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FCC Releases Open Internet Reply Comments to the Public

by Gigi B. Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs, Office of the Chairman
October 22, 2014 - 04:07 PM

It is now well known that the FCC’s Open Internet docket is the most commented upon rulemaking in the agency’s history, with more than 3.9 million submissions to date filed both through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), our dedicated openinternet@fcc.gov  email address, and via the additional option of Comma Separated Values (CSV) files.   Regardless of the method through which a comment was filed, every comment submitted has been made part of the official record of this proceeding. 

After the first initial comment period ended, our IT team made those comments available to the public in a series of XML files.  These files allowed researchers, journalists, and others to analyze the data so that the public and the FCC itself could discuss and learn from the comments.   The Sunlight Foundation, TechCrunch and the San Francisco analysis firm Quid were just some of the organizations and individuals who analyzed some or all the files and made those analyses available to the public. 

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Safety and Broadband Must Go Hand in Hand

October 15, 2014 - 12:11 PM

The wireless industry is a powerful driver of growth in our economy. New facilities pop up all the time, giving the devices in our pockets and purses better service and faster broadband connections. Our country relies on these connections, but serving America's exploding demand for them shouldn't come at the cost of a worker's life.

Too often though, that's exactly what is happening. In 2013, 13 workers lost their lives in this industry. This year: 11 so far. The tower industry might be small, currently employing 10,000 to 15,000 workers, but it's quickly proving to be one of the most dangerous. And if we don't do something now, the number of fatalities will grow as fast as the industry does.

This is why our agencies joined together yesterday with telecommunications and tower industry leaders to address this heartbreaking problem. We know that we can only solve it if we work together; that we each have a role to play in stopping these senseless tragedies. It's also why we're proud to announce that our partnership on this issue doesn't end today, but will continue in the form of a joint working group the FCC and DOL have decided to form, with industry participation, to develop recommended practices for employers.

We know that no one intends for a tower construction project to take a life. Contracts for tower work are often written to ensure safety from top to bottom, but that message often gets diluted in a decentralized industry that uses so much subcontracting. We have to make sure the protections are making it from the folks on the ground to the person 1,000 feet in the air holding the wrench or wearing the harness.

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Harmful Consumer Wireless Behavior and Practices

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
October 14, 2014 - 05:45 PM

Today’s wireless devices are amazing tools that empower people. Our wireless phones, smartphones, tablets, phablets and more allow us to seamlessly communicate, as well as take advantage of all Internet features and functions.  As a result, we have integrated these wireless capabilities into our daily lives. Such increased mobility, however, has led to troubling behavior by some users that deserve everyone’s attention. During my recent trips across our great nation, I was infuriated to hear of continued wireless device misuse. For many reasons, some consumers have yet to see or understand that their risky wireless practices and habits can harm themselves and other people.       

Distracted Driving – The number of people that are killed and injured by distracted driving is staggering. For instance, the National Safety Council estimates that there have been over 810,000 accidents in 2014, or about one every 30 seconds, involving texting on wireless phones by drivers. To put it in more granular form, the Arizona Department of Public Safety found that during a five-month period earlier this year, 10 people died and 380 people were injured because of distracted driving.  And the problem may be getting worse. A 2013 AT&T survey indicated that 49 percent of commuters admitted to texting while driving, up from 40 percent three years ago.

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An Update on Process Reform Efforts to Reduce Backlog

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Office of the Chairman
October 9, 2014 - 03:31 PM

Since the release of the Report on FCC Process Reform last February, the dedicated staff here at the Commission has been hard at work on implementing the report’s recommendations.  One area of particular focus has been tackling matters that have been considered backlogged, and – even more importantly – increasing speed of disposal for all matters.  As noted in the Report, backlogs generally develop because of (1) increased volume of work; (2) complex issues; (3) inter-related issues; and/or (4) need for coordination with others.  Two key internal process reform working groups have been examining ways to not only reduce the number of items currently pending at the Commission, but to also move incoming items through the system faster.  A few examples of progress in this area include:

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Transaction Reviews and the Public Interest

October 7, 2014 - 02:57 PM

Today, in connection with two significant and simultaneous merger reviews, the Media Bureau issued an Order establishing unique protections for the Merger Applicants’ programming contracts, retransmission agreements, and other related materials.

This new procedure balances three important public-interest obligations: (i) the Commission’s need for access to highly relevant information about the Applicants’ business practices, (ii) other parties’ need to express informed views to the Commission about the transactions, and (iii) the need to ensure that sensitive competitive information is used solely for that purpose.

These obligations are supported by the law, which requires that we decide whether a proposed transaction would further the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” That analysis is informed by the Applicants’ past course of conduct, which is critical to understanding the impact of a future merger.  Equally important is the legal command that the Commission’s decision be based on a public record developed through public notice and an opportunity to comment.

The Commission often obtains sensitive commercial information along the way. And it has a long-established method of handling such information. Through a binding Protective Order, third parties can gain access to Highly Confidential Information only after agreeing to restrictions that are based on years of Commission experience. For example, the only people allowed to see Highly Confidential Information are outside representatives who personally acknowledge and commit to abide by these restrictions.  The information may be used only in connection with the proceeding in which it is produced, and no one involved in competitive decision-making is eligible to see it. Individuals also must destroy or return the information when the Commission’s proceeding is over.

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Evolution in the Cellular Service

by Roger C. Sherman, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
October 2, 2014 - 11:40 AM

In the 1980s, the FCC launched the 800 MHz Cellular Service, the first “cell phone” spectrum band, sparking a worldwide mobile revolution.  Three decades later, Cellular has been, by any measure, an incredible success.  Using these frequencies, wireless operators have deployed multiple generations of wireless networks covering more than 99% of the U.S. population.  Yet, with the passage of time, it has become clear that many of the rules governing the Cellular Service have not kept pace with changes in technology and in the overall regulatory landscape.  The time has come to upgrade the Cellular Service rules for the 21st Century.

Today, Chairman Wheeler circulated a draft Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that puts forth major changes to modernize and streamline the Commission’s rules and application processes for Cellular Service licensees.   This reform would fulfill a recommendation in the Staff Report on FCC Process Reform by reducing regulatory burdens and fostering the deployment of new generations of Cellular Service across the country. 

Since the Commission first adopted rules governing the Cellular Service, mobile service and mobile devices have evolved from analog-based voice communications using suitcase-style devices, to high speed mobile broadband using pocket sized computers.  The Cellular Service licensing rules have not kept pace.

Over time, many of the Commission’s legacy Cellular rules that were instrumental in developing a successful service have outlived their usefulness and some now burden the timely deployment of the latest technologies.  

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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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Exploring New Ideas for Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
September 22, 2014 - 12:29 PM

Last week was a big one in the Commission’s quest for the best approach to protect and promote an Open Internet.

Our public comment period ended on Monday . . . with more than 3.7 million comments and reply comments submitted by a public that is passionate about this issue. Many of these comments focused on potentially harmful effects of paid prioritization on innovation and free expression, among other values. On Tuesday and Friday, the Commission hosted 12 hours of discussions in the Open Internet Roundtables, including dialogue on the threats to an Open Internet and policies to address those threats, the scope of new Open Internet rules, proposed enhancements to existing transparency rules, the application of Open Internet rules to mobile broadband, the best ways to enforce Open Internet rules, and the technical aspects of ensuring an Open Internet.

On Wednesday, Chairman Wheeler testified before Congress and explained that all options are open and that, in particular, Title II is very much on the table. On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Open Internet.

At the week’s close, Chairman Wheeler emphasized that the Commission is looking for a rainbow of policy and legal proposals, rather than being confined to what he called limited “monochromatic” options.

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Connecting All Schools and Libraries – Learning from State Strategies and Data

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
September 19, 2014 - 12:55 PM

Outreach to state and school district staff and library leaders has been a critical element of the E-rate modernization process.  Commission staff has been in frequent contact with staff from school districts, state agencies, libraries, and research and education networks (RENs) from across the country.  These outreach efforts provide important insights on the varying approaches that states are taking to the challenge of delivering high-speed broadband to all schools and libraries. 

Much of the knowledge gained from our outreach is compiled in the State Connectivity Profiles released today.   Each State Connectivity Profile lays out an overview of K-12 school and library connectivity in the state, including an explanation of any state network or REN infrastructure and a breakdown overview of how schools and libraries purchase Internet access, wide area network (WAN) connections, and internal connections. 

These profiles provide a thorough summary of connectivity data, purchasing strategies, and broadband deployment policies from a geographically diverse sample of states with differing populations and approaches to delivering high-speed broadband to all schools and libraries.  All connectivity data and narrative descriptions in the State Connectivity Profiles are drawn from conversations with school district, state agency, or REN staff and have been reviewed and verified by the appropriate staff in each state. 

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