ETCs in the areas on which they wish to bid prior to filing their auction applications. The Wireline Competition Bureau and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (the Bureaus) have delegated authority to grant or deny ETC designation petitions for purposes of Mobility Fund Phase I service. An ETC designation may also be conditional subject to the receipt of Mobility Fund Phase I support. The result of the USF/ICC Transformation Order has been an increased interest in designation as an ETC. However, qualification and state and federal procedures under 47 U.S.C. § 214(e) still apply.

Services and Service Areas Supported By Federal Universal Service Support Fund

The services or functionalities supported by Federal universal service support mechanisms, are identified in 47 C.F.R. § 54.101(a), and include: (1) voice-grade access to the public switched telephone network; (2) local usage; (3) dual tone multi-frequency signaling or its functional equivalent; (4) single-party service or its functional equivalent; (5) access to emergency services; (6) access to operator services; (7) access to long distance services; (8) access to directory assistance; and (9) toll limitation for qualifying low-income consumers. Under 47 C.F.R. § 54.101(b), an ETC must offer each of the services set forth in 47 C.F.R. § 54.101(a) in order to receive federal universal service support. 47 U.S.C. §214(e)(5) allows State commissions discretion to establish “Service Areas” or “Operating Areas.” These areas are usually petitioned specifically by the ETC, but in the case of statewide Service Areas, or are defined by Commission Orders and Decisions.

Post ETC Designation Procedures

After a carrier has been designated an ETC, other registrations and compliance reporting is required before obtaining support and funds. The ETC must obtain a SPIN Code and filing requirements under FCC Form 498 and FCC Form 497. Likewise, reporting requirements under FCC 05-46 ("ETC Order") will be necessary. Additionally ETC that is designated by the FCC must acknowledge that it may be required to provide equal access to other ETCs in the designated service area.

Our firm works with designated ETCs on all aspects of post-entry compliance including SPIN Codes and filing of FCC Form 498 and FCC Form 497. The firm also conducts compliance reviews under FCC 05-46 ("ETC Order") to ensure that proper reporting is begin performed by the ETC, this includes the incorporation of telecom auditors as a part of the review, and training of in-house staff to ensure proper collection and reporting of information.

Contact our firm today at (305) 477- 7580, Toll-Free at 1-877-245-6326, or via e-mail for general questions as to our specific services or representation on a particular matter.

Individuals and businesses facing the threat of imminent lawsuits, regulatory Enforcement Actions or criminal charges are urged to contact The Law Offices of Edward A. Maldonado PA today to schedule a complementary consultation from our South Florida law firm.  Time is always of the essence in such cases.

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