The NCSL Blog


By Abbie Gruwell

Staying connected has never been so important, and many states are looking more closely at how to ensure reliable, high-speed broadband service.

broadband illustrationCatch up on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) activity that may affect your state. The latest FCC activity are highlighted below:

The FCC issued a declaratory ruling and notice of proposed rulemaking that seeks to clarify limits on state and local approval of wireless equipment modifications, which the FCC will also vote on today.

Small cells have become ubiquitous in many communities as 5G becomes a reality and many states and localities are limited in their ability to regulate small cell deployment. The recent announcement provides more specific guidance on the 60-day shot clock for application review and clarifies important definitions under the FCC rules.

The agency also seeks comment on whether the modification of specific existing structures would qualify for expedited review. You can review the 2020 state legislation on NCSL’s website.

In response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the FCC granted wireless internet service providers serving largely rural and suburban communities temporary access to the 5.9 GHz spectrum. This allows the providers to use the lower 45 megahertz of the band to help serve their customers. More than 100 providers have been granted temporary access and many of those providers have reported that the spectrum is helping to address the increased demand for broadband associated with the pandemic.

With $18.22 million in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the FCC launched the COVID-19 Telehealth Program and has approved more than 200 applications in 41 states. The program helps health care providers in urban and rural areas to provide telehealth services during the pandemic. Cameras, laptops, monitors, internet service and software licenses are among the approved uses of the funds.

Another upcoming program to watch is the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF), which may be a significant opportunity for unserved areas. At its meeting tomorrow, the FCC will vote on procedures for Phase I of the RDOF, which will provide up to $16 billion to support broadband deployment in rural and other hard-to-serve areas. The FCC will also address details like bidding areas, performance requirements and letter of credit issues. The RDOF doubles the minimum speeds that providers must deliver to 25/3 Mbps, and the agency has released an initial list of eligible areas.

The FCC also authorized $7.5 million in funding over 10 years to expand rural broadband in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, New York and Oklahoma as part of the Connect America Fund Phase II to provide online resources for work, education and health care.

The FCC produced a webinar to help state governments understand the RDOF procedures.

Proposed RDOF reverse auction timeline:

  • Online auction application tutorial available by June 15.
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window opens July 1.
  • Short-form application (FCC Form 183) filing window closes July 15.
  • Auction bidding tutorial available online by Oct. 14.
  • Mock auction begins Oct. 26.
  • Auction begins Oct. 29.

The FCC will vote Tuesday, June 9 on these declaratory rulings and procedures for the RDOF auction. You can watch the meeting here.

Forty-two states, Guam and Puerto Rico have addressed broadband issues in the 2020 legislative session.

Read More

  • FCC and CISA made recommendations to state leaders on access to communications systems.
  • Abbe Gruwell is senior committee director in NCSL's State-Federal Relations Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.