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The Broadband Health Imperative

by Dr. Chris Gibbons, FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
November 10, 2014 - 04:18 PM

For almost a decade and a half, as an Associate Director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, it has been my responsibility to work on one of the most challenging problems in healthcare − improving population health.  My work has taken me from the so-called “ivory tower” of Johns Hopkins to the homes, alleys and communities of inner city East Baltimore. 

Through my experiences, I’ve realized that despite the U.S. having an amazing healthcare system, it was doing little to reduce the endless flow of patients coming into emergency rooms and hospitals for care. We could treat many physical and psychological ailments, but we were often powerless to provide the support patients and families needed to manage their chronic diseases or truly live “well”.

We were powerless not because we could not see what was needed nor because we did not care; rather, as the infographic below suggests, there were too many people that needed treatment and not enough providers to meet their needs.  We were taught as medical students to focus on tests, diagnostics, therapies and treatments.  I, like many others, believed that if we could just give the best care to every patient, we would ultimately fix our nation’s health care problems.  But it isn’t that simple.

Consumers rely on many resources for their health – doctors, social services, nutritionists, pharmacies, caregivers and others.  When these “providers” remain unconnected, it is a prescription for frustration, burnout, high costs and suboptimal outcomes. 

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Introducing FCC Distinguished Health IT Scholar, Dr. Chris Gibbons

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
November 10, 2014 - 11:16 AM

The American scientist and inventor Edwin Land once said, “don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”  (You may recall that Land co-founded the Polaroid Corporation, which revolutionized instant photography.)

Connecting everyone, everywhere to the people, services and information they need to get healthy and stay well – the fundamental vision of the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force – is such a challenge.  It’s not impossible, in my view, but manifestly important to the health of our nation and the stability of our economy.  And, it’s not impossible if we continue to leverage the power of broadband and advanced technology tools.

Over the summer, the Task Force heard from a wide range of stakeholders in the broadband health space who agree that this is a challenge we must accept.  They’ve encouraged us to take the long view, pursuing tangible, near-term gains in accelerating broadband adoption and promoting health IT, but also thinking 10-15 years out so the Commission can stay ahead of the curve. 

An undertaking of this magnitude requires a multi-disciplinary approach and a broad range of stakeholder partners.  That’s why I’m pleased to introduce a key member of our team, Dr. Michael Chris Gibbons of Johns Hopkins University.  Dr. Gibbons serves as an FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence, providing critical health IT, population health and data analytics heft to our team.  

Dr. Gibbons is a physician informatician, healthcare disparities and urban health expert whose academic research has focused on the use of technology and consumer health informatics to improve healthcare disparities.  He also received training in general surgery at Johns Hopkins, prior to completing a preventive medicine residency. 

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Technology Transitions: Consumers Matter Most

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 31, 2014 - 03:19 PM

This past January, the Commission unanimously adopted an order to speed technology transitions for the benefit of consumers.  How?  By assuring that technology transitions bring innovation while protecting the enduring values that consumers have come to expect from their networks, including public safety, consumer protection and competition.

The time has come to put those principles into practice. Today, I am circulating to my fellow Commissioners two items that take up the task of encouraging technology transitions while protecting those core values.

Tremendous benefits can be realized by the transition of public safety to IP-based networks. For example, IP-based networks will enable 911 call centers to receive a greater range of information – such as text, video, and data from vehicle crash sensors – to better support emergency response.

But the introduction of new technologies has also introduced new vulnerabilities that cannot be ignored. We have seen a spike in so-called “sunny day” outages, when failure comes from the failure of software or databases and not from natural disasters. As the Public Safety Bureau reported to the Commission earlier this month, a “sunny day” outage this past April left consumers in 7 states without 911 service for up to 6 hours.  Some 6,600 911 calls were not completed during that time.  This is simply unacceptable.

A single 911 call today can involve multiple companies operating in multiple locations across the country, and that means a failure in one place can leave people without 911 service across multiple states, indeed across the nation. 

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More Data: Pocket Dialing

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
October 30, 2014 - 04:25 PM

In response to my recent blog post regarding the harmful consumer practice of pocket dialing, I received a letter from Kelly Dutra, the Director of the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA) in Beaverton, Oregon.  The letter begins, “I read with interest the Business Week article ‘FCC Commissioner: Butt-Dialing is Taxing 9-1-1’ and let you know you are right on target.  They account for over 30% of our wireless 9-1-1 calls.  In 2005 we installed a system that all wireless calls must pass through to make it to a Calltaker.  The wireless 9-1-1 caller must speak or press any key for the system to recognize it as an actual call to be passed through.” 

Ms. Dutra continued, “I have attached a separate sheet showing numbers from 2012 to current. I’ve also been studying the number of butt calls that make it through the system we just began including in our weekly, monthly, and annual reports.  The device we have in place blocks on average 30% but another 15-20% of the calls that make it through the system are still butt dials with enough noise in the background for the system to treat it as an active call.”

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Learning from the Rural Broadband Experiments

by Carol Mattey, Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
October 29, 2014 - 01:39 PM

Last week, the Wireline Competition Bureau opened the application filing window for parties interested in participating in the Commission’s rural broadband experiments.  Already we have seen activity in the online system we are using to accept the applications, with many entities working on their applications.   Interested parties have until 6 p.m. on Friday, November 7 to submit applications for this funding opportunity.     

The opening of the filing window marks a historic occasion.  For the first time, the Commission is using a competitive bidding process to award ongoing Connect America Fund support that will bring broadband to rural America.  Applicants have the opportunity to bid on $100 million in available funding through the rural broadband experiments, with defined criteria for the level of service we expect winning bidders to provide and an objective, clear-cut methodology for selecting winning applications.  

Already, we’ve learned a lot from these experiments:  working on the nitty-gritty details of the application form, doing outreach to get the word out to potential bidders, and getting the online system up and running.  Once the application window closes, we’ll be learning about competitive interest to build networks to rural communities that will deliver services that far exceed the Commission’s current performance standards.  And I’m sure we will learn something unexpected that will help the Commission make decisions regarding the design of the Phase II auction that will occur after the offer of model-based support to price cap carriers. 

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Tech Transitions, Video, and the Future

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 28, 2014 - 02:48 PM

Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch.  The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration – but first Internet video services need access to the programs.  Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television.  The result should be to give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want. 

In 1992 Congress realized that the then-nascent satellite industry would have a hard time competing because much cable programming was owned by cable companies who frequently kept it from competitors.  Congress mandated access to cable channels for satellite services, and competition flourished.  Today I am proposing to extend the same concept to the providers of linear, Internet-based services; to encourage new video alternatives by opening up access to content previously locked on cable channels.  What could these over-the-top video providers (OTTs) supply to consumers?  Many different kinds of multichannel video packages designed for different tastes and preferences.  A better ability for a consumer to order the channels he or she wants to watch.

So-called linear channels, which offer the viewer a prescheduled lineup of programs, have been the largely exclusive purview of over-the-air broadcasting, cable, and satellite TV.  But these kinds of packages of programming are coming to the Web as well.  DISH has said that it intends to launch an online service that may include smaller programming bundles. And it has already begun offering foreign language channels online.  Sony, DIRECTV, and Verizon are also in the hunt.  Recently, CBS announced a streaming service that includes linear channels, separate from cable subscriptions; and the new HBO service may as well.

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Looking for the Best Approach to Preserve the Open Internet

October 27, 2014 - 04:21 PM

Earlier this month, the Commission held the last in its series of six Open Internet Roundtables.  At each one of these roundtables—totaling over 20 hours— panelists with diverse viewpoints dove into many of the thorniest issues in this proceeding, responding to questions from the public, FCC moderators, and the Chairman.  The Chairman, Commissioners, and stakeholders have also engaged in vigorous discussions of these issues at events around the country.  All for the purpose identified by the Commission in its Open Internet NPRM:  to find the best approach to protect and promote Internet openness.

We listened and we learned.  With specific regard to the Roundtables, here are some key takeaways.  

We heard economists debating harms to Internet openness, including but not limited to broadband providers’ incentives and ability to engage in anti-competitive behavior.  We heard engineers describing Internet technologies, including current techniques for managing today’s networks.  And we heard enforcement experts discussing how to design an enforcement process for open Internet rules that balances certainty, flexibility, and access for all stakeholders. 

Each of us also personally moderated panels about the Commission’s legal authority and policy choices for fixed and mobile broadband services. 

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FOCUS100’s Push for Greater Diversity in the Tech Industry

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
October 27, 2014 - 02:58 PM

Earlier this month, I travelled to New York City to attend digitalundivided’s FOCUS100, which describes itself as “the most diverse tech conference on the planet.”  I was inspired by dozens of women who either have founded technology companies or are having a direct impact on bridging digital divides.  The federal government shutdown kept me from addressing the group last year when I served as Acting Chairwoman, but this year, I was thrilled to attend.

According to published reports, African American women in the tech industry receive less than one percent of the financing venture capital funds provide each year.  So in 2012, Kathryn Finney founded digitalundivided.com, to arm diverse female tech innovators, from all over the world, with the training, mentorship and exposure needed to successfully participate in the male dominated industry.  “The social enterprise that develops programs that increase the active participation of urban communities, especially women, in the digital space,” provides classes and events to promote four key areas:  (1) Start – a workshop series focused on teaching urban entrepreneurs how to turn their ideas into a product; (2) Grow – a network of meet-ups that allow entrepreneurs to support each other; (3) Focus – a program that mentors tech companies that black women cofounded; and (4) Invest – a project that helps urban tech companies find funding.  

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Incentive Auction Progress Report

by Gary Epstein, Chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force
October 24, 2014 - 11:59 AM

When Chairman Wheeler arrived at the Commission last November, he described the incentive auction as taking a cutting edge concept to market on deadline. At that time he wrote in a blog post, “managing a complex undertaking such as this also requires an ongoing commitment to continuously and honestly assess its readiness and its project plan.”

Now is a good time to take stock of where we are and where we are going. It is also time to carefully consider and recalibrate our proposed timing for the commencement of the incentive auction.

Following the Commission’s adoption of the Report and Order in May, we have made consistent progress implementing the incentive auction. Of particular note, the Commission has followed through on commitments made in the Report and Order and initiated rule-makings to address the operations of important services affected by the incentive auction, including unlicensed white spaces devices, wireless microphones and Low Power Television.  And just last week, the Commission addressed several broadcast and wireless interference issues.

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Reflections on this week's ITU discussions

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 24, 2014 - 11:24 AM

Every four years, the International Telecommunication Union holds a Plenipotentiary Conference to address the strategic direction of the ITU on telecommunications issues. I have just spent several days in Busan, Korea at this year's conference, working side by side with other USG officials, including head of delegation Ambassador Danny Sepulveda from the State Department, Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling from NTIA, Assistant Secretary Andy Ozment from DHS, and my colleague from the FCC, Commissioner Mike O'Rielly.

Together, we held a series of bilateral meetings with delegations from other countries on the important work of the conference, seeking to ensure the international community helps to provide development and capacity-building assistance to countries on important issues like infrastructure deployment and cybersecurity. Regulatory issues were hot topics in many of these meetings, as well as in a number of FCC bilateral meetings with our counterparts from independent regulators and telecom ministries.

I came away from these meetings with a few key points.  First, virtually every regulator emphasized how important it is to get broadband to rural and remote areas of their countries - to promote economic development, education and effective healthcare.  Not just connectivity, but broadband. They understand that broadband access can unlock the potential for individuals to prosper in their local communities instead of migrating to urban centers in search of a better quality of life.

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