FCC Releases Order Waving Legacy High-Cost USF Spending Restriction

On Tuesday, March 31, 2020, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“Bureau”) released an Order (“Order”) temporarily waiving the requirement that competitive eligible telecommunication carriers (“ETCs”) spend all legacy high-cost universal service support in their own service area, to allow these carriers to use such support for the provision, maintenance, and upgrading of facilities and services within any of the designated service areas of an affiliated ETC (e.g., where several ETCs share a common holding company), regardless of whether those areas span more than one state (WC Docket No. 10-90). The waiver will be in effect until June 30, 2020, and may be subject to extension. The Bureau expects that the waiver will empower carriers to dedicate federal funds where most needed to ensure sufficient network capacity for Americans who are telecommuting, remotely learning, and connecting to telehealth resources during the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The waiver does not permit a competitive ETC to use high-cost support to provide service outside of its or an affiliated competitive ETC’s designated service areas, nor does it permit any competitive ETC to use high-cost support for anything but its intended purpose. The Bureau reminds competitive ETCs that they are still subject to random audits of their expenditures, and expects such recipients to be able to produce documentation on how much support was used to respond to changes in wireless usage related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The waiver also does not extend to any change in the amount awarded for high-cost support in any area, the timetable for deploying service in any such area, or any aspect of the Commission’s rules other than as set forth in the Order.

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