FCC Seeks Comment on Rip and Replace Program Application Process

On Monday, May 24, 2021, the Wireline Competition Bureau (“WCB”) released a Public Notice (DA 21-607) seeking comment on the application filings and process for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (“Program”).  As a reminder, the Program designates $1.9 billion to reimburse eligible providers of advanced communications services for costs incurred when replacing covered communications equipment or services.  Per Commission rules, providers must first file an Application Request for Funding Allocation (“Application”) detailing the estimated costs of removal, replacement, and disposal of eligible covered equipment and services.  If the Commission grants the application, participants must then file a Reimbursement Claim Request (“Claim”) to secure reimbursement.  Although the Program will require additional filings, this Public Notice only seeks comment on the Application and Claim forms and processes.

Application Request for Funding Allocation:   WCB proposes and seeks comment on the following related to the Application form and process:

  • Application Form:  Appendix A of the Public Notice provides 64 informational fields included on the proposed Application form that will gather identification & contact information, help assess program eligibility, provide an allocation analysis, and ensure program compliance.  WCB asks whether additional information should be required.
  • Determining Estimated Costs:  Participants must estimate the costs reasonably incurred during removal, replacement, and disposal of eligible equipment either by providing detailed engineering analysis and vendor quotes, or by relying upon a Catalog of estimated costs predetermined by WCB.  WCB plans to set the costs identified in the Catalog based on the average cost, rather than allowing applicants to select a cost within a predetermined range.
  • Required Credentials:  WCB proposes requiring applicants to obtain an FCC Registration Number (FRN), System for Award Management (SAM) Commercial and Government Entity (CAGE) Code, and Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) Number before applying, and to provide those numbers on the application.
  • Application Process:  WCB proposes requiring all applications to be filed online through the Reimbursement Fund Administration System (RFAS).
  • Filing Window:  WCB proposes allowing applicants consisting of multiple subsidiaries or affiliates to file either at the holding company level or by individual subsidiary during the filing window.  Further, WCB plans to allow applicants to begin, save, submit, and make changes to their application at any point until the filling window closes.
  • Amendments, Modifications, and Administrative Updates:  WCB proposes to deny any amendments to Applications that would result in an increase to the total cost estimate.
  • Reviewing Applications:  WCB proposes an initial review of applications wherein the Fund Administrator will determine whether the application is complete, the applicant is eligible, and the reasonableness of the cost estimates.  WCB would then release a listing of deficient applications.  Those applicants would have 15 days to cure their application.  Applications will be approved or denied within 90 days after the close of the applicable filing window.
  • Funding Announcement:  WCB proposes publishing final approval of Program applications via Public Notice and notifying recipients directly via email.

Reimbursement Claim Requests:  WCB proposes and seeks comment on the following related to the Claim form and process:

  • Claim Form:  Appendix B of the Public Notice provides 22 informational fields included on the proposed Claim form that will gather identification and contact information and ensure program compliance.  WCB asks whether additional information should be required.
  • Proof of Cost:  WCB proposes requiring participants to provide invoices and other cost documentation to obtain reimbursement funds.  Participants could submit Claim forms intermittently during the reimbursement window.
  • Reimbursement Process:  WCB proposes waiver of the Commission’s red light rule because of the importance of removing communications equipment, which will allow program recipients to receive funding notwithstanding an outstanding delinquency with the FCC.  Further, WCB proposes requiring the Fund Administrator to verify the applicant’s eligibility for payments and awards in the federal Do Not Pay system database.

Public Search and Confidentiality:  Consistent with the FCC’s rules, general and summary information submitted by Program participants will be publicly available through an online search portal.  WCB proposes considering all detailed accounting information, location information, removal or replacement plans, vendor price quotes, and other provider specific information as presumptively confidential.  WCB also seeks comment on whether the additional information sections in the attached application and reimbursement forms should be treated as presumptively confidential.

Comments are due on June 23, 2021.

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