Earlier this month, the NTCA- otherwise known as the Rural Broadband Commission, filed a petition for waiver requesting the Wireline Competition Bureau (Bureau) to extend the aid provided by the previous December 2020 Waiver Order. The Rural Broadband Commission explained in the petition that broadband providers continue to face challenges such as supply chain issues as a direct result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The main requests of the NCTA were as follows;
- The Commission should continue to allow A-CAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers to only pre-test 70% of the USAC-selected sampled locations for the first two quarters of 2022
- Extend the “simple” waiver request for A-CAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers
- Extend the pre-testing period for A-CAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers
This isn’t the first time that the Bureau has been prompted to make changes to the performance testing rules due to Covid-19.
In April 2020, certain network performance pre-testing requirements were waived for recipients of CAF Phase II Model-based support. Then, later in December 2020, a waiver was introduced that required A-CAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers to pre-test only 70% of their USAC-selected locations, instead of 100% as required by the rule, citing supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.
As a result of the most recent petition, the commission has approved to extend the December 2020 order that will allow carriers to continue to only need to test 70% of their USAC-selected sample sizes during the first two quarters of 2022. This applies to both ACAM/RBE/Alaska carriers, along with CAF-II, BLS, and ACAM-II Recipients.
The reason behind their decision stems from multiple carriers that are still experiencing supply chain delays that have interfered with their abilities to source and purchase equipment. Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, these issues are likely to continue into late 2022.
However, the Bureau denied the request to extend the pre-testing phase for ACAM/RBE/Alaska carriers, citing that the vast majority of A-CAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers are successfully reporting and certifying pre-testing results. Even though supply chain issues have set back carriers’ abilities to obtain equipment, the Bureau claims that there is no evidence that these delays are impacting network performance and warrant an extension of the pre-testing period.
In our opinion, the extension of the December 2020 Waiver Order that allows carriers to test a reduced sample size is a good compromise that benefits carriers and their customers. Meanwhile, the denial of the extension of the pre-testing phase for ACAM/RBE/Alaska Plan carriers shouldn’t be a major obstacle for most carriers, since they’ve already had a year to pre-test and official results are not due until mid-2023.
The commission also stated that while pandemic-induced problems still persist, they ‘encourage carriers to move as swiftly as possible to test their full sample size’.
It would be proactive to follow the commission's recommendation, and if you can test 100% of your USAC chosen subscribers, you should. Keep in mind that you are only required to test 70% of your subscriber sample. Nonetheless, getting 100% of your sample tested, or at least ready to start testing is a great way to prepare for the inevitable complete evaluation of your network.
If you are a carrier affected by supply chain issues such that you cannot test 70% of your USAC-selected sample, the commission suggests that you should file a request for waiver with the Commission that includes the following:
- An affidavit signed by a company official explaining that the carrier does not have sufficient testing equipment, the reason(s) therefore, and when the company anticipates having sufficient equipment.
- Evidence, such as an order form, showing when the order for testing equipment was placed (confidential information, such as price and quantity of the equipment ordered, may be redacted).
Original and Revised ACAM, RBE, and Alaska Plan carriers have until July of 2023 to submit results from speed and latency testing conducted in 2022 for each state and speed tier combination.
Carriers will upload 2022 test results into the PMM using one CSV file for speed test results and one CSV file for latency test results. Carriers must submit all test results.