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Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks and Markets

by: Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman

January 9, 2014

In my first remarks to FCC staff as Chairman, I said that the connective technology that defines the 21st century flows through the FCC, and our challenge is to be as nimble as the innovators and network builders who are changing the world and creating these great opportunities. Meeting that challenge will require changes in the way we conduct our business, as well as constant fine-tuning of our policies. Consistent with this message, the agenda for January’s open agenda will include four items tied together by one common theme: “Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks.” I’d like to take this opportunity to briefly discuss why each of these items is so important.

Among the biggest changes the FCC must confront are the IP transitions. Note the use of the plural “transitions.” Circuit switching is being replaced by more efficient networks – made of fiber or copper or wireless. Greater efficiency in networks can translate into greater innovation and greater benefits for network operators and users alike.

The best way to speed technology transitions is to incent network investment and innovation by preserving the enduring values that consumers and businesses have come to expect. Those values: public safety, interconnection, competition, consumer protection and, of course, universal access, are not only familiar, they are fundamental.

At the January 30 Commission meeting, we will propose a series of experiments utilizing all-IP networks. We hope and expect that many proposed experiments, wired and wireless, will be forthcoming. Those experiments will allow the networks, their users, the FCC and the public to assess the impact and potential of all-IP networks on consumers, customers and businesses in all parts of our country, including rural America, and all populations, including people with disabilities.

As I just noted, 21st century networks consist of more than just copper, or even fiber. They also increasingly depend on spectrum – and demand for spectrum is skyrocketing as more and more Americans use their smartphones and tablets to talk, surf the Internet, and use their favorite apps from almost anywhere.

To help meet the nation’s rapidly increasing demand for spectrum, the Commission is moving forward on implementing a one-time broadcast television incentive auction, as authorized by Congress two years ago to help meet the nation’s rapidly increasing spectrum demands

Building on information provided late last year about the path to a successful incentive auction, at the January Open Meeting, the Incentive Auction Task Force will provide additional details about the timeline and milestones of this process. These details will continue to expand the information all stakeholders will need to know as they participate in the process.

With the growth of mobile, we’ve also seen the growing use of text messaging. Text messaging, once an ancillary activity, is now a principal communications capability – as a nation, we send and receive almost 6 billion text messages a day. Consumers expect that they will be able to reach emergency services by texting 911, whether they’re using traditional SMS or an over-the-top interconnected text app. This is not an unreasonable expectation – consumers should have the ability to reach 911 by all commonly accepted means of communication.

Moreover, texting has become the principle means by which many people with disabilities communicate, and it may be the only safe way for people to communicate in certain circumstances (e.g., in a domestic violence or kidnapping situation or during network congestion). When technology enables broader access to emergency communications, we should embrace that opportunity.

To that end, I applaud the four nationwide wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile – for recognizing this and working with the National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) to take the steps necessary to make text-to-911 a reality. Their leadership on this issue has been instrumental. There are, however, text service providers who do not enable 911 access. They, too, have had an opportunity to voluntarily help their consumers have access to 911, but have chosen not to. Under the concept of the ‘regulatory see-saw’ that I have often expressed, if companies won’t act voluntarily, it becomes necessary to regulate. We will consider a Policy Statement that sets forth our expectations with respect to text-to-911 for all text providers operating in this space, as well as a Notice to extend text-to-911 to all text service providers. Companies that offer text services but do not currently provide 911 access will have an opportunity to participate in this proceeding.

In addition to changing policies, the fast-moving sector we regulate requires that we, too, are constantly reviewing how we operate. That’s why improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the agency is one of my highest priorities. In one of my first acts as Chairman, I asked Diane Cornell to lead an effort to generate ideas to improve agency operations. Over the past two months, Diane has run an open, collaborative process that has drawn hundreds of comments from stakeholders inside and outside the agency. At January’s Open Meeting, Diane and her team will present on the findings of their initial report.

Among its recommendations to improve overall efficiency and effectiveness, the report will include proposals to improve the speed and transparency of FCC processes and decision-making; to streamline data collections to ease burdens and enhance relevance; to improve interactions with external stakeholders; to eliminate outdate rules; and to improve internal management.

The report’s recommendations are the initial steps in what will be an ongoing process of re-examining and revising the way the Commission does business.

Collectively, these actions will help adapt regulatory frameworks to 21st century networks and markets, and ultimately help to maximize the benefits of communications technology for the American people.

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