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Affirmatively Expand Permissible Foreign Ownership

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 3, 2015 - 04:03 PM

For decades, extensive studies and corresponding analysis have demonstrated the vast benefits of removing barriers to international trade. Our experiences from previous trade agreements have shown the direct payoffs of eliminating or reducing artificial barriers and protectionist measures. Among countless other benefits, increased trade has produced higher standards of living for Americans, expanded foreign markets for our products, reduced costs for goods and services. It's also one area where many Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere, as well as the current Administration, strongly agree. Fortunately, the Commission has the opportunity to further this bipartisan cause by reducing barriers to foreign investment in the U.S. communications marketplace. Let's seize this moment!

The Communications Act already affords the Commission the flexibility to relax restrictions on foreign investment in certain radio licensees, including broadcast and commercial wireless. Specifically, current law prohibits greater than 25 percent of foreign investment in a U.S. entity that controls, directly or indirectly, a U.S. radio licensee, but only if the public interest would be served by the Commission refusing or revoking a license. In other words, the Commission is free to permit a higher foreign limit or waive the limit altogether, which was confirmed in the Commission's unanimous November 2013 Declaratory Ruling. Disappointingly, the Commission declined, at that time, to make such a positive step, deciding only to confirm that requests from current or prospective broadcast licensees seeking approval for foreign investment above the threshold would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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The Process of Governance: The FCC & the Open Internet Order

by Jon Sallet, General Counsel
March 2, 2015 - 03:22 PM

The Commission’s recent adoption of new Open Internet rules has received unprecedented attention and, along with national debate about the outcomes, has generated significant interest in the process by which the FCC, like other independent regulatory agencies, creates rules. In particular, people want to know when the new rules will be released for public review. The answer is tied to a broader question of governance: How does the FCC best create an enforceable rule that reflects public input, permits internal deliberation, and is built to withstand judicial review? As with its substantive decisions, the answer is simple – by following Congress’ blueprints. As with governance generally, the goal is obvious: To engage in effective, informed action that furthers the public interest.

That’s “blueprints” in the plural. The two pillars of Congressional will are expressed in the Communications Act, the touchstone of our substantive authority, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the foundation of federal administrative action.

Among the Communications Act’s important provisions are two of particular importance to the Open Internet Order: Title II, which governs “telecommunications service,” and Section 706, by which Congress empowered the FCC to promote broadband deployment and to remove barriers to broadband network investment while promoting competition.

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Celebrating National Consumer Protection Week

by Kris Monteith, Acting Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 2, 2015 - 01:44 PM

This week, March 1-7, 2015, the FCC is celebrating National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), joining with a coalition of more than 85 consumer advocacy groups and federal, state and local government agencies in a coordinated campaign to help raise awareness about consumer protection. Together we’re encouraging consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. 

At an NCPW kickoff event in late February, the FCC  joined a number of coalition member in face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staff to discuss consumer issues and disseminate helpful consumer information.

Each day throughout NCPW we encourage you to check our website – http://www.fcc.gov– for tips and links to helpful information about issues such as smart device theft protection, phone bill cramming, accessibility to consumer help, emergency communications, and more.

Our coalition’s web site (http://www.ncpw.gov/) also offers consumers a wealth of tips and information on topics such as finances, health, privacy, technology and more.

You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you're planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau works year-round with the Commission’s other bureaus and offices to educate consumers facing issues and challenges around communications technologies and services, with the goals of consumer protection and empowerment.

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Technology Has Heart

by Dr. Nina Miller, Senior Policy Fellow, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 27, 2015 - 10:24 AM

As we near the end of February -- American Heart Month -- and begin to look toward spring, it’s a good time to reflect on a critical health issue in the United States:  heart disease. At the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, our goal is to better enable the use of broadband and advanced technologies to help consumers get well and stay healthy. Heart disease, affecting a growing number of Americans each year, is an area ripe for innovative technology-based solutions to improve its management, treatment, and ultimate prevention.

The critical nature of this endeavor requires little explanation for in the words of Aristotle, “the heart is the perfection of the whole organism.” And yet, despite its philosophical and biological significance, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women with over 600,000 lives lost each year. That accounts for an astonishing 1 in every 4 deaths. Furthermore, 1 in 3 American adults currently have some form of heart disease.

As a physician, I have seen the devastating effects of advanced heart disease first hand. From repeat hospitalizations due to poorly controlled heart failure to emergency surgeries for heart attacks, the impact of heart disease is profound. Fortunately, however, I have also seen the promise of broadband-enabled solutions to better prevent and control this disease.

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Good News for Consumers, Innovators and Financial Markets

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 26, 2015 - 12:05 PM

Thank you to the over four million Americans who participated in the Open Internet proceeding. Thanks to them, this decision on Internet openness was itself the most open proceeding in the history of the FCC.

As a result, the FCC today has taken an important step that should reassure consumers, innovators and the financial markets about the broadband future of our nation.

Consumers now know that lawful content will not be blocked or their service throttled. Today’s action puts in place bright line rules to ban these practices outright.

Innovators now know they will have open access to consumers without worrying about pay-for-preference fast lanes. This, too, is a bright line rule to ban paid prioritization.

Financial markets now know that rate regulation, tariffing and forced unbundling – the old-style utility regulation – has been superseded by a modernized regulatory approach that has already been demonstrated to work. The rules under which the wireless industry invested $300 billion to build a vibrant and growing business are the pro-investment model for the rules we adopted today.

The future of the Internet does not reside in backward-looking regulation from another era. There are 48 sections of Title II of the Communications Act. The modern regulatory approach we adopted today cuts away 27 of those provisions (even more than were removed for mobile voice service) to establish the above-mentioned bright line regulations for issues that exist today, and to apply the well-known “just and reasonable” standard as the rule for Internet activity going forward.

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Driving Wi-Fi Ahead: the Upper 5 GHz Band

February 23, 2015 - 05:02 PM

Today’s Wi-Fi spectrum bands are wildly popular.  But with more and more people and devices taking advantage of this technology, these bands are getting congested.  It reminds us of the famous Yogi Berra quote, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” 

In response to the growing use of Wi-Fi, the Federal Communications Commission has taken steps to meet the growing demand for additional unlicensed spectrum.  Last year, we added 100 megahertz of spectrum for Wi-Fi in the lower 5 GHz band.  The Commission is also seeking to secure some unlicensed spectrum opportunities in the 600 MHz band as part of our upcoming incentive auction.  But more needs to be done—and soon.

One spectrum band that we believe needs greater attention is in the upper 5 GHz band.  In light of the proximity to spectrum in other parts of the 5 GHz band that are already used for unlicensed services, this is a prime candidate to help meet the demand for Wi-Fi.  Unlicensed services generally share spectrum with other radio services on a non-interference basis.  So one of the bands identified for potential new sharing is the 75 megahertz of spectrum located at 5850 to 5925 MHz (also known as the U-NII-4 band) that was allocated by the Commission in 1999 for Dedicated Short Range Communications Service (DSRC) systems intended to improve roadway safety. 

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Just Around the Broadband Bend

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 23, 2015 - 04:04 PM

It's often said that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.  I had just such an experience when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force went to Jackson and Sunflower County, Mississippi

Our meetings, roundtables, and site visits demonstrated the transformative power of broadband in health.  They reinforced in living color ― indeed, in Ole Miss crimson and Jackson State navy ― that we can’t be weary in well doing and that there is a critical need especially in our rural communities to get broadband done right and get it done right, now.  And, they put real faces and families behind our every policy effort.

According to a recent study, Mississippi was ranked the unhealthiest state in the nation for the third consecutive year.  As the deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers will tell you, Mississippi has the highest number of deaths from cardiovascular disease and the second highest prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the country.  On the broadband connectivity front, the vast rural stretches of the state present significant challenges. 

But, Mississippi is much more than its health and broadband connectivity metrics.  I saw this first hand when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force visited rural Mississippi, the second stop in its Beyond the Beltway series.

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Embrace the Internet for EEO “Widely Disseminated Rule”

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 20, 2015 - 03:21 PM

As I have said previously, I believe the Internet is the greatest man-made invention in my lifetime. We spend a considerable amount of time and effort at the Commission determining how best to remove barriers to its deployment, studying and reporting its speed and availability, scolding broadband companies for not doing enough and, in some cases, providing American ratepayer subsidies to ensure it will reach all corners of our country.  Therefore, it comes as a surprise – and a disappointment – that we don’t embrace it when it comes to compliance with existing Commission rules.  I previously highlighted that the Internet was the appropriate vehicle for providing broadcast contest rules, and the Commission has been updating our regulations accordingly, but the Internet may be just as important for communications companies trying to attract a diverse workforce. 

The Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules require broadcast and cable companies to distribute information far and wide—and provide evidence of such outreach—when they have open positions to be filled.  Specifically, the rules require broadcasters with five or more, and multi-channel video programming distributors with six or more, full-time employees to cast a wide net to recruit minority and female applicants for all full-time job vacancies. These employee search efforts are required to be part of companies’ public files, which are either currently online or likely to be in the near future, and are subject to random Commission audits to ensure compliance and analyze performance.  And companies are subject to enforcement actions when EEO rules are not followed.    

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Sound Principles for Lifeline Reform

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 13, 2015 - 03:51 PM

Over the last few years, the Commission has taken action to reform each of its universal service distribution programs to refocus them on broadband. The only program outstanding is the Low-Income or "Lifeline" program. Given recent pronouncements, I expect some changes to Lifeline in the not-too-distant future.

The Lifeline program was originally intended to provide low-income consumers with a discount to help make wireline telephone service more affordable. Over time, it began to pay for prepaid wireless service, and the "discount" often covers the entire monthly bill. That shift has more than doubled the size of the program. It also created problematic incentives that opened the door to waste, fraud and abuse that have never been sufficiently resolved. This is unacceptable.

The Commission has taken important steps to rein in program excesses, including by requiring annual eligibility re-certifications and instituting a database (the NLAD) to screen for duplicate subsidies. However, it appears that abuses are continuing.

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The 'Wonders' of Video Description Technology

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 13, 2015 - 01:47 PM

A few months ago, Stevie Wonder visited the FCC to talk about how we can harness the power of technology to make performance art more accessible.  At that time, I discovered that Mr. Wonder would be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.  When he urged the FCC to raise awareness about and availability of audio description of video programming, I thought the Grammy special would be a wonderful showcase.

On February 16, 2015, thanks to the leadership of CBS CEO Les Moonves, CBS will use video description on its broadcast of "Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life - an All-Star GRAMMY Salute." It is the first time video description has ever been used for a musical performance program. 

If you're unfamiliar with video description technology, it's a feature that allows consumers who are blind or visually impaired to listen to an audio track describing a video program's visual elements when there is no audio accompanying those elements.  The audio describes non-verbal actions taking place on the screen, such as a body language, scene changes, setting, visual jokes, costumes or other content.  People who can see take for granted these silent but essential aspects of programming, but, without video description, people who are blind miss them.

Many popular television programs today offer video description services, including Fox's "Bones," NBC's "Grimm," PBS's "Downton Abbey," Nickelodeon's "Go Diego Go, " USA's "Royal Pains," and many more. You can experience what video description offers to the public by watching this video clip.

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