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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

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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Protecting Television Consumers By Protecting Competition

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
March 6, 2014 - 02:25 PM

Every four years, the FCC is required by law to assess its media ownership rules and determine if they need to be modified to serve the public interest. In fact, it’s been six years since the Commission last completed a quadrennial review, so it goes without saying that the video marketplace has changed dramatically since the FCC last updated these rules.

Later this month, the Commission will begin in earnest its 2014 quadrennial review, building on a record it has amassed over the years. This will be an open evaluation to understand how evolving market structures and competition should influence how we act to preserve the continuing values of competition, localism, and diversity of voices in our local media.

I come to the 2014 review with two bedrock beliefs: that broadcasting provides a vital public service as a part of its public trust, and that the overall changes in the media landscape are opening new opportunities for U.S. broadcasters.

While this review is pending, the current rules addressing media consolidation will remain in place.  But motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission Rules to enforce existing rules.

JOINT SALES AGREEMENTS

One notable development that requires immediate attention is the rise of Joint Sales Agreements in small- and medium-sized TV markets. Commonly known as JSAs, these are arrangements in which one station sells advertising time for another station in the same market. In more than two-thirds of JSA transactions, one station sold 100 percent of the advertising time of the other.

What does that mean in plain English?

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Channel Sharing: A New Opportunity for Broadcasters

by Tom Wheeler, Chairman
February 11, 2014 - 06:12 PM

I’ve seen the future, and it’s using 50% less bandwidth to produce a picture with increased quality of up to 300%.

I just completed a tour of KLCS, a public broadcaster in Los Angeles. As Chairman of the FCC, visiting a television station isn’t necessarily that noteworthy. But today’s visit was different, because KLCS is about to make history.

KLCS has entered into an agreement with KJLA, a Spanish-language station in L.A., to become the first broadcasters in America to pilot the concept of sharing channels of spectrum, which are the airwaves that transmit mobile images and information to TVs, radios and other wireless devices.

Seeing is believing! On my visit I saw KLCS putting out 1 HD stream and 7 standard-definition streams of programming on its current allotted channel of spectrum, what they call multi-casting. What’s really exciting is that as part of the pilot program with KJLA, KLCS will test broadcasting two full HD streams of programming over the same channel. If the pilot works as engineers expect it will, this could be a game changer for the concept of channel sharing.

So why does this matter?

If you live in the United States and you are reading this, you realize that America has gone mobile. Most Americans would have a hard time imagining life without their smartphones, and tens of millions are similarly in love with their tablets.

The problem is that spectrum, the lifeblood of all wireless technologies, is finite. That wasn’t a problem before the mobile web, when most consumers were mostly watching videos or surfing the web at home. If we don’t free up more airwaves for mobile broadband, demand for spectrum will eventually exceed the supply. If you’ve ever been frustrated by websites that loaded slowly or videos that wouldn’t download to your phone, you have a sense what that world could look like.

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Access and Public Safety: Enduring Elements of the Public Interest.

by Tom Wheeler, Chairman
January 30, 2014 - 05:36 PM

Technology and networks are rapidly changing. We support technological innovation, but our challenge is preserving the values that consumers and businesses have come to expect from their networks – universal access, public safety, competition, and consumer protection. That’s why earlier today, the Commission launched a broad set of voluntary experiments meant to ensure that the nation’s communications networks continue to provide the services consumers want and need as users and companies transition from plain old telephone service delivered over copper lines to wireless devices or other voice services using Internet Protocols, delivered over coaxial cable, fiber, or wireless networks.

The Commission also took a critical step to ensure wireless consumers will be able to reach 911 via text messaging – a capability that is critical and potentially life-saving for Americans who are hard-of-hearing.

Our mission is to ensure that as network providers and their customers upgrade to new technologies, there is no downgrade in reliability, availability, public safety, and competition.

The agenda for the Commission’s February meeting builds on this belief that there are values that define our networks that must be preserved, and it is united by a central theme: Access and Public Safety: Enduring Elements of the Public Interest.

There is no better example than the way that wireless phones have become one of, if not the, primary means by which many Americans communicate and what that means for ensuring public safety.

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Helping American Students Compete in a Digital World

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
January 24, 2014 - 02:30 PM

Earlier this month I visited Edna Brewer Middle School in Oakland, one of the tens of thousands of schools across America connected to the Internet thanks largely to the E-Rate program.  E-Rate was established as a result of the bipartisan Telecommunications Act of 1996 to help schools and libraries obtain affordable Internet access. For schools like Edna Brewer, E-Rate has been a game-changer for students and the dedicated professionals who teach them. While at Edna Brewer, I had the pleasure of engaging in insightful conversations with students, teachers, administrators and the Information Technology (IT) officer for the school district.  Each offered important perspectives about the transformational educational benefits of IT for student learning where it’s available, and the challenges faced by students and teachers when that access is denied.    

My visit underscored the fact that the needs of our schools have dramatically changed since E-Rate began in 1996.  To be prepared for college and the 21st Century workforce, students today need to have access to state-of-the-art, interactive, educational content; and tools for student collaboration, student-teacher communication, and lesson planning.  None of this will be possible if our students aren’t connected to networks capable of delivering that content and offering those tools.  

On my first day on the job I made clear that a top priority of the Commission must be to make networks work for everyone.  It isn’t enough to simply emphasize the need for more broadband; the focus has to be on what high-speed Internet connections enable, whether in fully connected classrooms or after school in a library.  We must lead the world in this effort. I am firmly committed to meeting the goal of connecting 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed broadband within five years.

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Ensuring an Open Internet Now and for the Future

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
January 14, 2014 - 05:19 PM

Now that the Court of Appeals has ruled on the Open Internet (Net Neutrality) Order upholding the Commission’s authority to act under Section 706, I want to provide a further insight into my oft-repeated statement that I am pro-open Internet.  This perspective will guide my actions and recommendations going forward.

The government, in the form of the FCC, is not going to take over the Internet. It is not going to dictate the architecture of the Internet. It is not going to do anything that gratuitously interferes with the organic evolution of the Internet in response to developments in technology, business models, and consumer behavior.

But the FCC also is not going to abandon its responsibility to oversee that broadband networks operate in the public interest. It is not going to ignore the historic reality that when a new network transitions to become an economic force that economic incentives begin to affect the public interest. This means that we will not disregard the possibility that exercises of economic power or of ideological preference by dominant network firms will diminish the value of the Internet to some or all segments of our society.

There is nothing about the foregoing that should cause serious anxiety, either to those watching out for the interests of internet users, or of those building and operating the facilities that make up the Internet. The key message is that the FCC has the authority – and has the responsibility – to regulate the activities of broadband networks. We will have ample opportunity to debate ways and means, to consider specifics in specific cases as they arise. But, there is no justification, and no serious basis, for doubt about the fundamentals.

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Adapting Regulatory Frameworks to 21st Century Networks and Markets

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
January 9, 2014 - 05:22 PM

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.

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The Path to a Successful Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 6, 2013 - 10:39 AM

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

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 2, 2013 - 12:50 PM

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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