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COMMUNICATIONS

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One of the fastest-growing and most exciting fields affecting all businesses today is telecommunications. Not surprisingly, the federal and state regulatory field for communications providers is constantly changing. Entrust your regulatory compliance matters and contracting to an experienced communications law firm to help ensure your business plan is never thwarted by state and federal regulations. For more than 20 years, Mark Foster has practice ...READ MORE ► d communications law. He speaks the same language as telecommunications carriers and knows how to protect landline and wireless telecommunications carriers and VoIP providers in legal struggles with regulatory agencies and incumbent carriers or competitors. Mark served as Special Counsel to the Public Utility Commission of Texas, where he provided legal guidance to the commissioners and executive director regarding utility and telecommunications regulation as well as administrative law matters. Since 1990, Mark has represented competitive telecommunications companies, wireless companies and VoIP providers throughout the nation regarding a host of communications law matters, including the following:
  • Competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC) licenses and tariffs
  • State CLEC certifications
  • Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (ETC) designations
  • Regulatory compliance
  • Billing disputes with incumbent local exchange companies and other vendors
  • 911 agreement issues
  • FCC and state commission Enforcement/Penalty cases
  • Complaint and arbitration proceedings before state utility commissions
  • Negotiating interconnection agreements with incumbent telephone companies
  • Post – interconnection dispute resolution proceedings
  • Contracting with third-party providers
  • Taxation issues
  • Strategic planning
  • Compliance with privacy laws when responding to data requests from law enforcement
  • Federal Disability Accessibility and Hearing Aide Compatibility requirements
  • VoIP providers – regulations, taxes and fees

Working with economic consultants, FosterLaw helps clients analyze vendors’ and ILEC rate and service offerings and evaluate new markets and product offerings. Our goal is to reduce clients’ costs of doing business and increase operational efficiencies.

FosterLaw is committed to helping clients identify and capitalize on business opportunities in the midst of the uncertainty that can be caused by changing regulations. We have the skills and resources to represent clients before most of the state utility commissions throughout the United States. When local counsel is required, FosterLaw taps its nationwide network of attorneys who provide local assistance at little additional cost.

REPRESENTATIVE CASES & PROJECTS

  • Advocate for national organization of Lifeline providers and supporters in numerous FCC rulemaking proceedings affecting the Lifeline program and implementation of the FCC’s Lifeline Reform Order.
  • Represented telecom providers in post-interconnection dispute resolutions through arbitrations at state utility commissions. See, for example Texas PUC Docket 38389 and Texas PUC Docket 41158.
  • Obtained Eligible Telecommunications Carrier (“ETC”) designation through contested case hearing before Administrative Law Judge over commission staff opposition. See Texas PUC Docket 36164.
  • Drafted and negotiated vendor agreements and customer service agreements for VoIP providers, CLECs, wireless resellers, MVNOs, and enterprise customer systems providers.
  • Negotiated terms of access to commercial buildings. FosterLaw’s work resulted in workable license agreements for carriers, building owners, and building tenants.
  • Represented coalition of CLECs in major arbitration before state utility commission for new interconnection agreement with major ILEC. See Texas PUC Docket 28821. This agreement is still utilized by the bulk of Texas CLECs today.

CLIENT TESTIMONIALS

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From Telecommunications Provider: “Mark has represented multiple firms on my behalf over the past 10+ years in both the telecommunications and deregulated energy industries. I have relied ...READ MORE ► on his expertise and guidance in all regulatory, licensing and legal matters with regards to electric and telecom issues, from the formation and licensing of companies as well as contract negotiation, arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution. Mark is one of the most trustworthy, moral and ethical individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working. With regard to work ethic, his work is accurate, precise and always on time (usually ahead of schedule). He is constantly looking out for the best interests of myself and my firm(s). As a client, he keeps me up to speed on changes in law, rules and regulations that affect my business. Mark is dependable and always quick to respond to phone calls and emails. Over the years I have known Mark, he has never once let me down. I am proud to know him as a colleague and as a friend. I highly recommend Mark Foster.”

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From Telecommunications Provider: “I have utilized Mark as my attorney for two telecom related companies. Mark has been very successful in negotiating, raising or, resolving multiple ...READ MORE ► put before the PUC of Texas between my corporation and AT&T. Additionally, Mark lead the efforts to allow me to start a new CLEC in Texas and New York. Mark is a very knowledgeable and trustworthy lawyer. He will continue to be my corporate attorney for as long as I am in
the telecom business and industry. I would highly recommend Mark for all your Telecom needs.”    

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From Telecommunications Provider: “I have been working as a client with Mark Foster in the telecommunications industry for over a decade. His firm excels at understanding complex ...READ MORE ► regulated industries, PUC rules and rule makings, regulated contract negotiations with telecommunications and electric utilities, mediation, arbitration, establishing corporations, partnership arrangements and bi-laws. I also highly recommend this firm for swift mediation arbitration resolutions to partnership and vendor conflicts. Superior legal service with extremely high integrity. Highly recommended.”

NEWS

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FCC Adopts Rules to Modernize Lifeline and Introduce Lifeline Broadband 

On April 27, 2016, the FCC issued a written order that was adopted at its March 31, 2016 Open ...READ MORE ► Meeting to modernize and reform the Lifeline program. The full text of the order can be found at https://prodnet.www.neca.org/publicationsdocs/wwpdf/fcc1638.pdf. The Order allows support for robust, standalone fixed and mobile broadband services; establishes minimum service standards for broadband and mobile voice services; and implements a five and one-half year transition, during which the FCC will gradually increase mobile voice and data service standards and gradually decrease voice support levels.  After completion of this multi-year transition, Lifeline funding will be focused on supporting “modern services.” The Order requires that Lifeline providers make available Wi-Fi- and hotspot-enabled devices when providing such devices for use with the Lifeline-supported service. The Order also encourages entry of new Lifeline providers to supply broadband by creating a streamlined federal Lifeline Broadband Provider (LBP) designation process.
Additionally, the Order creates the National Verifier, which will transfer the responsibility of eligibility determination away from Lifeline providers. The Order also allows consumers to qualify for Lifeline based on participation in SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance and the Veterans Pension benefit program, as well as all current Tribal qualifying programs or by demonstrating income of less than 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.
Finally, the Order also reforms the non-usage rules, minimizes advertising burdens on providers, establishes an annual budget of $2.25 billion, and makes recertification a rolling process.

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FCC Adopts Rules to Related to Copper Retirement and the Transition to Next-Generation Infrastructures 

The FCC has begun taking steps related to the transition from copper to next- ...READ MORE ► generation infrastructures. In an August 6, 2015 Report and Order, the Commission adopted multiple rule changes relating to the retirement of copper. For example, providers must now directly notify customers of their plans to retire copper networks at least three months in advance. However, carriers can still retire copper networks for fiber without Commission approval, so long as service is not discontinued, reduced or impaired. The FCC also plans to codify the rules for evaluating and comparing replacement and legacy services when carriers seek FCC approval to discontinue, reduce, or impair service. The FCC seeks comment on potential standards, which include the following:

  • Support for 911 services and call centers;
  • Network capacity and reliability;
  • Quality of both voice service and Internet access;
  • Interoperability with devices and services, such as alarm services and medical monitoring;
  • Access for people with disabilities, including compatibility with assistive technologies;
  • Network security in any IP-supported network that is comparable to the legacy network;
  • Coverage throughout the service area, either by the substitute network or via service from other provider; and
  • Plan for outreach to affected consumers.

As an interim measure, the Commission adopted rules require that replacement services for last mile services be offered to competitive providers at rates, terms and conditions that are reasonably comparable to those of the legacy services. The FCC will finalize pending the completion of the FCC’s special access proceeding, which will examine these issues more broadly.

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FCC Calls for Comment Regarding Potential Lifeline Changes
On June 18, 2015, the Commission announced that it was seeking comment as to how to establish minimum service levels for Lifeline mobile. The FCC seeks to do so under authority
...READ MORE ► of 47 U.S.C. § 254(b)(3), which states that the Lifeline program should enable low-income Americans to have  “access to telecommunications and information services. . . that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas.”  The FCC proposed delegating the responsibility to the Wireline Competition Bureau, which would have to tie the standards to “objective, publicly available data.” The Commission also contemplates offering varying service levels for different tiers of Lifeline service, such occurs in California under the state Lifeline program. Additionally, the FCC proposes shifting the responsibility of Lifeline eligibility determination from Lifeline providers to a third-party. The Commission specifically contemplates a national lifeline eligibility verifier, and seeks comment as to how to implement such a verifier. The FCC also discussed incentivizing states to develop “dependable means-tested processes to verify consumer Lifeline eligibility” and whether it had the authority to do so.

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Fcc Issues Sweeping Order Regulating The Internet
On February 26, 2015, the FCC adopted new rules regulating the Internet per Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. ...READ MORE ► See Open Internet Order. The very controversial debate has been termed Open Internet or Net Neutrality. According to the FCC public notice, an Open Internet means consumers can go where they want, when they want. New rules applying to both fixed and wireless broadband service are adopted so that providers cannot block, throttle, or create special “fast lanes” for content. The FCC says the rules provide for:
No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.The FCC’s action was taken on a party line vote of Commissioners. The “pro” argument is explained in Chairman Wheeler’s Statement. The “con” argument is set forth in recent Remarks of Commissioner O’Reilly.

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FCC Clarifies Lifeline Subscriber Usage Rules For ETCs
On March 31, 2015, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau released two documents important to Lifeline providers. The first is an Order and rule amendments to clarify that if an ETC assesses a monthly fee to subscribers in order to avoid the Lifeline usage requirements, then ...READ MORE ► that ETC must also collect the monthly fee. ETCs that do not assess any monthly fees must continue to de-enroll inactive subscribers who fail to use the service within any consecutive 60-day period. (No change there.) Also a Public Notice was issued which provides guidance to ETCs on the process to elect USAC to perform Lifeline recertification.

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FCC Warns Businesses Against Blocking Personal Wi-Fi Hotspots
On January 27, 2015, the FCC released a public notice that it is “aggressively investigating and acting against” hotels and other commercial establishments which block personal Wi-Fi hotspots. A personal Wi-Fi hotspot allows individuals with personal cellular or ...READ MORE ► satellite internet connections, such as through a cell phone, to connect other devices to the same internet service through a personal Wi-Fi network. Last year, the FCC found that Marriott blocked such hotspots at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and fined Marriott $600,000. After the FCC’s ruling, Marriott and other hotels filed a petition with the FCC requesting that the FCC allow commercial establishments to “monitor and mitigate threats to the security and reliability” of their own Wi-Fi networks by interfering with personal hotspots.

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Growth Opportunity: In-Building Wireless Access
There are two major wireless coverage gaps in the USA: rural areas and coverage within office buildings and office parks. By 2017, mobile traffic is expected to grow to thirteen times its current rate. There are currently more mobile phones in the world than there are people. Existing mobile networks are at 80% capacity. U.S. commercial real estate has 30 billion square metric feet of office space. Less than 2% is covered by wireless networks.

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How To Become A Telecommunications Competitive Local Exchange Carrier (CLEC)
Each state has a slightly different application and approval process for CLECs.
Below is information commonly needed to prepare an application:
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  • Resumes of all key personnel need showing experience in the telecommunications industry and technical capability to operate a CLEC.
  • Proof of financial capability is normally required; many states require proof of $100,000 or more in cash or liquid assets.
  • Be ready to provide an explanation of the types of services that the company will provide.
  • Note whether any officer or owner has a criminal history or has declared bankruptcy. These types of occurrences will need to be addressed in the CLEC Application.
  • Be prepared to disclose all affiliated companies or companies that are owned or controlled by officers or owners.
  • If you provide telecommunication services in any other state, some details about that business may be required.

Seeking out a Telecommunications Attorney experienced in CLEC certifications will be an advantage to your company. FosterLaw represents clients throughout the nation, and we have obtained hundreds of authorities for telecommunications providers in dozens of states. There can be many different reasons a telecommunications provider might want to obtain CLEC status – from wholesale access to plain old telephone service (POTS).

RESOURCES