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Our Role in Expanding Inflight Mobile Wireless Services

December 5, 2013 - 04:00 PM

The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal on inflight mobile wireless services on airplanes is consistent with the Commission’s role as an expert agency. We would like to offer additional information about why the Commission is taking this action now and provide a little more insight into what the proposal entails.

The FCC is an independent agency that is charged with overseeing the communications industry and communications technology, including technical, legal, economic, and policy-oriented issues.  The agency was created in 1934 to oversee the networks of telephony and broadcast and, eventually, cable and wireless carriers.  In fulfilling its legal obligations, the FCC must act consistently with the public interest, convenience, and necessity.  As the expert agency on communications, it is the FCC’s role to re-examine our rules in light of new technology and to eliminate unnecessary regulations when appropriate.

Under the proposal, which will be put out for public comment, the default will still be (and in fact will more clearly be) that the use of mobile wireless services is prohibited, absent specialized onboard equipment.  If the new technology isn’t installed, the prohibition remains.  If the new technology is installed, airlineswould still have the ultimate say on whether and how to provide service – including the ability to program the system not to handle voice calls (while allowing text, email, and web browsing).  In addition, systems can also be turned off if necessary for safety announcements and emergencies.

It’s important to note this proposal is, indeed, only a proposal and that it asks many questions. Like all our rulemakings, the public has the opportunity to comment on the proposal over a period of months once a proposal is voted by the full Commission. We will not make a final decision before carefully reviewing those public comments.

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Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
December 2, 2013 - 12:50 PM

Almost a month into my new job, the fact that I’ve always been a “network guy” and an intrepid history buff should come as no surprise. Reading history has reinforced the central importance networks play and revealed the common themes in successive periods of network-driven change. Now, at the FCC, I find myself joining my colleagues in a position of both responsibility and authority over how the public is affected by and interfaces with the networks that connect us.

Prior to my appointment by President Obama, I was doing research for a book about the history of networks. The new job stopped that project. However, I believe strongly that our future is informed by our past. While awaiting Senate confirmation, I tried to distill the project on which I had been working to connect what I had learned in my research to the challenges in my new job.

The result is a short, free eBook, “Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks – History, Challenges and Opportunities”.  It’s a look at the history of three network revolutions – the printing press, the railroad, and the telegraph and telephony – and how the fourth network revolution – digital communications – will be informed by those experiences.  

It was this process that led me to what I’ve been describing as the “prisms” for looking at policy, or the “pillars” of communication policy: ensuring that our new networks promote economic growth, preserving the fundamental values that have traditionally been the foundation of our communications networks, and enabling public purpose benefits of our networks. 

We have the privilege of being present at a hinge moment in history to wrestle with the future of our networks and their effect on our commerce and our culture. If such a topic is of interest to you, I hope you’ll download this short eBook. Hopefully, it’s the beginning of a dialogue.

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The FCC and Inflight Mobile Wireless Services

by Roger Sherman, Acting Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
November 22, 2013 - 04:13 PM

There has been great deal of public discussion since the Commission announced yesterday that it would consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would seek comment on revisions to the Commission’s rules on mobile wireless services onboard aircraft. I want to clarify what adoption of the draft notice will really mean for consumers.

Without question, much of the response to the announcement was focused on the possibility that the draft proposal would open the door to allowing passengers to make voice calls in-flight. Many are concerned that consideration of this proposal will lead to unbearable situations for airline passengers stuck next to loud, one-sided phone conversations. I empathize with that sentiment completely.   

Under the FCC’s proposal, however, it is the airlines that have the ultimate say as to whether and how to provide additional wireless services – supplementing the Wi-Fi services they may already offer – onboard their aircraft while flying above 10,000 feet. If an airline chooses to provide this service, it could improve access to wireless data services while flying, facilitate the use of in-flight texting, or even bring competition – and potentially lower prices – to a new market for in-flight broadband. 

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FCC Celebrates National Rural Health Day

by Matthew Quinn, Director of Healthcare Initiatives
November 21, 2013 - 03:43 PM

Today is National Rural Health Care Day, providing an opportunity to honor the life-saving role that rural health care providers play in their communities, and to focus on how broadband technologies can help them do their jobs even better.

Broadband-powered health information technology is critically important in rural areas, where it can overcome the barriers of distance to connect providers to cutting-edge resources that would otherwise be out of reach. Unfortunately, there are many challenges in funding, implementing and sustaining the use of broadband-powered health IT.

One important resource to tackle this challenge is the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, which includes the new Healthcare Connect Fund.  The program provides funding to eligible health care providers (HCPs) for telecommunications and broadband services necessary for the provision of health care. The goal of the program is to improve the quality of health care available to patients, especially in rural communities, by ensuring that eligible HCPs have access to telecommunications and broadband services. Funding for the Rural Health Care Program is capped at $400 million annually.

Through the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, thousands of eligible health care providers across the nation have been able to expand connectivity and thus adopt health technology applications to:

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FCC Speed Test App: Our First Results

by Mike Byrne and Eric Spry, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis
November 21, 2013 - 12:47 PM

Last week, the FCC released the first public version of the FCC Speed Test app for Android phones.  The app, available for free in the Google Play store, provides precise and nuanced data about the performance of mobile broadband networks used by consumers in the U.S.  The launch was an exciting moment for us, and we were eager to see how the app would be received.  Now, some initial results are in, and they are very promising.

Here’s some of what we saw on just the first two days following the release:

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The IP Transition: Starting Now

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 19, 2013 - 12:05 PM

Our communications networks are changing – and fast. What some call the “IP transition” is really a series of transitions; a multi-faceted revolution that advances as the packets of Internet Protocol (IP)-based communication replace the digital stream of bits and analog frequency waves. The impacts on networks have already begun and will be profound. Fiber networks are expanding. Bonding technology is showing interesting possibilities with regard to the nation’s traditional copper infrastructure. Communications protocols are moving from circuit-switched Time-division Multiplexing (or TDM) to IP. And wireless voice and data services are increasingly prevalent, empowering consumers to connect at the place and time of their choosing.

This is what I have called the Fourth Network Revolution, and it is a good thing. History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas, and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society – think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.

But the future of networks can be hard to see, especially in moments of great change. When Alexander Graham Bell offered Western Union all rights to his telephone patents in 1876, the response was a curt dismissal. A Western Union memorandum concluded that “[t]his ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”

The way forward is to encourage technological change while preserving the attributes of network services that customers have come to expect – that set of values we have begun to call the Network Compact.

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A Visit with the Fantastic Folks at FCC-Gettysburg

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
November 18, 2013 - 04:15 PM

I recently was fortunate enough to visit the FCC's Gettysburg facility and meet several dedicated, hard-working, creative, and caring folks committed to serving the public. The visit began with a tour of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau's Consumer Center and a demo of a tool they use to follow-up on telephone calls into the center. Part of the tour included a hands-up component where I was able to watch and listen in on a phone call they had received, which was extremely helpful in aiding my understanding of all the different programmatic and IT efforts underway at FCC.

David Bray visit to FCC's Gettysburg Facility

I also met with folks from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) who gave a tour of the "war room" where spectrum auctions are held, showing a mock auction including the software supporting the online bids. After that visit I also met with folks from WTB's Technical Systems and Innovation Division who handle elements of FCC's Universal Licensing System and other important national endeavors. My tour included meeting with advanced technical experts on FCC's land mobile, microwave, and public safety/homeland security telecommunications endeavors. In all instances, I was impressed with the drive and commitment to serving the public that the FCC employees and contractors presented in their actions and in spirit.

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A Call for Input: Improving Government Efficiency at the FCC

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Office of the Chairman
November 18, 2013 - 02:38 PM

***Please Note: original blog text was revised 11/19/2013 to notify the public that any feedback received will be made public

As Chairman Wheeler announced in his initial blog post upon joining the FCC, improving agency processes and procedures to more efficiently and effectively serve the public interest is one of his top priorities.  As Special Counsel to Chairman Wheeler, I have been tasked with developing a plan within the next 60 days that includes recommendations on how best to tackle the challenge of reforming FCC processes.

In connection with that effort, we are soliciting public input on improving the efficiency of how we conduct business here at the FCC.  We know that stakeholders who interact with the FCC will have many thoughts on substantive reforms that the agency should undertake, but for this effort, we are particularly interested in your ideas and insights to improve the efficiency of the process at the FCC. 

Please email your thoughts and ideas on FCC process reform to innovation@fcc.gov (note that comments related to specific ongoing proceedings should be filed in those dockets and not in response to this blog post).  PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR INPUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, BUT NO LATER THAN DECEMBER 2nd, SO THAT WE HAVE SUFFICIENT TIME TO EVALUATE RESPONSES. 

In particular, we are interested in any thoughts on what concrete steps the FCC can take to:

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New FCC Speed Test App: How does your mobile broadband network measure up?

by James Miller and Walter Johnson, Office of Engineering & Technology
November 14, 2013 - 11:57 AM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:491:]]Today we’re publicly releasing the first version of the new FCC Speed Test App for Android smartphones, as part of our Measuring Broadband America Program to cellular and Wi-Fi mobile broadband. The app is a first step towards accurately evaluating mobile broadband network performance, and is aimed at arming consumers with information to allow them to make fact-based, informed decisions when choosing and evaluating their mobile wireless providers.

Aggregated data collected through the app will also help to inform the FCC in its future policy decision making.  Our program is based on a collaborative effort involving consumer volunteers, the Federal Trade Commission, wireless service providers, researchers and others to produce the most accurate information possible on mobile broadband services in an open and transparent process. 

Measuring Broadband America currently provides the nation’s most accurate information on the performance of fixed broadband services for major Internet Service Providers.  Extending Measuring Broadband America to mobile services will provide valuable information to the public, industry and policy makers on both the performance and the deployment of broadband networks across the nation. 

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Opening Day at the FCC: Perspectives, Challenges, and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 5, 2013 - 02:34 PM

Today I had the privilege of meeting with the staff of the Federal Communications Commission for the first time as Chairman. I am grateful to the President and the Senate for the confidence they have placed in me and look forward to working with the superb professionals at the FCC.

Over the last six months Chairwoman Clyburn has kept this agency running in top form. There was nothing “Interim” in her chairmanship. Chairwoman Clyburn and her colleagues addressed tough issues and came to important conclusions. Mignon Clyburn is a leader and the American people and this agency are better off because of her leadership.  

I know from conversations with the Chairwoman that she brushes off such compliments and talks about the great team at the FCC, especially Michele Ellison who took time from her important “day job” to serve as Chief of Staff. Michele and all of the members of Chairwoman Clyburn’s staff also deserve a huge thank you.

As I waited for the Senate’s decision I boned up by reading the speeches of Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. And while awaiting confirmation Commissioner O’Rielly and I actually spent time together in the same jury pool at the DC courthouse. It will be an honor to work with these dedicated individuals and to be stimulated by their intellect. Former Chairman Genachowski put us all on a course to a better broadband future and I am very cognizant that we are all building on his accomplishments.

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