On 12/26/23 the FCC adopted an Order addressing the broadband deployment obligations for legacy rate of return carriers receiving CAF-BLS (Legacy Carriers) support while it considers general program reforms as part of the NPRM that was adopted in conjunction with the July 2023 EA-CAM Order. In this latest Order, the Commission defers the commencement of the next five year deployment obligation term for Legacy Carriers until January 1, 2025. As such Legacy Carriers will remain subject to the Commission’s rules requiring the deployment of broadband service at speeds of 25/3 to the previously determined number of unserved locations under the current five-year term that ended on December 31, 2023. Deferring the start of the next term will allow the Commission to consider modifications to the Legacy Carrier’s deployment obligations considering the effect of the BEAD Program and other federal programs.
In the 2016 Rate of Return Reform Order and later in the 2018 Rate of Return Reform Order, the Commission established broadband deployment obligations for Legacy Carriers. The 2018 Order significantly revised the deployment obligations for all Legacy Carriers, increasing the speeds to 25/3 and establishing the five year term for deployment ending December 31, 2023. The 2018 Order stipulated that Legacy Carriers would then be subject to subsequent five year deployment obligations beginning with the five year period January1, 2024 to December 31, 2028. Obligations for subsequent periods would be established by USAC and the Wireline Competition Bureau. The recent Order defers the commencement of the five year term scheduled to begin January 1, 2024, for one year and will maintain the status quo for Legacy carriers while providing the Commission with additional time to consider future changes to the obligations for Legacy Carriers.
The recent Order emphasizes that Legacy Carriers remain subject to meeting the deployment obligations established in the 2018 Order by December 31, 2023. In addition, Legacy Carriers remain subject to the Commission’s reporting and certification requirements including reporting newly served locations in the HUBB portal and the Commission’s broadband performance testing and certification requirements. Legacy Carriers remain eligible to receive high-cost support during the deferral period and are permitted, but not required, to expand their broadband service coverage to unserved areas during the deferral period. Legacy Carriers are expected to at least maintain their broadband coverage as of December 31, 2023, while the Commission considers future modifications to deployment obligations for these Carriers.
This recent action by the Commission provides a level of certainty for Legacy Carriers regarding broadband deployment obligations for 2024. We will continue to follow developments in the July 2024 NPRM and will provide updates as the situation evolves.