The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Dec. 14 meeting yielded a host of rulemaking actions when it comes to hot button topics for the commission, including E-Rate broadband bidding, emergency alerts, and robocalls.

E-Rate Program Changes

The FCC approved a proposal seeking comment on improving transparency and efficiency in the competitive bidding process for its E-Rate program. The E-Rate Program provides financial support to help schools and libraries purchase affordable, high-speed broadband services and Internet connections to connect students and library patrons to the Internet.

The proposal would require bids for E-Rate services and equipment to be uploaded into a centralized document portal managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company. The FCC said this would replace a process by which service providers submit bids directly to applicants for E-Rate-supported equipment and services. The order also seeks comment on other ways to improve the competitive bidding process and enhance program integrity.

“For more than two decades, E-Rate has been a powerhouse. It is our nation’s largest education technology program, and it has been the force behind making sure that schools and libraries in every corner of this country have access to high-speed broadband,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “But great programs do not thrive without continuous review and care. Today’s effort is part of that care.”

The proposal comes as a response to  recommendations from the Government Accountability Office and the FCC’s Office of Inspector General to take steps to improve program safeguards, and is intended to ensure that entities participating in the E-Rate program “conduct a fair and open competitive bidding process; prevent improper payments; increase program efficiencies, and reduce administrative costs associated with the collection of bidding documentation by requiring it upfront, rather than during the application review or audit process.”

Improving Accessibility of Emergency Alerts

Also at its meeting this week, the FCC also proposed action to improve the clarity and accessibility of visual Emergency Alert System messages to the public, particularly to people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The commission also launched an examination of broader measures to enhance the system’s overall functionality and accessibility.

The FCC also proposed that broadcasters, cable systems, and other Emergency Alert System participants should be required to check for and use, when available, the internet-based version of alerts rather than the legacy “over-the-air” version when transmitting alerts to the public.

Additionally, the FCC also adopted a Notice of Inquiry that seeks comment on whether the legacy Emergency Alert System architecture can be modified, augmented, or redesigned to enable government alert originators to relay more visual information as part of, or in parallel with, their alert message. The FCC said it is also seeking comment on ways to improve the legacy Emergency Alert System architecture to enable more functionality within the system as a whole.

FCC Adopts Robocall Blocking Reconsideration Order

As parts of its mission to combat illegal and unwanted robocalls, the FCC authorized voice service providers to block calls based on a variety of factors. In a statement, the FCC said that as part of the blocking authorization, it has also sought to protect legitimate callers from erroneous blocking.

To balance protecting consumers from unwanted calls and callers from erroneously blocked calls, the FCC adopted transparency and redress requirements in the Call Blocking Fourth Report and Order.

In the Order on Reconsideration, adopted as part of this week’s meeting, the FCC said it is reconsidering and clarifying certain aspects of the transparency and redress requirements adopted in the Call Blocking Fourth Report and Order to ensure that voice service providers continue to block unwanted and illegal calls, while also protecting the interests of legitimate callers and consumers.

Additionally, in the Sixth Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC also seeks comment on whether to make permanent the flexibility afforded to callers in the Order on Reconsideration. In the Waiver Order it issued, the FCC also grants a waiver to allow voice service providers terminating a call on an IP network to use SIP Code 603 in addition to SIP Code 607 or 608 from January 1, 2022 until the effective date of the amendments to section 64.1200(k)(9) adopted in the Order on Reconsideration.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs