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Funding for a portion of the federal government expired on December 21, 2018, beginning a partial federal government shutdown.  The agencies affected by the lapse in funding include the FCC.  While the FCC managed to hang on longer than some of the other agencies affected, the Commission suspended operations starting mid-day on January 3, 2019.

During the suspension, some of the FCC’s filing databases remain available, but FCC staff is not working and will not be processing applications during the shutdown.  According to an FCC Public Notice regarding Commission operations during the shutdown, no support will be provided for the Commission’s website, including the databases that remain available.

The relevant FCC databases and services that remain available are:

  • Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS)
  • Universal Licensing System (ULS)
  • Electronic Document Management System (EDOCS)
  • Auctions Public Reporting System (PRS)
  • Auction Application System, the Auction Bidding System
  • Daily Digest
  • Commission Online Registration System (CORES).

The relevant databases that will be unavailable are:

  • Electronic Tariff Filing System (ETFS)
  • Experimental Licensing System (ELS)
  • International Bureau Filing System (IBFS/MyIBFS)
  • FCC Form 477 Online Filing System
  • Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS)
  • Antenna Structure Registration System (ASR)
  • Electronic Section-106 System (E-106)
  • Fee Filer
  • 911 Reliability Certification System.

All spectrum auction activities authorized by Section 309(j) will continue and spectrum auction filing deadlines remain the same.  Other filing deadlines will be extended so that any submission due on January 3, during the suspension, or on the first day of normal operations will be due on the second day of normal operations.  Deadlines for Responsive Pleadings are extended in the same way.  Responsive Pleadings filed on January 2 will be treated as if filed on the date normal operations resume.

Any Special Temporary Authorizations (STAs) that would expire during the suspension are extended to the day after operations resume.  Emergency STA requests will be processed through the FCC Operations Center during the suspension.

The FCC’s Fee Filer System will not be available during the suspension.  Deadlines for payments are not extended, except for those that can only be paid through Fee Filer.  Those deadlines are extended in the same way as the filing deadlines.  The Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Fee Filing Guide states that “the application must remit payment within 10 calendar days of submitting the application, or the application will be dismissed [emphasis added].”  The status of applications filed during the shutdown is listed as “submitted.”  Because of this, applicants may need to mail in the Remittance Form with a check for the filing fee.

Prior to the suspension, the Commission was already facing an application processing backlog of a few months.  As the suspension continues, application processing times will extend further.  When operations resume, FCC staff will face an even more significant backlog.  Because applications will be processed in the order in which they are received, we recommend applicants continue to file applications as early as possible during the suspension.

There is no clear end in sight for the partial federal government shutdown.  The House of Representatives plans to consider four smaller spending bills to reopen parts of the government.  Funding for the FCC and FTC is included in the Financial Services appropriation bill, which is likely to be the first considered.  While these bills will likely pass the House and Senate Republicans are growing impatient with the shutdown, it is unlikely they will gain the support of President Trump.  Until the shutdown ends or the FCC is funded, the Commission must continue to operate in a very limited capacity.

For more information, please contact Kathleen Slattery (slattery@khlaw.com; 202.434.4244).

As the new Majority Party in the House of Representatives, Democrats will take the gavels as Chairmen of House Committees and Subcommittees as the 116th Congress convenes in January.  The House Energy and Commerce Committee and its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology have jurisdiction over the FCC and telecommunications issues, including broadband.  The current Ranking Member, Representative Frank Pallone (D-NJ), is expected to become the Committee Chair. Based on recent statements, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to take a more active role in FCC oversight under the new Chairman.

The current Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), was elected to the Senate, replacing retiring Senator Bob Corker (R-TN).  As Chairman, Representative Blackburn was a strong supporter of recent FCC decisions, including the Restoring Internet Freedom Order (Vol. XV, Issue 24), the recent 3.5 GHz Order (Vol. XV, Issue 44), and other policies promoting 5G.  By contrast, the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee, Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) who ran unopposed in the Pennsylvania’s new District 18 (Pittsburgh and surrounding areas), introduced a Joint Resolution under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order.  In order to bring the resolution to the House floor for a vote, the discharge petition must have 218 signatures; the discharge petition for this item currently has 177.  If the discharge petition does not receive the required signatures by the end of the year, then this item will fail.  In the next Congress, Democrats may attempt to reverse the policies in the Restoring Internet Freedom Order through regular order since the CRA will no longer be an option.

While we expect the House to increase oversight over the FCC, the Senate will continue to support the Republican-led FCC’s agenda.  The Republicans have maintained their majority in the Senate, the size of which depends on a few close races still being counted. One item of unfinished business is a Senate vote on the President’s nominee for the second Democratic Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.  Reportedly, the Senators from Alaska have placed a “hold” on his nomination in order to secure FCC action on telemedicine issues impacting their state.  A Senate vote on the nomination is expected before year-end.