On November 25, 2019, the Federal Communications Commission released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) seeking comment on its proposal to adopt new suspension and debarment rules for participants in the Universal Service Fund programs, including the E-rate program.
Specifically, the FCC proposed to adopt rules consistent with the Office of Management and Budget Guidelines to Agencies on Government Debarment and Suspension in place of existing rules.
Comments were received from 13 interested parties, including E-rate consultants, service providers, and industry associations.
The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition (“SHLB”) and State E-rate Coordinators’ Alliance (“SECA”) submitted joint comments expressing concern about the proposed rules. The parties acknowledged that removing bad actors is an important tool in the FCC’s administration of the USF program. SHLB-SECA noted, however, that proposed rules are overbroad and capable of penalizing applicants, service providers, consultants, and other contractors without adequate due process protections.
In its comments, SHLB-SECA urged the Commission to (1) limit suspension and debarment to fraud or other serious, intentional misconduct; (2) incorporate due process protections in any new rules; (3) protect schools and libraries from unnecessary and unfair harm based on actions outside of their control; and (4) use alternative remedies before or in lieu of formal suspension or debarment proceedings whenever possible.
Summary of Comments
- Commenters overwhelmingly agree that any new suspension and debarment rules must incorporate meaningful due process protections.
- In addition, nearly all commenters believe the FCC should make use of alternative remedies before initiating formal suspension and debarment proceedings.
- Near universal support for limiting suspension and debarment to serious or egregious misconduct.
- Many commenters also urge the Commission to consider mitigating factors before initiating any suspension or debarment proceedings, when determining the length or severity of a suspension or debarment, or in reviewing petitions to reduce the period and scope of debarment.
- Nearly all commenters express concern about how suspension and debarment could affect innocent third parties.
Reply comments are due March 15, 2020.
Below are the comments submitted to the FCC by associations and trade groups.
- Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition and State E-rate Coordinators’ Alliance (link)
- CTIA–The Wireless Association and USTelecom (link)
- INCOMPAS, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, and ACA Connects–America’s Communications Association (link)
- NCTA–The Internet & Television Association (link)
- Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (link)