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Official FCC Blog

December, 2013

Mapping Progress: Connect America Fund’s Broadband Expansion

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
December 18, 2013

Recently, the Wireline Competition Bureau authorized $255 million from the Connect America Fund to expand broadband in rural areas lacking service.  It’s great news for the over 400,000 rural homes and businesses in 41 states that will get access to wireline broadband for the first time.  And now, you can see more precisely where that expansion will occur on an updated interactive map.

The update of this map is especially useful because this round of Connect America funding includes a process to make sure that we are not subsidizing broadband where other providers are offering service without subsidies. The map shows where funds have been authorized because there was no challenge or challenges have resolved, and areas still subject to challenge. These decisions are based on very local information – down to the census block level – and the map provides a quick, easy, and clear way to identify those areas. Just zoom in! We’ll update the map as challenges are resolved.

The Connect America Fund is part of the FCC’s initiative to bring broadband access to rural communities in order to ensure that ALL Americans have access to today’s essential tools for communications.

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On Secure Mobile Health Devices and a Better Future for Us All

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
December 13, 2013

Over the last week, we paused to remember and commemorate the leadership legacy of Nelson Mandela and his inspiring hope for both South Africa and our world. I personally found myself reflecting upon 1998, when I was in Cape Town, South Africa as a volunteer, visiting journalist with several others covering news stories post-apartheid. My focus was on efforts to educate and reduce the spread of HIV in the region.

Photos from Khayelitsha, South Africa in 1998
Photos from Khayelitsha, South Africa in 1998.

As the Truth and Reconciliation Committees started to heal a fragmented nation, South Africa also was facing an influx of HIV cases from sub-Saharan Africa, rising from an estimated 5000 cases in 1994 to over 2.4 million cases in 1998 within a country of roughly 40 million people. Having built a computer simulation of the historical and estimated exponential future spread of HIV, I became impassioned about spreading awareness of the threat  since, unless greater education of HIV occurred, the nation was facing a dire future.

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Public Input on Process Reform

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Office of the Chairman
December 11, 2013

Thank you to all of you who took the time to respond to my blog post to provide input and ideas for reforming FCC processes.  We received numerous responses, all of which were very thoughtful and offered some great ideas for process reform.  The replies submitted through innovation@fcc.gov in response to the blog post are now publicly available. 

We are taking all of your comments into account, both those submitted by external parties and those received internally, for our report and recommendations to the Chairman in early January 2014.  Remember, we are only at the initial stages of this process.  We plan to remain engaged with the public on ways in which the FCC can be more efficient and effective, and we encourage you to continue to submit your ideas to innovation@fcc.gov.  We are always open to your thoughts and ideas.

Thank you for your efforts and your constructive commitment to helping us improve the workings of the FCC.

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FCC Continues Push on mHealth Innovation

by Matthew Quinn, Director of Healthcare Initiatives
December 10, 2013

At last week’s mHeath Innovation Expo, the FCC brought together a terrific mix of exhibitors from the government, telecommunications, healthcare and health IT communities who share a dedication to encouraging new and innovative mHealth products, and streamlining their introduction for use by consumers, including people with disabilities.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who opened the event, said innovation was key to the success of mHealth:

“I was particularly impressed by the high level of technological innovation and harmonization with existing wireless, online and wire line applications.  I am glad to see that many of these tech companies realize that mHealth solutions for seniors, those in underserved communities, and people with disabilities, must be launched from the very start, and should not be an afterthought.  Only by doing so can we ensure that all consumers seamlessly adopt these technologies to serve their critical day-to-day needs.”

We look forward to the keeping the discussion going and growing. On Dec. 11, Commissioner Clyburn and I will participate in an FCC Town Hall on mHealth and Healthcare Initiatives as part of the mHealth Summit at National Harbor (near Washington) from 12:30-2 p.m. There we’ll elaborate further about our collaboration with fellow Federal agencies to promote innovation, promote safety and avoid regulatory duplication.

Our goal is for the use of mHealth technology to become a routine medical best practice – sooner rather than later. We hope our work with the community – through events such as the FCC’s mHealth Innovation Expo – is a catalyst for more and better mHealth.

The FCC gives its sincere thanks to all those who participated in our Expo:

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The Path to a Successful Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 6, 2013

Since my arrival at the Commission a month ago, I have spent more time working on the Broadcast Television Spectrum Incentive Auction than any other single issue.  I am confident in the Commission’s ability to make the appropriate policy decisions.  I am also confident that the policy challenges are only part of the picture – we must also get the enabling technology right.

Having spent most of the last decade helping technology-based companies from the ground up, I know the incredible challenge of taking a cutting-edge product from concept to market on deadline.  That is exactly what we are doing with the incentive auction.

I have been mightily impressed by the work of the Incentive Auction Task Force.  Chairman Clyburn kept the pedal to the metal, and it shows.  Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai have helped to sharpen the issues.  As a result, the Task Force has been working with the focus and speed of a start-up, while meeting the high standard of public engagement and deliberation required of a government agency.

There are several key ingredients to fulfilling our instructions from Congress and making the incentive auction a success.  First and foremost, we absolutely must make fact-based policy decisions in an open and transparent manner.  Beyond the policy issues, however, we must also exhaustively test the operating systems and the software necessary to conduct the world’s first-of-a kind incentive auction.  This includes ensuring that such systems are user-friendly to both broadcasters and wireless carriers who will participate.  

And as any responsible manager knows, managing a complex undertaking such as this also requires an ongoing commitment to continuously and honestly assess its readiness and its project plan.  

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Our Role in Expanding Inflight Mobile Wireless Services

December 5, 2013

The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal on inflight mobile wireless services on airplanes is consistent with the Commission’s role as an expert agency. We would like to offer additional information about why the Commission is taking this action now and provide a little more insight into what the proposal entails.

The FCC is an independent agency that is charged with overseeing the communications industry and communications technology, including technical, legal, economic, and policy-oriented issues.  The agency was created in 1934 to oversee the networks of telephony and broadcast and, eventually, cable and wireless carriers.  In fulfilling its legal obligations, the FCC must act consistently with the public interest, convenience, and necessity.  As the expert agency on communications, it is the FCC’s role to re-examine our rules in light of new technology and to eliminate unnecessary regulations when appropriate.

Under the proposal, which will be put out for public comment, the default will still be (and in fact will more clearly be) that the use of mobile wireless services is prohibited, absent specialized onboard equipment.  If the new technology isn’t installed, the prohibition remains.  If the new technology is installed, airlineswould still have the ultimate say on whether and how to provide service – including the ability to program the system not to handle voice calls (while allowing text, email, and web browsing).  In addition, systems can also be turned off if necessary for safety announcements and emergencies.

It’s important to note this proposal is, indeed, only a proposal and that it asks many questions. Like all our rulemakings, the public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal over a period of months once a proposal is voted by the full Commission. We will not make a final decision before carefully reviewing those public comments.

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Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 2, 2013

Almost a month into my new job, the fact that I’ve always been a “network guy” and an intrepid history buff should come as no surprise. Reading history has reinforced the central importance networks play and revealed the common themes in successive periods of network-driven change. Now, at the FCC, I find myself joining my colleagues in a position of both responsibility and authority over how the public is affected by and interfaces with the networks that connect us.

Prior to my appointment by President Obama, I was doing research for a book about the history of networks. The new job stopped that project. However, I believe strongly that our future is informed by our past. While awaiting Senate confirmation, I tried to distill the project on which I had been working to connect what I had learned in my research to the challenges in my new job.

The result is a short, free eBook, “Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities”.  It’s a look at the history of three network revolutions – the printing press, the railroad, and the telegraph and telephony – and how the fourth network revolution – digital communications – will be informed by those experiences.  

It was this process that led me to what I’ve been describing as the “prisms” for looking at policy, or the “pillars” of communication policy: ensuring that our new networks promote economic growth, preserving the fundamental values that have traditionally been the foundation of our communications networks, and enabling public purpose benefits of our networks. 

We have the privilege of being present at a hinge moment in history to wrestle with the future of our networks and their effect on our commerce and our culture. If such a topic is of interest to you, I hope you’ll download this short eBook. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a dialogue.

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