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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

Removing Barriers to Competitive Community Broadband

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 10, 2014 - 04:17 PM
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

If any city understands the power of networks to drive economic growth, it’s Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s proximity to the Tennessee River – a natural network – fueled its initial growth. When the railroad network arrived in the mid-19th century, Chattanooga became a boom town. The railroad allowed raw material to flow into the area and finished products to flow out to markets around the country – making Chattanooga an industrial powerhouse.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, and when it comes to networks driving economic growth in Chattanooga, past is prologue.

Mayor Berke and the city’s leaders recognized that today’s high-speed broadband networks will be the indispensable platform for tomorrow’s economic growth and the jobs of the future. That’s why Chattanooga invested in building out one of the nation’s most robust community broadband networks.

The network was partly built out of necessity. Local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market. Without faster networks, Chattanooga residents were at risk of finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, bypassed by the opportunities high-speed connectivity enables.

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Closing the Wi-Fi Gap in America’s Schools and Libraries

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 6, 2014 - 01:18 PM

Chairman Wheeler examines a 3-D printer in an engineering classroom at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va.

I had the pleasure of visiting Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia yesterday. The visit confirmed my deep belief that broadband-enabled technologies have the power to revolutionize education – empowering students and teachers. I saw students using laptops to access science lessons and collaborate in the cloud on year-end projects. I saw English as a Second Language students using apps to help learn their new language at their own pace. I talked to students using connected technology, including 3-D printers.

This was my third trip to a school since becoming FCC Chairman, and a consistent theme is emerging from these visits:  “connectivity” used to mean connecting to the school; today it means connections to each student. That means that schools need robust Wi-Fi networks. It is wireless broadband connectivity that changes the learning experience and opens new opportunities for students and teachers. What I saw was how Wi-Fi to each student’s desk is the essential component of interactive, personalized instruction tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I saw how Wi-Fi makes students more productive.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 23, 2014 - 11:23 AM

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and, more important, a time to honor the sacrifices of those who have served in our armed forces. I certainly join my fellow Americans in paying tribute to our fallen heroes and remembering our veterans and today’s servicemen and women who protect us and advance our interests around the globe.

This weekend also happens to be notable in the history of communications.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse famously telegraphed, “What hath God wrought!” from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, the first official telegraphic message sent over of a long distance. Coincidentally, 18 years later to the day, Abraham Lincoln would send nine telegraph messages to Union generals, becoming the first President to regularly use electronic communications. Eighty years ago, Congress passed a law largely to deal with the network revolution Morse unleashed – the Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC.

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Public Service Recognition Week 2014

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 6, 2014 - 10:40 AM

Yesterday morning, we had an “all-hands” meeting of FCC staff to talk about the agency’s priorities and to provide an update on the Commission’s recent activities. But the most important message I wanted to convey to FCC staff at this meeting was “thank you.”

One of the great joys of being FCC Chairman is the honor and pleasure of serving with dedicated public servants who make remarkable contributions to our nation every day. I have seen them deliver amazing successes in my short tenure here, and I am always impressed at the innovation and “can-do” attitude displayed in every circumstance. The Commission is tasked with solving many difficult, complex issues, and my colleagues throughout the FCC always seem to rise to the occasion. They are constantly looking to the future for ways to improve the lives of the American people through communications technology.

The public servants of the FCC -- and across government at all levels -- work every day on behalf of the American people with little or no fanfare. This week is dedicated to making sure public servants across the country get the recognition they deserve. That’s because this is Public Service Recognition Week – an annual celebration of the men and women who serve the United States as federal, state, county and local government employees.

I applaud the commitment of public servants throughout the nation, and I am proud to be a part of such an outstanding team at the FCC.  I hope others will celebrate and recognize the great work of our federal, state and local public servants, not only during Public Service Recognition Week but every single day of the year.

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Finding the Best Path Forward to Protect the Open Internet

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 29, 2014 - 04:10 PM

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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Ensuring A Fair And Competitive Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 25, 2014 - 12:32 PM

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

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 24, 2014 - 11:09 AM

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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Getting the Incentive Auction Right

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 18, 2014 - 12:32 PM

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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Modernizing E-Rate for Indian Country

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 10, 2014 - 12:35 PM

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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New Approaches to Broadband – Wireline, Licensed, and Unlicensed

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 2, 2014 - 08:18 PM

Earlier this week, the Commission approved two items that use innovative approaches to free up spectrum for broadband. One order utilizes spectrum sharing in the AWS-3 band to make airwaves currently used by government available for flexible, commercial use. Another order is taking 100 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band that was barely usable – and not usable at all outdoors – and transforming it into space that is fully usable for Wi-Fi.

Building on this work, the theme of the Commission’s April 23rd open meeting agenda will be “New Approaches to Broadband – Wireline, Licensed, and Unlicensed.”

As evidenced by this week’s AWS-3 order, spectrum sharing is a potentially revolutionary new approach that will allow us to derive greater value from the finite spectrum resource. For consideration at our April open meeting, I am circulating proposed rules today that are designed to make the 3.5 GHz band a test-bed for spectrum-sharing innovation.

The proposal includes three tiers of prioritization: federal and non-federal incumbents, priority access licensees, and general authorized access users.

It includes a single, highly flexible band plan, avoiding the analog trap of Balkanizing spectrum into sub-bands, each with its own sets of rules.

The proposal also anticipates a wide range of flexible uses. Small cells will undoubtedly be a core use case, but we would not limit the band to such use.

Finally, the proposal reflects economic incentives. Even with the most efficient technology, there will always be places and times where there is rivalry for spectrum access. To that end, the proposal would set up a flexible auction and licensing scheme that leverages the technical capabilities of a Spectrum Access System (SAS) database. The SAS is like a traffic cop for spectrum in that it can assess what spectrum is available so that it can be accessed by prioritized users.

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