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Official FCC Blog

April, 2014

Finding the Best Path Forward to Protect the Open Internet

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 29, 2014

I am a strong believer in the importance of an Open Internet. As President Obama has explained, “Preserving an Open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” That is why I have made preservation of the Open Internet a priority for the FCC.

Some recent commentary has had a misinformed interpretation of the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently before the Commission. There are two things that are important to understand.  First, this is not a final decision by the Commission but rather a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions.  Second, as the Notice makes clear, all options for protecting and promoting an Open Internet are on the table. 

I believe this process will put us on track to have tough, enforceable Open Internet rules on the books in an expeditious manner, ending a decade of uncertainty and litigation.

The idea of net neutrality (or the Open Internet) has been discussed for a decade with no lasting results. Today Internet Openness is being decided on an ad hoc basis by big companies. Further delay will only exacerbate this problem.  The NPRM is seeking input on the best way to protect and promote the Open Internet.

In its Verizon v. FCC decision the D.C. Circuit laid out a blueprint for how the FCC could use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to create Open Internet rules that would stick. I have repeatedly stated that I viewed the court’s ruling as an invitation that I intended to accept.  We ask for comment on this approach in the NPRM.

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Modernizing the FCC Enterprise

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
April 28, 2014

According to the Government Accountability Office, Federal agencies are currently spending over 70% of their Information Technology budgets on maintaining legacy systems. Government-wide, these maintenance costs amount to over $54 billion a year spent on existing legacy systems, and delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

Upon my arrival to the FCC, I began a series of collaborative discussions with our Chairman, Managing Director, the FCC Bureau and Office Chiefs, and all members of the FCC to listen, learn, and identify ways to modernize the Commission’s IT enterprise. These discussions resulted in a variety of existing, long-standing issues, historically thorny challenges, and strong perspectives about how FCC could improve its IT. After rigorous prioritization, focused foremost on the FCC’s mission, we narrowed our IT modernization focus to seven specific tracks.

In the spirit of openness, I’d like to share our seven tracks as we embark on our journey to modernize the FCC enterprise. These tracks and supporting goals represent our focused efforts to bring the FCC into the 21st century and ensure the Commission has some of best IT in government supporting its mission. Like an iceberg where a majority of the ice is hidden underwater, modernizing manual, human-intensive processes at the FCC will reduce legacy “sunk costs” at the Commission. The result will be a more agile, responsive, IT-enabled FCC enterprise able to work faster and float “above water”. Our workforce will be more effective, efficient in their time and energy, and better able to deliver the highest quality public service to the U.S. public and FCC partners.

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Ensuring A Fair And Competitive Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 25, 2014

Next year the FCC will conduct the first-ever “Incentive Auction,” which will harness market forces to reallocate valuable low-band (below 1 GHz) spectrum from television broadcasters who voluntarily choose to relinquish their channels in exchange for incentive payments, to wireless providers who will bid against each other to buy those frequencies to provide mobile broadband services. 

The low-band spectrum we will auction is particularly valuable because it has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances at far less cost than spectrum above 1 GHz.  It also reaches deep into buildings and urban canyons. 

Today, however, two national carriers control the vast majority of that low-band spectrum.  This disparity makes it difficult for rural consumers to have access to the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.  It also creates challenges for consumers in urban environments who sometimes have difficulty using their mobile phones at home or in their offices.

To address this problem, and to prevent one or two wireless providers from being able to run the table at the auction, I have proposed a market based reserve for the auction.

Any party desiring to bid on any license area will be free to do so.

When the Incentive Auction commences, all bidders will be bidding and competing against each other for all blocks of spectrum.  We expect a fulsome bidding process.  There will be no “reserved” spectrum during this initial stage of the auction.

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E-Labeling Deserves Serious Consideration

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 25, 2014

Wireless devices have changed substantially over the last two decades.  Consumers have migrated from block-like flip-phones with monochromatic screens to advanced, all-in-one smartphones,[1] tablets, and even wrist devices.  As these devices continue to shrink, their functionality continues to grow.  To keep pace with these technological advancements, I believe it is time for the FCC to consider modernizing our labeling requirements.  Electronic labeling, or e-labeling, could replace the current system of etched labels containing FCC certification information on the outside body of each electronic device.  Instead, this information could be provided through software on device screens. 

There are numerous potential benefits to e-labeling.  Specifically, e-labels can provide more information to consumers than is conveyed today.  Beyond the required FCC certification information, details can be added by manufacturers regarding device warranties, recycling, and trade-in opportunities.  In addition, e-labels can be updated remotely to address any inaccuracies, such as typographical errors. 

Another advantage of e-labeling is cost savings.  As devices have become smaller and more aesthetically appealing, etching the labels requires more design time and expensive equipment.  E-labeling could dramatically reduce or eliminate these costs without sacrificing consumer information.  The Commission has already permitted e-labeling for a small subset of devices.  In 2001, the Commission’s rules authorizing software defined radios (SDR) permitted the voluntary use of e-labeling by device manufacturers.       

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Setting the Record Straight on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 24, 2014

There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission.

The Notice proposes the reinstatement of the Open Internet concepts adopted by the Commission in 2010 and subsequently remanded by the D.C. Circuit. The Notice does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule. The Notice does follow the roadmap established by the Court as to how to enforce rules of the road that protect an Open Internet and asks for further comments on the approach.

It is my intention to conclude this proceeding and have enforceable rules by the end of the year.

To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted.

Incorrect accounts have reported that the earlier policies of the Commission have been abandoned. Two points are relevant here:

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3.5 GHz: New Ideas in the “Innovation Band”

by John Leibovitz, Deputy Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau & Special Advisor to the Chairman for Spectrum Policy
April 23, 2014

In a speech last month at the Brookings Institution, the Chairman issued a challenge – let’s confront change in spectrum policy and reorient our perspective from what was to what can be. Today, the Commission is leading by example. The Commission is issuing a detailed proposal for a new service in the 3.5 GHz Band- the Citizens Broadband Radio Service – representing a watershed for innovative spectrum sharing policies.

In July 2012 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report suggesting that we could help meet the demand for spectrum by increasing civilian access to spectrum currently reserved for government use. In 2012, the Commission took the next step by proposing to implement a dynamic spectrum sharing scheme in up to 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band.

3.5 GHz is an ideal “innovation band.” Because the federal use in this band occurs primarily around the coasts, it is a great opportunity for intensive wireless broadband use on a shared basis. In 2010, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration proposed just that – broadband wireless could share the band with government incumbents. The use of innovative spectrum sharing technologies is the key to unlocking the potential of this band. But without a new approach to thinking about spectrum rights and responsibilities, we will not be able to expand access to new civilian uses.

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Getting the Incentive Auction Right

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 18, 2014

Few FCC policies have generated more attention than the Incentive Auction. “Groundbreaking,” “revolutionary,” and “first-in-the-world” are just a few common descriptions of this innovative approach to making efficient, market-driven use of our spectrum resources.

Such attention is warranted. The Incentive Auction is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the benefits of mobile wireless coverage and competition to consumers across the Nation – particularly consumers in rural areas – offering more choices of wireless providers, lower prices, and higher quality mobile services.

Spectrum is a finite public resource, and refers to the public airwaves that carry all forms of wireless communication Americans use every day. Twenty-first century consumers in both rural and urban areas of our country have a seemingly insatiable appetite for wireless services, and thus, for spectrum.

Getting the Incentive Auction right will revolutionize how spectrum is allocated. By marrying the economics of demand (think wireless providers) with the economics of current spectrum holders (think television broadcasters), the Incentive Auction will allow market forces to determine the highest and best use of spectrum.

More immediately, the Incentive Auction will deliver tremendous benefits for U.S. consumers across the country.

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Technology Transitions and Public Safety Workshop and Online Forum

by Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 16, 2014

Technology transitions, in the telecommunications sector, are already happening, and they will continue to have a profound impact on public safety communications.  As networks transform, the capability for public safety officials to reliably communicate among themselves and with the public must be preserved.  Similarly, the ability for individuals to reach help in an emergency is fundamental and must be maintained.  We are committed to ensuring that the critical functionalities served by the legacy infrastructure are supported after transition to IP-based infrastructure and, where possible, improved.  Public safety, disaster response and homeland security communities must remain reliable and secure under a wide range of stressful conditions – they must be available when we need them.

To that end, the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is hosting a workshop on Thursday, April 17, 2014, on the impact of technology transition on public safety.

Representatives from public safety agencies, service providers, technology vendors, and other stakeholders will participate in roundtable discussions to explore the impact of the retirement of switched telecommunications service (PSTN, TDM), the anticipated interdependencies and new failure modalities for IP transport, copper to fiber transition and copper to wireless transition.

The workshop will identify areas of risk associated with the planned IP Transition and determine risk factors for key public safety, emergency response, and national security functions. 

The workshop will be streamed live online for those who cannot attend in-person.  We will also be accepting questions during the workshop via email at livequestions@fcc.gov or by Twitter using the #TechTransitions hashtag.

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Broadcasting Anew

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
April 15, 2014

It is always special to be in attendance at the annual National Association of Broadcasters Show, and this year was no exception.

The NAB does a good job of matching its members with FCC Commissioners and staff for informative, engaging and often spirited discussions. This was the case for me when I informally met with a group of network affiliates from around the country. They persistently—though politely—pressed me on some recent FCC decisions which affected their business interests, and in the absence of a final rule on at least one key issue—media ownership and attribution rules-the broadcasters were left to question our words and our wisdom pretty much unanswered. But what I took away from our discussion was the realization that today's media universe can no longer be viewed through myopic lenses and historic silos, and that the demarcation between over-the-air, cable, internet and satellite broadcasting makes erstwhile legacy distinctions much harder to maintain.

Secondly, I always appreciate the chance to walk the show floor to see, firsthand, the innovative developments in broadcast technology. This time around, I was impressed by Next Radio and 8K technology, both of which are fascinating, consumer friendly and, I suspect, soon-to-be financially successful.

Finally, the NAB provides a unique opportunity for regulators to talk to the industry professionals and operators who do not typically make it to Washington to lobby on policy issues. These real-world workers provide us with a perspective that is both realistic and refreshing, and I always learn more than I leave behind.

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Modernizing E-Rate for Indian Country

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 10, 2014

Last month, I was honored to meet with Tribal leaders at the National Congress of American Indians’ annual conference to discuss the FCC’s commitment to a reinvigorated Tribal consultation process focused on improving access to modern communications in Indian Country.

Acting on this commitment, yesterday, I took my first trip to Indian Country as FCC Chairman, visiting the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

I had several meetings with Oglala Lakota leaders to discuss topics ranging from economic development to healthcare, but the greatest emphasis of my visit was education, specifically how the FCC’s E-Rate program can help expand digital learning opportunities, including for our nation’s rural and Tribal populations.

I heard from teachers, students, and administrators at Loneman School and Little Wound School about how E-Rate has helped provide basic Internet access to their school, but also how E-Rate can, and needs to do even more.

In particular, these schools need more bandwidth to enable opportunities like remote tutoring and taking advanced math and science courses online, and they need Wi-Fi connectivity that can support mobile devices like tablets and digital textbooks. They also need an E-Rate program that’s more user-friendly. In the past, Loneman, like too many schools, missed out on E-Rate support because of confusion with the program’s rules.

All of our students, whether they are attending a Tribal school in South Dakota or a public school in South Carolina deserve to have full access to modern digital learning tools. That’s why modernizing E-Rate to simplify the program, improve its efficiency, and deliver faster, Wi-Fi connectivity to schools and libraries is one of the Commission’s highest priorities.

Digital learning can be a great equalizer for places like Pine Ridge, helping to overcome the history of isolation that has limited opportunity in Tribal communities.

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