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Blog Posts by Michael O'Rielly

Post Text of Meeting Items in Advance

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
August 7, 2014

Early in his tenure, Chairman Wheeler launched a laudable effort to reform a number of Commission procedures.  Because I was new to the Commission when ideas were solicited, I generally deferred to agency veterans on the proposals that were put forward.  But now that I am nine months into my term, I have become convinced that there is one significant change in our overall process that would be incredibly helpful: we should post on the FCC’s website the actual text of the items to be considered at our Open Meetings at the same time they are provided to Commissioners.    

Section 19.735-203 of the FCC’s rules prohibits disclosure of the content of items that will be voted on by the full Commission at a meeting or “by circulation” (not at a meeting).  Therefore, as soon as bureau staff sends the “8th Floor” a draft for consideration, the Commissioners are not allowed to reveal the substantive decisions with outside parties.  In other words, at the very moment that I learn the particulars of an important rulemaking upon which I will spend the next few weeks in ex parte meetings listening to stakeholder concerns, I am not permitted to disclose any details of the draft text in order to extract more thoughtful responses. 

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Most Definitely: Terminate Dormant Proceedings

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
July 8, 2014

Last week, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) released a Public Notice seeking comment on whether to terminate almost 650 dormant proceedings (i.e., dockets that have no planned action and no further comments expected).  I applaud Chairman Wheeler for initiating this item as well as the CGB staff and the individual Bureaus and Offices that worked on this document. 

The charts below, prepared by my great staff, help visualize the scope of the Commission’s recent effort.  As the first chart shows, the agency has over 2,800 open proceedings pending.  The second chart organizes—by Bureau and Office—the specific proceedings contemplated for closure in the Public Notice. 

I’m in the process of reviewing CGB’s recommendations and its corresponding attachment, but in general I believe that closing outdated FCC proceedings makes a lot of sense.  Doing so could help the agency become more organized and focused on decisions that need to be made.  It could also make it easier for both Congress and the public to track what the agency is working on or still considering.  And it could help prevent the Commission from using antiquated information as a basis for regulating. 

In fact, clearing the regulatory decks is something we should probably do more often—maybe even annually.  The Commission may also want to consider creating an automatic closure process.  Perhaps after a year, and with appropriate notice, we could close proceedings that have been concluded and for which no further pleadings are filed.  This could significantly reduce the number of unnecessary open proceedings, while still allowing public access to the documents that were generated. 

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Disturbing Trend in USF Spending

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
July 7, 2014

Image of Chart showing USF and TRS Outlays and Chart showing USF Disbursements

Chart 1 shows the FCC’s actual outlays for the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Interstate Telecommunications Relay Services Fund (TRS) to date and the future spending projections through the year 2024 as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), our nation’s official budgetary scorekeeper.  Chart 2 shows the growth in USF disbursements, which have been the primary driver of the growth seen in Chart 1.[1]

Under the current structure, the programs are scheduled to grow to $10 billion in 2015 and steadily increase thereafter to reach $11 billion in 2024.  Most of that growth will continue to be attributable to USF.[2]  This means that in 2024, the funds will be over 21% larger than they were in 2013 and, in those 11 years, the funds will spend a remarkable $13 billion more than they would have if funding had been kept at 2013 levels.  Importantly, this trajectory just represents present circumstances.  In other words, it does not assume that the Commission will make any programmatic changes that would further increase spending.          

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Introducing the Internet to the FCC’s Contest Rule

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 16, 2014

Have you ever listened to your car radio while you were stuck in traffic and heard a super-fast talker rattle off the rules that apply to a contest for a trip to some sunny destination?  Or, maybe you’ve seen the small print displayed at the end of a contest promoted on television.  These detailed disclosures—such as who is eligible for a contest, how to participate, the value of the prizes, and when and how winners will be selected—are efforts to comply with the FCC’s “Contest Rule.”  I agree that it is important to notify the public about the terms and conditions of the contests aired on broadcast stations, but are these fast-talkers and tiny, on-air print the most effective means to communicate this information in the Internet age?  I suggest there is a better way.

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With an Eye Towards WRC 2015

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 9, 2014

It is never too early to engage in preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference, or “WRC,” a meeting hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) every three to four years.  This conference facilitates the international coordination of spectrum usage and satellite orbit allocations, and the next one is scheduled for November 2015 (“WRC-15”) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Although it does not typically generate much fanfare, the conference is critical because the decisions made there can directly affect the future development of all mobile services—key drivers of innovation, economic growth and job creation.

WRC-15 is especially important because it will address many significant issues.  Topping the agenda will be identifying more spectrum bands to meet the ever-growing demand for wireless services.  WRC participants will consider modifying the allocations to allow for wireless broadband operations in the broadcast spectrum, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands.  The United States has already taken action to open these frequencies to commercial wireless service in this country, but consumers will benefit if we are successful at WRC-15 in reaching international agreement.  Spectrum harmonization helps prevent harmful interference and promotes the seamless use of wireless devices across borders—a growing concern in our increasingly mobile world.  It also enables communications equipment manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale as they create devices that can be used and sold internationally, at lower prices.

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FCC Needs to Improve its Internal 911 and IPv6 Compliance

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 2, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets communications rules and policies, as directed by the Congress, and works with providers and organizations as they develop and implement industry standards.  To remain relevant, the agency must stay on top of current technologies and serve as a model both for industry and other federal agencies.  The FCC loses credibility when it seeks to impose rules or standards on the private sector but does not adhere to the same or similar commitments in its own operations.

To this end, I suggest that two important areas are ripe for improvement. 

Direct access to 911.  As has been highlighted in recent regulatory actions, the FCC is responsible for promoting safety of life, via communications technologies and we take that responsibility very seriously.  For instance, the agency has advanced numerous policies to improve the effectiveness of the 911 system with the hopes that one day wireless callers—especially those with hearing or speech disabilities—will be able text their emergencies to First Responders.  In fact, the FCC acted three months in a row to adopt changes to the current 911 capabilities of wireless carriers, comparing the cost of these regulations to the cost of a life or lives. 

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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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On the Rise: Regulating Through Pilot Programs

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 10, 2014

From the good work of my staff, take a look below at the recent trend to fund pilot projects at the Commission.  This upsurge makes it essential that any pilot project have an established and confirmed end date.  I don’t doubt that an occasional pilot project may be of assistance, but I worry they can divert time and effort away from fixing or improving existing programs.  More importantly, we must keep in mind that these projects all come from scarce consumer-provided dollars.

 

 Regulating through Pilot Programs"

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TCPA: It is Time to Provide Clarity

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

For those that might not be familiar, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. § 227) was enacted in 1991 to address the issue of unwanted telephone marketing calls and faxes.  It restricts making telemarketing calls, using automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages (often referred to as robocalls), and sending unsolicited faxes.  From most accounts, it appears to have been a general success.   

In enacting the TCPA, the Congress aimed to strike a balance between protecting consumers from unwanted communications and enabling legitimate businesses to reach out to consumers that wish to be contacted.  Over time, as the FCC and the courts have interpreted the TCPA, business models and ways of communicating with consumers have also changed.  As a result, the rules have become complex and unclear.  In addition to prohibiting abusive robocalls and junk faxes, which was the original intent, the rules are creating situations where consumers might not receive notifications and offers that they want and expect, and where new and innovative services and applications that help friends and family members communicate with each other could be restricted.  Clear rules of the road would benefit everyone.    

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Duplication Alert: Broadband Pilot Projects

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 6, 2014

January’s IP Trials Order contained a provision to use USF dollars to fund rural broadband “experiments” designed to deliver robust, high-speed, scalable broadband service.  The language put out for comment on this new program potentially gives the FCC latitude to do any number of things in this space, including gigabit communities.

Exactly five days later, Congress spoke to this very same issue.  Included in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“The Farm Bill”) is a provision that allocates up to $50 million—$10 million per year for FY 2014-2018— to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a Rural Gigabit Network Pilot Program.  To be eligible for these funds, a provider must be able to build out “ultra-high-speed Internet service” within three years in rural areas that lack such service.   

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