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Alaska: Lessons Learned

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
September 5, 2014

Fulfilling a commitment I made last year to its congressional delegation, I spent a portion of August traveling throughout Alaska.  I wish to sincerely thank Congressman Young and Senators Murkowski and Begich and their respective staffs for sharing their state with my staff and me.   

Over eight days, I met with many Alaskan communications providers, state and local officials and tribal organizations, and visited several rural health care clinics and schools.  Most importantly, I was able to talk with Alaskans about their communications experiences and future needs, including at community discussions hosted at Old Harbor, Pilot Point and the Bristol Bay Native Association.  From this experience, I came away with a number of valuable lessons learned that I will keep with me in my current role at the FCC.    

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FCC Welcomes TechGirls

by Anita Dey, Chief, Regional & Bilateral Affairs Branch, Strategic Analysis and Negotiations Division, International Bureau
September 4, 2014

Tech Girls

Left to right: Mindel De La Torre (Chief, International Bureau), Imene Benzenache (TechGirl), Shahdan Abd El Kareem (TechGirl), Anita Dey, Isabelle Styslinger (IB/SAND Intern), Ena Dekanic (IB/SAND Legal Fellow).

Recently, the International Bureau hosted two remarkable “TechGirls,” 15-year-old Shahdan Abd El Kareem from Egypt and 17-year-old Imene Benzenache from Algeria, for a day of discussions and meetings with senior FCC leaders.  TechGirls is an international exchange program organized by the State Department that brings young women from the Middle East and North Africa on a three-week trip to the United States to explore career opportunities in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).  The FCC’s International Bureau has hosted girls frrm this program since the program began three years ago.  

Throughout the day, the TechGirls met with senior FCC leaders who shared their experiences as women professionals in the communications sector, offering advice on how they can achieve their goals and overcome societal and cultural expectations.   

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Adding More Color to the E-rate Maps

by Eric Spry, Acting Geographic Information Officer
August 20, 2014

Today we are pleased to release our first update to the FCC E-rate Maps of Fiber Connectivity to Schools and Libraries reflecting feedback we have received from stakeholders. These valuable data from state programs, school districts, and Internet providers across the country have helped us turn the gray, unknown, parts of the map to a known fiber connectivity status.

We are grateful for the interest these maps have already received and are pleased to release an updated version of the maps today, just one week after our initial release.  This version of the maps includes comments received and verified as of 3:30p EDT on 8/18/14 and modifies the weighting schemes to give a stronger preference to data submitted expressly for the purposes of this E-rate proceeding. 

The E-rate maps will continue to evolve and improve, along with the underlying data, available on the E-Rate Modernization Data page. We hope that stakeholders in the E-rate process will continue to stay engaged with our team by submitting feedback to schoolfibermap@fcc.gov for schools and libraryfibermap@fcc.gov for libraries.

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Moving Forward with a Data-Driven E-rate Modernization Process

by Jon Wilkins, Managing Director
August 12, 2014

Last month the Commission took a major step forward in modernizing E-rate by tackling the school and library Wi-Fi gap, maximizing cost-effective purchasing, and phasing down support for non-broadband services. In addition, the item includes a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks comment on, among other things, the long-term funding needs of the program in light of the overall broadband goals and the annual $1 billion target for Wi-Fi adopted in the E-rate Modernization Order

Chairman Wheeler has made clear that data will drive answers to questions about program funding, based on an understanding of current school and library connectivity and the projected costs necessary for all schools and libraries to meet the goals adopted in the E-rate Modernization Order. 

In support of this objective, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau and Office of Strategic Planning and Policy today released a staff report summarizing what we have learned to date as the result of an extraordinary effort to collect and analyze data, both about the current state of communications technology in America’s libraries and schools as well as the way the E-Rate program provides support.  We also published two maps providing a visualization of current fiber availability for schools and libraries across the country.  

The report is a highly illuminating read, both for longtime experts in the E-rate program as well as those more broadly interested in the state of education technology in America today.  A few insights from the report really stand out:

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FCC Transaction Review: Competition and the Public Interest

by Jon Sallet, General Counsel
August 12, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission has long played a unique and pivotal role in reviewing communications transactions. Our review is prescribed by the Communications Act and is separate from (though complementary to) the analysis conducted by our sister, antitrust agencies under Section 7 of the Clayton Act.

Three points about the Commission's review of transactions are important to understand: First, the nature of the substantive review that Congress has instructed the Commission to apply. Second, the process that the Commission has instituted, consistent with that statutory standard, to provide an open and fair means of reviewing transactions. Third, the manner in which the complementary approaches of the Commission and the antitrust agencies work harmoniously to serve the public interest in a sector that has traditionally been the subject of careful governmental scrutiny.

The starting point of our mission—and therefore, our substantive review—is the language of the Communications Act itself.

Congress has directed the Commission to review transactions involving licenses and authorizations under the Communications Act and to determine whether the proposed transaction would serve "the public interest, convenience, and necessity."1 The breadth and importance of the public-interest standard to the review of transactions involving our nation's communications networks logically flows from the Commission's statutory mission, since the conduct of buying other licensees can be as important to the public as the way a licensed company conducts itself in the absence of a transaction. This standard complements, but is different from the antitrust agencies' standard set forth Section 7 of the Clayton Act, which instructs them to challenge transactions that would "substantially lessen competition".

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Post Text of Meeting Items in Advance

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
August 7, 2014

Early in his tenure, Chairman Wheeler launched a laudable effort to reform a number of Commission procedures.  Because I was new to the Commission when ideas were solicited, I generally deferred to agency veterans on the proposals that were put forward.  But now that I am nine months into my term, I have become convinced that there is one significant change in our overall process that would be incredibly helpful: we should post on the FCC’s website the actual text of the items to be considered at our Open Meetings at the same time they are provided to Commissioners.    

Section 19.735-203 of the FCC’s rules prohibits disclosure of the content of items that will be voted on by the full Commission at a meeting or “by circulation” (not at a meeting).  Therefore, as soon as bureau staff sends the “8th Floor” a draft for consideration, the Commissioners are not allowed to reveal the substantive decisions with outside parties.  In other words, at the very moment that I learn the particulars of an important rulemaking upon which I will spend the next few weeks in ex parte meetings listening to stakeholder concerns, I am not permitted to disclose any details of the draft text in order to extract more thoughtful responses. 

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FCC Makes Open Internet Comments More Accessible to Public

by Gigi B. Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs, Office of the Chairman
August 5, 2014

It goes without saying that there has been tremendous interest in the FCC’s Open Internet rulemaking.  As of yesterday, over 1.1 million comments were filed in the docket, both through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and our special openinternet@fcc.gov email address.  We welcome and expect many more comments in the weeks to come.  And to be clear, every comment will be reviewed as part of the official record of this proceeding.

Because of the sheer number of comments and the great public interest in what they say, Chairman Wheeler has asked the FCC IT team to make the comments available to the public today in a series of six XML files, totaling over 1.4 GB of data – approximately two and half times the amount of plain-text data embodied in the Encyclopedia Britannica.  The release of the comments as Open Data in this machine-readable format will allow researchers, journalists and others to analyze and create visualizations of the data so that the public and the FCC can discuss and learn from the comments we’ve received.  Our hope is that these analyses will contribute to an even more informed and useful reply comment period, which ends on September 10.  We will make available additional XML files covering reply comments after that date.

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Empowering Small Businesses

by Roger C. Sherman, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief
August 1, 2014

Today, Chairman Wheeler circulated a proposal to open new opportunities for small and growing businesses in the mobile marketplace. Although the proposal may sound technical – updating the Commission’s approach to small business participation in wireless auctions— the purpose is simple: To provide innovative, smaller companies the opportunity to build wireless businesses that can spur additional investment and bring more choices to consumers.

Think about the wireless industry today. Consumer demand is exploding, data usage is growing exponentially, and faster 4G networks enable even more data services. That kind of growth should naturally lead to more opportunity for more businesses to serve more consumers.

But current FCC rules stand in the way. The current rules are a by-product of an earlier time— before data services became ubiquitous, before Congress instructed us to make more spectrum available to wireless networks, and, equally important, before consolidation in the wireless industry accelerated.

When the rules were first written in the 90s, we believed that bidding credits for spectrum auctions should be used only to acquire licenses by companies that would engage exclusively in building their own networks to provide retail or wholesale services – often referred to as “facilities based” service. That made sense when the wireless industry was in its infancy.

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Updating FCC Policies and Processes

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 18, 2014

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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Commission Continues Important Work of Providing Relief from the High Cost of Inmate Calling

by Kalpak Gude, Chief, Pricing Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau
July 18, 2014

On July 9, 2014 the FCC held a workshop to analyze the impact of, and discuss issues relating to, ongoing reforms of Inmate Calling Services (ICS). 

Last fall, the Commission – in response to a petition that had languished for almost a decade – reformed what it concluded was an unjust, unreasonable, and unfair ICS rate structure by adopting a Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Order) on the subject.  Among other things, the Order capped interstate rates at $0.21/minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.25/minute for collect inmate calling.  These rates took effect on February 11, 2014. 

By holding this workshop, the Commission highlights its continued commitment to ensure just, reasonable and fair rates, by hosting frank and open discussions with groups representing diverse points of view, including ICS providers, public policy leaders, elected officials, correctional facility officials, human rights organizations, and inmate advocacy groups.

We heard about the impact that the Commission’s reforms have had on inmates and their friends and families, but also learned that there is more to be done.  For example, we learned that:

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