ACA Connects’ 2022 Legal, Regulatory, and Legislative Achievements

In 2022, ACA Connects was again very active in advocating for laws, rules, and policies that benefit our Members, and we were successful in achieving our goals in a variety of proceedings. Below are ACA Connects’ biggest wins for our Members in Washington (and beyond) in 2022.

Broadband Data Collection Engineering Certification Requirement

In July 2022, the FCC released a Declaratory Ruling and Limited Waiver allowing certain qualified engineers who are not licensed professional engineers (PEs) to execute the engineering certification required under the FCC’s Broadband Data Collection (BDC) rules. For the first three BDC filing cycles, the FCC allowed – based on ACA Connects’ advocacy – certification of BDC filings by personnel who do not have a degree in engineering but have relevant training and sufficient job experience. The FCC’s grant of the limited waiver also relied significantly on ACA Connects’ arguments that a scarcity of PEs available to wired network providers would lead to many such providers being unable to secure the required BDC engineering certification and, consequently, being unable to make their BDC filings timely, if at all; or incurring unduly burdensome costs to enlist a PE. Numerous ACA Connects Members were able to rely upon the waiver to remove a substantial logistical or financial impediment to their compliance with the initial BDC filing deadline.

Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO)

The BEAD program provides $42.5B in funding, largely for the deployment of broadband in unserved/underserved areas. ACA Connects advocated in its comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and subsequent filings that the program should prioritize fiber projects, prohibit (or at least minimize) overbuilding, and award funding to experienced and competent providers and through an objective, evidence-based process. In the BEAD NOFO it issued in May 2022, NTIA adopted policies that align to a large extent with these ACA Connects proposals. In particular, the NOFO requires States and territories to prioritize fiber deployments to all eligible locations below an “extremely high-cost threshold” and directs States and territories to conduct robust challenge processes before awarding funds.

Transition to Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)

In January 2022, the FCC adopted rules to facilitate the transition of the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBBP) to the longer-term ACP as required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (Infrastructure Act). We advocated extensively in the FCC rulemaking to ensure that the 300-plus ACA Connects Members that participated in EBBP could make a smooth transition to ACP. We were successful in influencing many aspects of the rules to the benefit of our Members and their subscribers. For instance, the FCC adopted specific proposals introduced by ACA Connects that enabled millions of EBBP customers to be moved over to ACP without completing a burdensome “opt-in” approval process. The FCC also made several beneficial changes to the rules in response to ACA Connects’ comments on a public draft.

ACP Data Collection

As directed by the Infrastructure Act, the FCC adopted rules in November 2022 that require ACP providers to submit information annually on the “price” and “subscription rates” of broadband offerings taken by ACP subscribers. In concert with other industry groups, ACA Connects lobbied successfully for the FCC to structure the collection as an annual submission of aggregated data rather than the more burdensome subscriber-level data collection it originally proposed. In achieving this outcome, ACA Connects uniquely contributed an analysis of the statute that provided the FCC with justification for implementing the collection on a far more reasonable timeline than other interpretations of the statute would have allowed.

Broadband Labels

In another proceeding coming out of the Infrastructure Act, the FCC adopted rules in November 2022 requiring broadband providers to display “nutrition labels” for their broadband offerings. Though the creation and implementation of these labels is expected to pose challenges for ACA Connects Members and other providers, ACA Connects was successful in avoiding adoption of certain requirements that could have been particularly burdensome for Members. For instance, we persuaded the FCC to maintain existing guidance regarding measurement of actual speeds and latency for broadband labels rather than adopt more prescriptive methodologies that could have come with tremendous costs and operational burdens.

FCC Report to Congress on the Future of the Universal Service Fund

Pursuant to the Infrastructure Act, the FCC was required to submit a report to Congress in August 2022 providing recommendations on “improving [the FCC’s] effectiveness in achieving the universal services goals for broadband” in light of BEAD and other new broadband funding programs. The report aligned with many proposals advanced by ACA Connects. Specifically, the report recommended that in light of the new government broadband funding programs, the FCC should launch a proceeding to consider the future support needs of networks and providers serving high-cost and other hard to serve areas. The FCC also recommended that Congress and the FCC ensure there is no lapse in ACP funding and that Congress provide the FCC with the authority needed to make changes to the contributions mechanism.

Broadband in Multiple Tenant Environments (MTEs)

In February 2022, the FCC adopted rules aimed at improving broadband competition in MTEs. In its comments in the proceeding, ACA Connects explained that the MTE segment of the broadband marketplace is substantially competitive and that, accordingly, any regulation should be narrowly tailored to address specific, substantiated problems. Consistent with ACA Connects’ advocacy, the FCC confined its rules to addressing discrete, relatively narrow concerns and declined to adopt broader proposals in the record that could have been far more disruptive for Members, such as restrictions on bulk billing arrangements.