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Official FCC Blog

Looking Back, Moving Forward

by: Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman

May 23, 2014

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.

Fast forward to today, and the Commission is grappling with the transition to the next network revolution – the digital revolution that is being fueled by ubiquitous high-speed connectivity and increasingly powerful computing devices. Next month’s open Commission meeting will be highlighted by an update on our efforts to facilitate the transition from the circuit-switched networks of Alexander Graham Bell to a world with fiber, cable and wireless Internet Protocol (IP) networks. This past January, the Commission unanimously adopted an Order inviting service providers to propose voluntary experiments designed to assess how the transition to IP networks impacts users and initiating targeted experiments. In three weeks, the Commission will receive a status report on proposed experiments and how best to deploy next-generation networks, while preserving enduring values like universal access, competition and consumer protection. The Commission will also hear a presentation on progress made in processing Low Power FM applications from the October 2013 window.  The success of the Media Bureau in this area is one of the Commission’s recent success stories and has truly helped to bring new voices to the American public.   

Over the past six months, the Commission has taken many other significant actions to reflect the new realities of the Internet age.

Notably, we’ve made significant progress tackling the spectrum crunch that is being driven by the explosion in mobile broadband traffic. We held the first spectrum auction since 2008, 10 MHz in the H-Block, which raised over $1.5 billion, and recently scheduled our AWS-3 auction for this November; we have opened a new 100 MHz swath in the 5 MHz band to be used for Wi-Fi; we have opened a proceeding on spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz band, which could make up to 150 MHz of spectrum available for wireless broadband use; and last week, we approved ground rules for the world’s first Incentive Auction. 

On universal service, we recently moved forward with Phase II of our Connect America Fund, which will help 5 million Americans get access to broadband for the first time.

In the area of public safety, we’ve made progress working with wireless carriers and emergency call centers to make it possible for consumers to text-to-911. We also advanced a proposal to improve location accuracy for wireless 911 calls.

We’ve also launched a proceeding to find the best way to preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.

The holiday weekend gives us the opportunity to pause and reflect on the past – recent and distant – but be assured that the Commission is firmly focused on the future, and we will continue working to update our rules and operations to help seize the opportunities of today’s network revolution.

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