Thursday, July 23, 2020

Panel Sends O’Rielly FCC Nomination to Full Senate

The Senate Commerce Committee sent the re-nomination of GOP FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to the floor Wednesday. The vote provided clues to his prospects in that chamber.
In a voice vote, the committee passed his re-nomination. However four Democrats opposed it. Ranking member Maria Cantwell (WA) voted “no,” as did fellow Democrats Amy Klobuchar (MN), Richard Blumenthal (CT), and Brian Schatz (HI). Cantwell explained that in 2018, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel determined that O’Rielly violated the Hatch Act with political comments made at a conservative political action conference.   

Cantwell also said that O’Rielly “had recently injected, I believe, politics into part of the spectrum issue,” which she said she found “disturbing.” It wasn’t clear what she was referring to. 
The comments may be an indication O’Rielly’s nomination could get mired in the various Hill conflicts surrounding 5G spectrum battles that have dominated the congressional calendar this year, reports Politico. The Senate Commerce telecom subcommittee is holding a hearing today to review how the FCC and the administration have handled recent wireless decisions.

However Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) said he looked forward to advancing O’Rielly’s nomination. “The COVID-19 pandemic has Americans relying more on broadband than ever, [and] technologies like telehealth and remote learning are advancing rapidly,” Wicker said. “I appreciate O’Rielly’s commitment to speedy services and ensuring we are targeting the areas that need it most.” Continue Reading

Friday, July 17, 2020

FCC Takes Another Step to Secure 5G Networks

With a 5-0 vote, the FCC yesterday took more steps to protect the communications infrastructure supply chain. The issue is at the heart of so-called “rip and replace,” the effort to find and fund replacement of rural carriers’ untrusted network equipment purchased from Huawei and ZTE. The vote took place during a week when the U.K. reversed an earlier decision and decided to block untrusted Chinese-made gear from its 5G networks.

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said all federal agencies should be on the same page “before publishing a list of equipment that could cause concern,” referring to a list the agency will develop and maintain. His colleague, Commissioner Brendan Carr said Huawei’s response to other country’s concerns about having its gear in their networks has been: “why would we risk our reputation by making our products insecure? Why would the Chinese regime risk that?”

Carr said: “These were meant to be rhetorical questions.” But after the Chinese government crackdown in Hong Kong, he emphasized, “they can’t be.” Continue Reading

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pai Seeks Conditional OK for Amazon Rural Satellite Broadband

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday tweeted that he circulated among his colleagues a proposal to approve Amazon’s satellite rural broadband plan with conditions. Called Project Kuiper, Amazon plans to launch more than 3,200 low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites, according to GeekWire.

The full commission would have to vote to approve the Project Kuiper application, which has been in the works for the past year, but support from Pai is a sign that conditional approval will likely be granted.

Some competitors are frustrated about Amazon’s bid to move forward on its own rather than as part of a broader round of applicants the Commission considered earlier, reported Politico. “Amazon’s primary policy argument in support of its request to bypass Commission rules is a bald assertion that it hopes to provide broadband one day,” SpaceX wrote in a November filing. “But if that sort of unsupported assertion is all that is needed to be granted a waiver, the Commission’s rules lose all meaning.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Tax Court Upholds AT&T Cell Tower Assessment Reduction Of $1.7 Million

UPDATE  In April 2019, Inside Towers reported on a $1.75 million tax reprieve received by AT&T Mobility after a Missouri Tax Court ruled it was not responsible for assessed property taxes on nearly two dozen tower sites. At the time, the court ruled the counties did not follow federal guidelines in evaluating the sites, according to the court filing.

The litigation in the case of AT&T Mobility vs the Boards of Equalization of Caldwell, Daviess, Harrison, Henry, and Mercer counties (BOEs), began in 2016, and a court ruled in favor of the carrier. On July 6, the Missouri State Tax Commission upheld the 2019 decision to reduce the combined value of the 23 disputed towers from $3.5 million to $1.8 million, rejecting arguments from five county assessors that a hearing officer improperly determined the equipment's depreciation, the court record stated.

Regarding the 23 disputed towers, the commissioners said the 2019 decision upheld the Internal Revenue Service depreciation guidance for wireless telecommunications property. The commissioners also rejected other arguments from the assessors that AT&T should be required to furnish records relating to the original cost of specific equipment. According to Law 360, the commissioners said the appeal centered on "discovery disputes and credibility determinations" deemed "meritless."

Monday, July 6, 2020

RWA “Stunned,” Asks FCC to Delay USF Cutoff for Huawei, ZTE Gear

The Rural Wireless Association says it was “stunned” by the FCC’s decision last week to designate Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and immediately bar the use of Universal Service Fund (USF) support to purchase, maintain, or otherwise support the companies’ equipment and technology in rural carriers’ networks.

As a result, rural carriers who have deployed Huawei or ZTE equipment or services in their networks will now lack the ability to support their critical networks that are serving hundreds of thousands of rural residents and those traveling through rural America, according to RWA. “Given the difficulty in demonstrating where specifically their USF support is being used in their networks, this puts rural carriers in a precarious situation,” notes RWA in a statement. That’s because the change is happening at the same time rural carriers are striving to “offer extended payment terms for their customers…adjust to the fallout of the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, and continue to keep rural Americans connected to broadband and telephone services during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Continue Reading

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

FCC Names Huawei and ZTE National Security Threats

The FCC Tuesday officially designated Chinese telecoms Huawei and ZTE — and their parents, affiliates, and subsidiaries — as “covered companies” under the agency’s 2019 ban on the use of universal service support to purchase equipment or services from companies posing a national security threat. The action means money from the Commission’s $8.3 billion a year Universal Service Fund may no longer be used to buy, obtain, maintain, improve, modify, or otherwise support any equipment or services produced or provided by these suppliers. The designations are effective immediately.

“Both companies have close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and China’s military apparatus, and both companies are broadly subject to Chinese law obligating them to cooperate with the country’s intelligence services,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. He said the agency also took into account the findings and actions of Congress, the executive branch, the intelligence community, America’s allies, and communications service providers in other countries. Continue Reading