FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a pair of recent letters, summarized the large number of important steps that the Commission has taken to combat the effects of Covid-19 on the nation’s broadband and telecommunications carriers, and their customers.
Writing in response to a letter from Minnesota Democrat Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and separately to a similar letter from Massachusetts Democrat Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey, he stressed the FCC’s timely and positive responses to the pandemic.
Pai’s letters listed the following recent accomplishments:
- Requested that Congress provide the FCC with emergency funding for Telehealth.
- Implemented new rules for the Telehealth program, created the application process, opened the application window, and provided invoicing guidelines.
- Asked broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep America Connected Pledge, a 60-day commitment not to terminate service to residential and small business customers for nonpayment, to waive any late fees, and to open their Wi-Fi hotspots to those who need them.
- Requested that these companies go beyond the pledge by improving their low-income broadband programs, relaxing data caps, and enhancing remote learning and Telehealth opportunities.
- Taken several steps to help connectivity needs through the Universal Service Fund, citing the example of fully funding all eligible Rural Health Care services with an additional $42,19 million for this year.
- Announced extensions of E-Rate service implementation and filing deadlines to provide relief to program participants affected by the virus.
- Implemented other actions, including the waiving of gift rules for RHC and E-Rate programs until September 30, 2020, to allow service providers to offer, and schools, hospitals and libraries to accept, improved connections or equipment.
- Waived several rules that could otherwise result in de-enlistment of subscribers from the Lifeline Program.
- Took action to give certain carriers the flexibility to focus USF funds on hard-hit areas, allowing competitive ETCs to use their high cost support in the service areas of any affiliated ETC.
- Granted temporary authority to AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and many Internet Service Providers to use additional spectrum to meet consumer demand for mobile broadband across the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Launched a Covid-19 Consumer Warnings and Safety Tips webpage, to alert consumers to the growing number of scam phone calls and texts related to the pandemic.
While Chairman Pai’s responses may or may not satisfy the Senators’ calls for more help, we would say that the FCC is doing more than its part to keep us all connected during these extremely challenging times.