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The attorneys at Technology Law Group frequent contributors of feature articles on telecommunications issues to leading telecommunications industry publications and are frequent speakers at major telecommunications industry conferences and meetings. Technology Law Group also publishes periodic SNAPUPdatesSM on important developments in the telecommunications industry and critical regulatory and legal issues.

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FCC Adopts Rules Allowing Interconnected VoIP Providers to Directly Purchase Phone Numbers

Washington, D.C., June 29, 2015-  On June 18, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) adopted a Report and Order establishing an authorization process whereby interconnected VoIP providers can obtain North American Numbering Plan (“NANP”) telephone numbers directly from the North American Numbering Plan Administrator (“NANPA”) and the Pooling Administrator (“Numbering Administrators”).  Prior to the adoption of this order, these NANP numbers—the common ten-digit numbers containing a three-digit area code followed by a seven-digit local number—were only available from intermediaries such as third-party telecommunications carriers.

Under the new process, interconnected VoIP providers will generally be required to comply with the same requirements that apply to telecommunications carriers seeking to obtain new numbers, including state-specific requirements relating to number reclamation and certain reporting obligations, as well as industry guidelines.  However, rather than obtaining state certifications of authority to provide phone service in a certain area, all interconnected VoIP providers without such certification must obtain authority from the Commission itself prior to filing their initial request for numbers with a Numbering Administrator.  This specific authorization process has not yet been adopted; the authority to implement and maintain the process has been delegated to the Wireline Competition Bureau. Click to read more.

FCC Set To Fine AT&T for Allegedly Misleading Consumers and Open Internet Rule Violations

Washington, D.C., June 18, 2015-  The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) plans to fine AT&T Mobility, LLC $100,000,000 for misleading its customers about unlimited mobile data plans, alleging that AT&T severely slowed down customers’ unlimited data plans network speeds and that it didn’t adequately notify customers that they could receive network speeds slower than advertised. 

According to the FCC, AT&T’s unlimited data plans allow certain customers to use unrestricted amounts of data but AT&T implemented a “Maximum Bit Rate” policy in 2011 and capped the maximum data speeds for unlimited customers after they used a set amount of data within a billing cycle.  The FCC claims that the capped speeds were much slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised and significantly impaired the ability of AT&T customers to access the Internet or use data applications for the remainder of the billing cycle. Click to read more.


House Bill Seeks to Stall Net Neutrality Rules

Washington, D.C., June 11, 2015- A 2016 spending bill released Wednesday by House Republicans would block funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s highly contested net neutrality rules until several cases challenging the law are resolved. The bill provides $20.2 billion in annual funding for the Treasury Department, the Judiciary and other agencies. 

The provision, which appears at pages 110 and 111 of the Bill, prohibits the FCC from implementing net neutrality until three pending appeals are resolved, requires newly proposed regulations to be made publicly available for twenty-one days before the FCC votes on them and prohibits the FCC from regulating rates for either wireline or wireless Internet service. If the Bill becomes law, it would notably stall funding for the FCC’s highly contested March 12th Order and new rules that subject broadband Internet access service providers to Title II regulation.  Click to read more.

FCC Chairman Wheeler Announces Proposal to Tighten Telemarketing Rules

Washington, D.C., May 27, 2015- The Chairman’s proposal includes: (i) clarifying that the use of robocall blocking technologies does not violate the FCC’s call-completion rules, (ii) allowing consumers to revoke consent to receive robocalls through any reasonable means and without filling out a form, (iii) defining an “autodialer” to be any technology with the capacity to dial random or sequential numbers, thereby hindering the ability of telemarketers to exploit definitional loopholes and (iv) closing the "reassigned number" loophole to make it clear that consumers who inherit a phone number will not be subject to unwanted robocalls consented to by the previous owner of the number. While the Chairman’s full proposal is not yet publicly available, he has circulated it to the other FCC commissioners for their review ahead of the FCC’s June 18, 2015 open meeting, when a vote on the proposal is scheduled. If approved by the FCC, the proposal would become effective upon public release. We will continue to monitor these issues and report when more details are provided.Click to read more.

FCC Imposes New Regulatory Fee on Toll Free Numbers

Washington, D.C., May 26, 2015- Prior to its 2014 Report and Order, the FCC did not assess regulatory fees on toll free numbers. According to the FCC, this forbearance was based on the assumption that the carriers controlling these numbers were paying regulatory fees based on the revenues derived from the traffic using these numbers.

In its 2014 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC concluded that this assumption was not accurate as many toll free numbers are no longer controlled or managed by RespOrgs that are not common carriers. Thus, in its 2014 Report and Order, the FCC concluded that it has “both the legal authority and responsibility to assess regulatory fees on toll free numbers” and it decided to impose these fees beginning in 2015.  Click to read more.

First Appeals of Net Neutrality Rules Filed

Washington, D.C., March 27, 2015- On March 23, 2015, US Telecom, a trade group representing the interests of the country’s largest Internet service providers (“ISPs”), and Alamo Broadband, a Texas-based ISP, both appealed the so-called Net Neutrality Rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC” or “Commission”) on March 12th.  As previously discussed in our last SnapUPdate, the highly contested Net Neutrality Rules govern the provision of fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service (“BIAS”), prohibiting, among things, such BIAS providers from blocking or impairing lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices, subject to “reasonable network management” (i.e., no throttling), as well as from engaging in paid prioritization (i.e., no fast lanes).  The FCC claims that the new rules are necessary to preserve an open Internet, citing past instances of abuse exemplifying broadband providers’ “incentives and ability to engage in practices that pose a threat to Internet Openness.”  Click to read more.

Summary of Net Neutrality Rules

Washington, D.C., March 24, 2015- On March 12, 2015, the FCC released its so-called Net Neutrality Rules, which govern the provision of fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service (“BIAS”).  The FCC’s highly contested March 12th Order and new rules implementing a “light-touch regulatory framework” are over 300 pages, and subject BIAS providers to Title II regulation.   Although the FCC declined to apply 30 statutory provisions and over 700 codified rules (so called forbearance), violations of the new rules “will be subject to any and all penalties authorized under the Communications Act and rules.”   The FCC claims that the new rules are necessary to preserve an open Internet, citing past instances of abuse exemplifying broadband providers’ “incentives and ability to engage in practices that pose a threat to Internet Openness”.  Many critics argue that the new rules are a bad solution in search of a problem, and that they will stifle competition, growth and investment.   Click to read more.


How to Win the Trade Name Game

By: Neil Ende and Susan Colman
Originally Published in Channel Partners Magazine in October 2011

The function of a trademark is to associate in the mind of the purchasing public the goods and/or services provided in connection with a trademark (or service mark) with the source of those goods and/or services. For example, when you are in the market for a car, you know the difference between a Ford and a Cadillac, or between a Hyundai and a Toyota. You know what to expect from each of those brands, because you know the source.

The need to differentiate your services and “brand" is equally critical in the telecom channel. You want a brand that identifies you as the go-to company, among all the other go-to companies for what you provide. While it is tempting to brand your company with a mark that describes what you have to offer (e.g., Telecom Brokers-R-Us), those marks are the weakest and least enforceable. In fact, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office often won’t allow you to register a descriptive mark. More importantly, descriptive marks do not — and will not — give you the distinctiveness you need to succeed in a competitive industry. Click to read more.

Sidestepping Quota Quicksand

By: Neil Ende
Originally Published in Channel Partners Magazine in September 2011

As a telecom attorney, there are many terms in agent agreements that get under my skin. Among the most disturbing are terms that impose unilateral obligations on an agent where:  the agent’s performance is entirely dependent on – or at least within the control of – the providing party or the providing party has no corresponding obligations.

These terms often take the form of quotas or minimum commitments. Even worse, most of these terms allow the providing party to entirely stop paying compensation if the quota or commitment is not reached, regardless of the amount of the miss or the cause.

Now, I’ve heard all the arguments and justifications that are presented for quotas: they are necessary to ensure that the agent continues to work or that the relationship makes economic sense. In my opinion, they are largely bunk and, in any event, the penalties generally are so punitive that the claimed justifications do not justify the existence of the quota. Click to read more.

Universal Broadband? FCC Looks to Reform ICC, USF

By: Craig Dingwall
Originally Published in Channel Partners Magazine in March 2011

The FCC recently released a lengthy Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM") in which it proposed modernizing and streamlining universal service and intercarrier compensation (“ICC") to promote affordable wired and wireless broadband to all Americans. If adopted, the FCC’s proposals would over time shift the focus of ICC and the $8 billion Universal Service Fund (“USF") from promoting affordable phone service to promoting affordable broadband service.

The FCC proposes to replace explicit support provided by the current high-cost USF and implicit support from ICC subsidies, with a Connect America Fund (“CAF") that strives to be more efficient and do a better job of promoting affordable broadband. Click to read more.

Evergreen Clauses - Are They Enforceable?

Originally Published January 2010 - From an agent’s perspective, including evergreen clauses, which ensure continuing commission payments for the life of the customer, in its agreements with carriers and master agents seems like a good idea. But are they enforceable? As with most legal issues, that depends on many factors, including the contract language and the governing law.

Contract Language.
An evergreen clause may extend agent commission payments and typically provide for continuing commission payments on agent-generated revenues following the expiration or termination of the agent agreement. In simple terms, and in our view, an evergreen clause simply means that as long as the carrier gets paid by a customer that the agent generated, the agent gets paid the commission to which he/she is entitled. Click to read more.

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AT&T/T-Mobile: Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together?

Published: March 30, 2011
- Will AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile improve service and solve a looming spectrum crunch or will it stifle competition by reducing the number of nationwide wireless providers and consolidating spectrum of two large carriers? That’s the $39 billion merger question now before federal and state regulators.

If approved, the proposed merger would create the nation’s largest mobile carrier, with over 129 million subscribers using a GSM-based network with a likely transition to a Long Term Evolution  (LTE) network. AT&T claims that this deal extends its LTE coverage plans to an additional 46.5 million Americans, covering 95 percent of the nation. Critics point out that this merger will stifle competition and further concentrate an already highly concentrated industry, which the FCC noted in its May 2010 Mobile Wireless Competition Report (Wireless Report) is not "effectively competitive." The FCC also found that the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI), which is used to determine mobile wireless service provider concentration, has increased by 697 (from 2151 to 2848) since from 2003 to 2008. Fewer competitors and more subscriber shares result in higher HHI index values, and DOJ antitrust merger scrutiny is typically applied to an increase in the HHI of 50 or greater when the post-merger HHI is above 1800. Click to read more.

Universal Service Facelift?

Published March 22, 2011 - Last month the FCC sought comments on whether the Universal Service Fund (USF) should support broadband. Earlier this month the FCC announced plans to modernize and drive tougher accountability measures into the Lifeline/Link Up program, which is the part of the USF that provides low-income households with discounts on monthly phone bills and initial installation charges. Lifeline provides discounts of approximately $10 per month on telephone service for low-income households; Link Up provides discounts of up to $30 per household on wired or wireless connection charges. The program has grown significantly, having provided $1.3 billion in support in 2010, compared to an inflation-adjusted $221 million in support to low-income households in 1997. Lifeline/Link Up does not, however, currently support broadband, so the FCC is considering, among other things, whether it should amend the Lifeline definition to explicitly allow support for broadband. Click to read more.

Broadband Priority Lanes: Super Toll Road or Road to Abilene?

Published August 16, 2010 - Verizon’s and Google’s CEOs recently announced a suggested broadband legislative framework for consideration by lawmakers, with seven key elements. As summarized on Google’s public policy blog, they are:

  • make the FCC’s current wireline broadband openness principles fully enforceable;
  • adopt a new prohibition against discriminatory practices prioritizing or favoring lawful Internet content or traffic;
  • create enforceable transparency rules to give consumers information about offered services, and broadband providers would provide information about network management practices;
  • the FCC would enforce openness policies using a complaint-driven process;
  • allow broadband providers to offer additional, differentiated online services;
  • exempt wireless from “most of the wireline principles”, except for the transparency requirement, and
  • focus the Federal Universal Service Fund (“USF”) on deploying broadband in areas where it is not now available. A more detailed summary of these seven principles is available here.
Click to read more.

Broadband Update: The Devil is in the Details

Published July 28, 2010 - The FCC recently concluded in its Sixth Broadband Deployment Report that between 14 and 24 million Americans still lack access to broadband or "advanced telecommunications capability" that enables users to originate and receive high-quality voice, data, graphics, and video telecommunications using any technology. The FCC, in its July 20th Report, estimates that 1,024 out of 3,230 counties in the United States and its territories are unserved by broadband and, on average, these unserved areas are home to 24 million Americans living in 8.9 million households with a population density of 138.3 people per square mile and a per capita income of $14,565 measured in 1999 dollars. The FCC’s estimates of broadband availability are based primarily on the Model that FCC staff created in conjunction with the development of the National Broadband Plan, and the broadband subscribership data the FCC collects on FCC Form 477. Click to read more.

Broadband: Back to the Future

Published July 26, 2010 - Last week we wrote the first of a series of articles about broadband deployment, and offered suggestions to help foster and develop rural broadband through stimulus and Universal Service funds, municipal broadband projects and competitive bidding.  In this article, we review the current status of broadband deployment in light of the recent Comcast Decision and the FCC’s proposed National Broadband Plan.   Click to read more.

Rural Broadband: Miles to Go Before We Sleep

Published July 16, 2010 - As the United States recovers from the great recession, it is even more critical to focus on broadband deployment to ensure that Americans have the necessary tools to compete worldwide.   This is the first of a series of articles that addresses broadband deployment, with recommendations for its improvement. This article focuses on rural broadband deployment. Click to read more.





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