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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

Meeting the Mobile Moment

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
September 26, 2014 - 10:59 AM

Last weekend’s record-setting launch of the new iPhone is just the latest reminder that our appetite for new mobile technologies appears to be insatiable. And this continuous cycle of mobile innovation is not only delighting U.S. consumers, it’s a major force in driving economic growth, boosting U.S. competitiveness, and enabling solutions to challenges like education and health care.

Seizing the opportunities of mobile innovation is one of the FCC’s highest priorities. Our mobile agenda rests on three pillars: making more spectrum available for broadband; using the market and technology to ensure more efficient and effective use of our spectrum; and promoting the deployment of mobile infrastructure. Today, I’m circulating to my colleagues a series of proposals that would advance each of these goals.

High-speed mobile broadband requires high-speed broadband buildout. However, the regulatory burdens associated with deployments can be expensive and time-consuming. We have to fix that.

For that reason, I circulated an item today that takes concrete steps to immediately and substantially ease the burdens associated with deploying wireless equipment.

The draft order recognizes that a technological revolution with regard to infrastructure deployment has changed the landscape. New Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks and other small-cell systems use components that are a fraction of the size of traditional macrocells and can be installed – unobtrusively – on utility poles, buildings, and other existing structures.

The draft order accounts for that change by crafting a far more efficient process for small deployments that do not trigger concerns about environmental protection or historic preservation.

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Talking Tech in the Cradle of Liberty

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
September 22, 2014 - 05:27 PM

Two-hundred twenty-seven years ago this week, the U.S. Constitution was ratified in Philadelphia, establishing our system of government and enshrining a vision of a more perfect Union that still guides us today. Part of that vision was the belief that promoting communications promotes a healthy democracy. The Constitution established the Postal Office, in part to help subsidize the press and to facilitate the distribution of news and information to the American people.

Today, I spent the day in Philadelphia and saw just the latest evidence that, while the technology has changed, our Founding Fathers’ insight into the importance of communications to our democracy’s health remains evergreen.

I met with local leaders who explained how people in their communities needed access to modern communications not only to stay informed, but also to find jobs, to further their education, and to and engage with their elected leaders.

I visited Philadelphia’s Free Library, which serves a community on-ramp to the world of information, especially for children and for people on fixed incomes. And, increasingly, this information is not found in books but on the Internet. Philadelphia residents who don’t have computers are visiting the Free Library to get online. And area students visit the library after school to use the computers to help complete their homework assignments.

The FCC’s E-Rate program has helped ensure that libraries and schools across America have Internet connectivity. This past July, the Commission approved the first major modernization of the E-Rate program since it was established 18 years ago. These reforms will substantially increase funding available to support Wi-Fi connectivity in libraries and schools, will make the program more user-friendly for libraries, and will increase efficiencies to make E-Rate dollars go farther.

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Updating Old Policies; Pioneering New Ones

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
September 9, 2014 - 01:38 PM

Since becoming Chairman, I’ve spoken often about the importance of reviewing the FCC’s rules and processes, and eliminating or modernizing outdated practices that no longer make sense. There is no better example of an FCC rule that has outlived its usefulness and deserves to be eliminated than our sports blackout rule.

In 1975, the Commission enacted rules barring cable from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out – strengthening the NFL’s blackout policy. Today, the rules make no sense at all.   

The sports blackout rules are a bad hangover from the days when barely 40 percent of games sold out and gate receipts were the league’s principal source of revenue.  Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television. NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out.

Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable. And we at the FCC shouldn’t be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It’s time to sack the sports blackout rule.

That’s why today, I am sending to my fellow commissioners a proposal to get rid of the FCC’s blackout rule once and for all. It fulfills a commitment I made in June. We will vote on the proposal at the Commission’s open meeting on September 30. 

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Updating FCC Policies and Processes

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 18, 2014 - 01:53 PM

The American economy is dynamic and innovative, which is critical for sustained economic growth. The FCC is tasked with overseeing broadband and other communications networks. We must be as agile as the communications sector, as well as protect consumers. Both goals will be served in the items I circulate today for our August meeting.

First, we must ensure that consumers can continue to rely on 911, even as the technologies and platforms we use to communicate evolve.

This past April, we saw a large-scale 911 outage centered in Washington state, where more than 4,500 911 calls did not get through during one six-hour period. The FCC launched an investigation in to these outages in May, and the investigation is ongoing. Initial reports suggest that this outage appears to be a case where the transition to new networks may have been managed poorly and providers in the 911 ecosystem are not operating in a manner that is transparent to system users, regulators and each other.

Let me be plain – no company will be allowed to hang up on 911.

Admiral David Simpson, the head of our Public Safety Bureau, delivered this message to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners earlier this week. He was clear -- incumbent providers that have taken a responsibility for making 911 work have also undertaken a public trust that cannot be compromised.  It will never be acceptable to tell anyone they can’t connect to 911 because of “innovation in the cloud” or a new business model, or because a new communications function has superseded carrier responsibility.  The bottom line is 911 must be preserved and improved.

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The Need to Modernize the FCC’s IT Systems

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 16, 2014 - 04:46 PM

It’s wonderful that more than 900,000 Americans have expressed their opinions in the first round of Open Internet comments. The Commission’s decision to extend until Friday the period for public comments on the Open Internet proceeding reflects both the public’s interest in the topic as well as the antiquated IT capabilities of the agency that have not been able to handle the surge of comments.

The FCC has been forced by budget restrictions to operate with an IT infrastructure that would be unacceptable to any well-managed business.  Efforts to upgrade this IT capability were a casualty of sequestration. Most recently, the agency requested of Congress approximately $13 million for IT upgrades in the FY 2015 appropriation. I appreciate that the Senate subcommittee has provided the Commission with full funding in its FY 2015 spending bill, so that we can make these important upgrades.   Unfortunately, the appropriations bill passed by the House today would fund the FCC at $17 million below current levels and $53 million below our overall budget request, dramatically undermining any effort to modernize our IT systems.

The ability to improve the FCC’s internal procedures – an important priority for Congress – will be hurt without 21st Century IT infrastructure.

The ability of the public to communicate with their government has – as we have seen – already has been hurt by the inability of the FCC to receive all of their comments without complication.

The ability of those companies the FCC regulates to express their views is similarly hurt by an infrastructure none of them would tolerate in their own companies, even though their fees pay for the FCC budget without touching tax dollars.

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New Opportunities in New Mexico’s Indian Country

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 30, 2014 - 02:04 PM

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting the Pueblo of Acoma in central New Mexico along with Senator Tom Udall, my second visit to Indian Country in 2014.  I saw buildings carved out of the earth by hand in the 17th Century, and also met with community leaders focused on unlocking the digital opportunities of the 21st Century.

I had enlightening discussions with Tribal leaders on the economic development opportunities that come with enhanced communications access.  The conversations brought home the heightened importance for Tribal communities of so many issues before the FCC.

Acoma illustrates the power of communications technology to overcome geographic isolation and put a world of information and economic opportunity at the fingertips of citizens in even the most remote communities.

It also demonstrates how we still have a digital divide in this country, with rural communities, and especially Native Americans, disproportionately on the wrong side, getting bypassed by the Internet revolution.

Acoma is located in Cibola County, where nearly half of residents (45%) don’t even have access to 3 Mbps broadband, which is less than what’s recommended to stream HD video without problems. Barely 10 % have access to 10 Mbps broadband. We must do better.

In communities like Acoma with low broadband access rates, the local library is often a digital lifeline for area residents. That’s certainly true of Acoma.

I visited the Acoma Learning Center – the town library, which has a computer lab with 10 desktops. Area adults rely on the Learning Center’s computer lab to look up information on everything from jobs to health care, and children use these computers for help with their homework after school.

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The Incentive Auction: Helping Broadcasters Make Informed Decisions

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 25, 2014 - 02:41 PM

Last month, the FCC made history by adopting rules for the first-ever Incentive Auction. We moved an innovative approach –marrying the economics of wireless providers’ demand for spectrum with the economics of television broadcasters, the current holders of spectrum—one huge step from concept to reality.  

Robust participation by broadcasters will be critical to the success of the auction. The auction is a risk-free, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for broadcasters, but the decision of whether or not to participate is completely voluntary and confidential.  We recognize that spectrum auctions are new for most broadcasters, and that we owe them additional information before the Incentive Auction.  As anyone who’s made a major sale or purchase knows, having more information leads to better decisions.

Before I joined the Commission I was an investor in technology companies.  In that job, I needed to know as much information about a company as possible in order to decide if I should financially back it. I called that research the “Book.”  As FCC Chairman, I’m committed to ensuring broadcasters have all the information they need to make an informed business decision about whether and how to participate in the Incentive Auction.

That process continues today.

First, we’re providing an updated estimated timeline of Commission actions leading up to and after the auction.  Importantly, this timeline details steps broadcasters will need to take to participate in the auction. Read our timeline.

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Access to the Underserved: Keeping Up with the Times

by Tom Wheeler, Chairman
June 20, 2014 - 02:56 PM

Eighty years ago yesterday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Communications Act into law, establishing the Federal Communications Commission. This new agency’s central mission was “to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service.”

Fast forward to today, and the Commission’s work remains focused on ensuring ALL Americans have access to world-class communications. In 2014, that increasingly means access to wired and wireless broadband. Consistent with that focus and our founding statute, the theme of the Commission’s July open meeting will be, “Access to the Underserved: Keeping Up with the Times.”

One of the Commission’s primary vehicles for ensuring citizens can get online is our E-Rate program. Over the past 18 years, E-Rate has helped ensure that one of society’s most basic responsibilities – educating our children – has evolved with new technology. At school, students and teachers benefit from connecting to the world of online information. In libraries, that connection expands all citizens’ ability to gather information, apply for jobs, and interact with government services.

The realities of the Internet, however, are different today than they were when E-Rate was introduced. The E-Rate program must be updated to meet today’s needs of schools and libraries.

New technologies like tablets and digital textbooks are providing great new opportunities for individualized learning and research. Effective use of this technology requires individual connections in schools and libraries to personal devices, and Wi-Fi is the most cost-effective way to provide this connectivity.

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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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