WASHINGTON, April 20, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to move forward on a proposal requiring carriers operating in the country to report their ownership information more regularly, enhance accessibility and flexibility with wireless emergency alerts, and improve the spectrum environment for new entrants and technologies.
To further combat insidious national security threats, the commission immediately ordered at its open meeting Thursday a one-time reporting requirement for telecommunications companies with section 214 authorization, which allows them to transact in the country, to report foreign ownership information. In essence, the new order will provide the commission with an updated look at the ownership picture of these authorized companies. The commission has expressed concern that it is not updated regularly about firm ownership because under the current rules, a company is only required to update the commission with ownership information when there has been a modification, transfer of control or discontinuance of service.
“There are consequences for failing to file accurate or timely information with the FCC about changes related to foreign involvement in companies with access to U.S. communications networks,” Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a press release. “When it comes to assessing U.S. national security and law enforcement interests, we will be vigilant in ensuring that companies comply with these important disclosure requirements,” including Thursday’s one-time reporting order. The commission has noted previous settlements it obtained from companies that had failed to get prior authorization for changes in the control of companies.
The regulator also voted at the same time to collect comments on a proposal that would require these companies to report more regularly on ownership changes. Specifically, the commission is looking at either adopting rules requiring companies to renew their section 214 authority every 10 years or requiring them to periodically update information about the companies.
The commission is simultaneously asking for comments on further proposed measures, including requiring section 214 applicants to provide information about expected future services and geographic markets they intend to serve; requiring applicants to identify on a periodic basis the facilities they use in Canada and/or Mexico; require them to commit to adhere to baseline cybersecurity standards; require them to certify in their applications whether or not they use equipment from a blacklist of companies deemed a national security risk; and require a lower threshold to report foreign stakeholder ownership, from 10 to 5 percent.
The latter drew a complaint from two investment firms, one of them notably represented by former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a meeting with agency commissioners last week. The concern was that the lower reporting threshold would deter investment in their firms, which bankroll telecom investment, because there is a presumption of confidentiality with their financial contributions.
Wireless emergency alert accessibility and flexibility
The commission also voted Thursday to initiate a consultation on proposed rules that would increase the accessibility and flexibility of wireless emergency alerts.
The FCC notes that 26 million people in the United States do not speak as their primary language English or Spanish, which are the only two languages in which these alerts are sent. As such, the commission is proposing the alerts be translated on mobile devices into the 13 “most commonly spoken languages” in the country other than English.
Other proposals include allowing for the alerts to feature a small image of a child missing during an AMBER alert, include links to locations where emergency situations are, providing alerting authorities with the ability to send messages without the blaring sound, and providing subscribers with the option of receiving alerts with sound or just phone vibrations.
One complaint of emergency alerts has been consumers getting loud alerts in the middle of the night where the emergency was not in their area.
Comments on the proposals are due within 30 days of publication on the federal register.
More efficient use of spectrum
The commission also adopted a policy statement that would commit the regulator to a “holistic” spectrum policy framework that it said would better facilitate new entrants and technologies.
Central to spectrum’s use is its delivery without causing interference with other services, including with adjacent radiowaves on the frequency spectrum. Historically, the commission has required new wireless services to bear the load of showing that they would not cause interference with existing services in any situation. Older receivers did not need to meet specific design or performance criteria, according to the commission.
Thursday’s policy statement, while still requiring that burden on new providers, would also require existing services to update their receivers to comply with modern realities.
“Accordingly, we encourage stakeholders to design receivers that not only meet their services’ needs, but also mitigate the impacts from undesired signals outside of their services’ assigned frequencies,” the commission said.
“Further, as new receiver technologies are developed with improved interference immunity, and as legacy equipment is being replaced over time, we encourage service providers periodically to deploy receivers that reflect the latest technical improvements,” it added.
In a statement, internet advocacy group Public Knowledge said this is a welcome effort to promote a more balanced approach to spectrum management.
“Today, legacy systems too often prevent innovation because they rely on outdated assumptions and have not been upgraded to reflect the current environment, limiting our ability to make full use of our spectrum resources,” said the organization’s policy counsel Kathleen Burke. “For far too long, our approach to new technology has focused solely on the new systems without any thought to how incumbent systems can make more room on our spectrum airwaves.”
“Upgrading outdated systems and equipment to increase spectrum access is one of the most overlooked aspects of spectrum management – presenting a prime opportunity for re-evaluating our policies in light of technological advancements,” Burke added. “This new policy statement embraces a fair approach to managing our spectrum resources by finally adopting the principles that minimizing harmful interference is a mutual obligation of band entrants and incumbents and that no spectrum user has a guarantee of zero interference.”