Update on FCC Proceeding to Remove Cuba from the International Section 214 Exclusion List

The Federal Communications Commission’s (“FCC”) International Bureau (“IB”) has removed Cuba from the International Section 214 Exclusion List, an index of countries that are not covered by the FCC’s otherwise global “International Section 214” authorizations to carry telecommunications traffic beyond U.S. borders.  Entities seeking to operate lines between the U.S. and countries on the Exclusion List were required to obtain specific authorization from the FCC and the U.S. Department of State (“State Department”).

Cuba was the last country remaining on the Exclusion List.  In October, however, the State Department sent a letter to the chief of the IB explaining that it no longer considered Cuba’s presence on the Exclusion List consistent with U.S. policy, and requesting that the FCC remove Cuba from the list.  Last month, the IB issued a public notice seeking comment on doing just that.  As the FCC explained, removing Cuba from the Exclusion List would allow international carries to provide facilities-based telecommunications services from the United States to Cuba without having to request specific authority.  It would also allow carries with existing global authorizations to begin providing telecommunications services from the United States to Cuba without having to take further action.  Two entities weighed in on the proceeding—both supporting the proposal.

On January 15, 2016, the IB issued an order removing Cuba from the Exclusion List.  According to the order, the FCC “agree[s] with the commenters that removing Cuba from the Exclusion List will make it easier for U.S. facilities-based carriers to initiate service to Cuba, promote open communications, and help foster bilateral communications between the United States and Cuba.” The FCC concluded that “[s]treamlining this process will allow carriers seeking new international Section 214 authority for facilities-based service to Cuba to receive such authority sooner, and will permit carriers with existing global Section 214 authority to provide services between the United States and Cuba without additional authorization.”  The order did not, however, address the nondiscrimination rules applicable to the U.S.-Cuba route.

While the FCC’s action does not impact the ability of U.S. carriers to provide telecommunications services within Cuba, it significantly eases the regulatory requirements to provide services linking the two countries, which should pave the way to more options for U.S. consumers calling to Cuba. Carriers looking to provide services—including long distance and roaming services—between the U.S. and Cuba still need to comply with a number of requirements that make it challenging to provide those services, but an important obstacle has been lifted by allowing them to rely on existing Section 214 authorizations without having to secure separate authorization specifically for the U.S.-Cuba routes.

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