On April 6, 2020, USTelecom hosted an online Communications Industry Briefing on Federal Initiatives and Actions.  The webinar discussed steps taken by various government entities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 900 people participated.

Moderated by Jonathan Spalter, CEO at USTelecom, the webinar began with guest speaker Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), discussing operational coordination and policy planning in the FCC in the face of COVID-19.  As the first agency in the U.S. to shift to tele-working, the FCC has made it a priority to build better benefits frameworks and allow relaxation of rules to help its employees work remotely.  Pai commended all organizations that have signed his Keep Americans Connected Pledge, an initiative launched by the FCC in March to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of the pandemic and resulting shutdown.  As of today, there are 650 signatories to the pledge.

During his talk, Chairman Pai reviewed the FCC’s top priorities, which include:

  • Encouraging more agencies and organizations to sign on to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge;
  • Motivating all companies and agencies to share information and keep the FCC informed about network performance;
  • Formulating waivers to decrease the regulatory burden for employees in the industry;
  • Building private-public partnerships to combat unlawful robocalls and malicious caller ID spoofing.

Chairman Pai said that the cornerstone of stimulating recovery is the availability of a well-equipped infrastructure that can handle challenging problems.  This will require more funding for broadband access to remote areas so that faster connectivity and efficient services can reach the entire country.

In response to a question, Chairman Pai also indicated that all immediate and upcoming auctions stand postponed to June 2020, but that auctions scheduled for the latter half of the year remain on track.  In conclusion, Pai strongly encouraged sharing of ideas and cross agency efforts, assured the FCC’s support to ease business processes, and welcomed any input from the public.

The second speaker in the webinar was USTelecom Senior Vice President of Cybersecurity, Robert Mayer.  Mayer announced that USTelecom is preparing a list to identify the main challenges being faced by network service providers, which in turn should drive the creation of workable solutions. Some of the challenges include:

  • Existing variations in the guidelines and rules of State and Federal agencies;
  • Need for Federal government intervention to implement and secure freedom of movement based on successful quarantining models;
  • Lack of accessibility of personal protective equipment for field personnel risking their lives to ensure the operation of telecom and broadband services;
  • Need for equipment to allow smooth functioning of supply chain networks.

Mayer emphasized that USTelecom is aware of the severity of the impact the pandemic is having on the economy of every carrier, and is committed to finding solutions.

The final speaker in the webinar was President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (“WIA”), Jonathan Adelstein.  He highlighted two key aspects that the WIA is working on: (i) creating associations with the telecom sector, and (ii) mobilizing a consensus document.

Adelstein discussed the possibility of novel solutions (like usage of drones) for  electronic communications difficulties, and suggested that successful crisis-management models from different communities could set standards and be implemented for larger populations.  In mobilizing for a consensus document, Adelstein noted that the objective is to reach voluntary agreement with communities adopting models that have been successful for other areas.

Jonathan Spalter closed the webinar with the promise of further briefings to follow.