On June 16,2023 the FCC issued a Press Release announcing that Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has circulated an Order to her colleagues that would create an Enhanced ACAM Program. Readers of the ICORE Blog know that we’ve addressed the issue of Enhanced ACAM on numerous occasions in the past six months (see ICORE Blogs of 1/20/23, 2/24/23, 3/10/23, 3/17/23, 5/12/23, 6/2/23, and 6/16/23). The genesis of this issue is an NPRM issued by the Commission in May of last year seeking comments on a proposal by the ACAM Broadband Coalition to achieve widespread deployment of broadband at speeds of 100/20 in areas served by rural carriers receiving broadband support. Comments and reply comments were filed by many parties and in the ensuing months numerous ex-parte discussions have been held between interested parties and Commission staff. Among the most active participants in these discussions with the Commission are the ACAM Broadband Coalition (Coalition), NTCA, and the Southeastern Rural Broadband Alliance (Alliance).
The Coalition’s proposal and subsequent comments have been focused on carriers receiving ACAM support. Its proposal would require ACAM carriers to deploy broadband at speeds of 100/20 with increases in the level of support and an extension of period of time that support would be received. NTCA and the Alliance have put forth positions that are supportive of the Coalition’s proposal but are more focused on carrier’s receiving CAF-BLS and HCLS. These organizations also propose the delivery of broadband at speed of 100/20 and seek enhanced levels of support and extensions in the term of such support. Notably, NTCA and the Alliance also stressed the need to address the Budget Control Mechanism (BCM). Perhaps in response to comments from these organizations the Commission announced on 5/23/23 that the application of the BCM for the 2023-2024 period would be waived (see ICORE Blog of 6/2/23).
The Commission’s June 16,2023 Press Release doesn’t provide a lot of detail as to the content of the Order but some information is offered. If adopted:
* The Order would require ACAM carriers to provide broadband service at 100/20 or greater to 100% of locations in their service areas in return for an extension of the ACAM program and an increase in support for expensive to serve areas.
* The Enhanced ACAM Program would complement existing federal, state, and local funding programs including the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.
* The Order would also provide an opportunity for legacy rate of return carriers to provide 100/20 broadband service in exchange for a term of stable support.
The Chairwoman also circulated a further notice and rulemaking that would seek comment on further reforms to the legacy rate of return system (CAF-BLS, HCLS) and methods to modify the current USF system to address the need for support for ongoing expenses for broadband networks, particularly those built with funds from grant programs including the BEAD program.
As always, the devil is in the detail and until the actual Order and further notice are available it’s not possible to determine the true impact on rural ILEC providers of broadband service, both existing ACAM companies as well as legacy rate of return companies. We’ll provide updates as appropriate as more information becomes available.