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Preserving An Ever-Free and Open Internet

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 7, 2014

Over 100,000 Americans have spoken.

And during the past few weeks, tens of thousands of consumers, companies, entrepreneurs, investors, schools, educators, healthcare providers and others have reached out to ask me to keep the Internet free and open. 

While the calls, emails and letters are new, my commitment to Internet freedom is not.  In fact, my public efforts to preserve a free and open Internet began many years ago.

While it is my normal practice not to comment in advance on items which are on circulation out of my deep respect for the integrity of our regulatory and administrative process, given the high level of attention and the outpouring of expression on the notice of proposed rulemaking on Open Internet, I felt it was important to highlight my previously stated views.

When I voted to approve the 2010 Open Internet Order, I voiced four concerns about the scope of the rules and the legal theory upon which the Order was based.

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Protecting Consumers in the Transition from Copper Networks

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 7, 2014

A unanimous Commission held in January that the technology transitions currently underway are a positive development for American consumers—holding promise for innovative new services and unleashing innovation and opportunity.  The Commission also agreed that its role is to ensure that these transitions reinforce and advance the fundamental values found in the Communications Act:  public safety, competition, consumer protection, and universal service.

An important transition is the move away from the old copper-based networks to networks that rely on fiber, wireless, and other technologies.  These technologies can offer benefits for consumers and network providers alike.  For example, copper deteriorates quickly in flood situations, and the broadband speeds it can support have been limited (although some innovative companies offer broadband services over copper at speeds above 50 Mbps).  Fiber can support broadband speeds of 1 Gbps or more; wireless facilities are often less costly to deploy and can support use at multiple locations. 

But customers have come to rely on the features and functionalities of the old copper networks.  Communications systems can fail in different ways and for different reasons depending upon the underlying technology used; this raises questions about consumer expectations, and potential consumer harms, as they transition from one technology to another.  For example, based on their experience with copper networks, consumers may expect their plug-in phones to work during a power outage without any action on their part.  Consumers may also expect a variety of familiar data-based services, such as credit card readers, home alarms, and medical alert monitors, to function in a particular way.  Networks other than copper may not support these functionalities, or not in the ways that consumers have come to expect.

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Public Service Recognition Week 2014

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 6, 2014

Yesterday morning, we had an “all-hands” meeting of FCC staff to talk about the agency’s priorities and to provide an update on the Commission’s recent activities. But the most important message I wanted to convey to FCC staff at this meeting was “thank you.”

One of the great joys of being FCC Chairman is the honor and pleasure of serving with dedicated public servants who make remarkable contributions to our nation every day. I have seen them deliver amazing successes in my short tenure here, and I am always impressed at the innovation and “can-do” attitude displayed in every circumstance. The Commission is tasked with solving many difficult, complex issues, and my colleagues throughout the FCC always seem to rise to the occasion. They are constantly looking to the future for ways to improve the lives of the American people through communications technology.

The public servants of the FCC -- and across government at all levels -- work every day on behalf of the American people with little or no fanfare. This week is dedicated to making sure public servants across the country get the recognition they deserve. That’s because this is Public Service Recognition Week – an annual celebration of the men and women who serve the United States as federal, state, county and local government employees.

I applaud the commitment of public servants throughout the nation, and I am proud to be a part of such an outstanding team at the FCC.  I hope others will celebrate and recognize the great work of our federal, state and local public servants, not only during Public Service Recognition Week but every single day of the year.

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Finding the Best Path Forward to Protect the Open Internet

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 29, 2014

I am a strong believer in the importance of an Open Internet. As President Obama has explained, “Preserving an Open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” That is why I have made preservation of the Open Internet a priority for the FCC.

Some recent commentary has had a misinformed interpretation of the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently before the Commission. There are two things that are important to understand.  First, this is not a final decision by the Commission but rather a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions.  Second, as the Notice makes clear, all options for protecting and promoting an Open Internet are on the table. 

I believe this process will put us on track to have tough, enforceable Open Internet rules on the books in an expeditious manner, ending a decade of uncertainty and litigation.

The idea of net neutrality (or the Open Internet) has been discussed for a decade with no lasting results. Today Internet Openness is being decided on an ad hoc basis by big companies. Further delay will only exacerbate this problem.  The NPRM is seeking input on the best way to protect and promote the Open Internet.

In its Verizon v. FCC decision the D.C. Circuit laid out a blueprint for how the FCC could use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to create Open Internet rules that would stick. I have repeatedly stated that I viewed the court’s ruling as an invitation that I intended to accept.  We ask for comment on this approach in the NPRM.

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Modernizing the FCC Enterprise

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
April 28, 2014

According to the Government Accountability Office, Federal agencies are currently spending over 70% of their Information Technology budgets on maintaining legacy systems. Government-wide, these maintenance costs amount to over $54 billion a year spent on existing legacy systems, and delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

Upon my arrival to the FCC, I began a series of collaborative discussions with our Chairman, Managing Director, the FCC Bureau and Office Chiefs, and all members of the FCC to listen, learn, and identify ways to modernize the Commission’s IT enterprise. These discussions resulted in a variety of existing, long-standing issues, historically thorny challenges, and strong perspectives about how FCC could improve its IT. After rigorous prioritization, focused foremost on the FCC’s mission, we narrowed our IT modernization focus to seven specific tracks.

In the spirit of openness, I’d like to share our seven tracks as we embark on our journey to modernize the FCC enterprise. These tracks and supporting goals represent our focused efforts to bring the FCC into the 21st century and ensure the Commission has some of best IT in government supporting its mission. Like an iceberg where a majority of the ice is hidden underwater, modernizing manual, human-intensive processes at the FCC will reduce legacy “sunk costs” at the Commission. The result will be a more agile, responsive, IT-enabled FCC enterprise able to work faster and float “above water”. Our workforce will be more effective, efficient in their time and energy, and better able to deliver the highest quality public service to the U.S. public and FCC partners.

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Ensuring A Fair And Competitive Incentive Auction

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 25, 2014

Next year the FCC will conduct the first-ever “Incentive Auction,” which will harness market forces to reallocate valuable low-band (below 1 GHz) spectrum from television broadcasters who voluntarily choose to relinquish their channels in exchange for incentive payments, to wireless providers who will bid against each other to buy those frequencies to provide mobile broadband services. 

The low-band spectrum we will auction is particularly valuable because it has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances at far less cost than spectrum above 1 GHz.  It also reaches deep into buildings and urban canyons. 

Today, however, two national carriers control the vast majority of that low-band spectrum.  This disparity makes it difficult for rural consumers to have access to the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.  It also creates challenges for consumers in urban environments who sometimes have difficulty using their mobile phones at home or in their offices.

To address this problem, and to prevent one or two wireless providers from being able to run the table at the auction, I have proposed a market based reserve for the auction.

Any party desiring to bid on any license area will be free to do so.

When the Incentive Auction commences, all bidders will be bidding and competing against each other for all blocks of spectrum.  We expect a fulsome bidding process.  There will be no “reserved” spectrum during this initial stage of the auction.

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E-Labeling Deserves Serious Consideration

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 25, 2014

Wireless devices have changed substantially over the last two decades.  Consumers have migrated from block-like flip-phones with monochromatic screens to advanced, all-in-one smartphones,[1] tablets, and even wrist devices.  As these devices continue to shrink, their functionality continues to grow.  To keep pace with these technological advancements, I believe it is time for the FCC to consider modernizing our labeling requirements.  Electronic labeling, or e-labeling, could replace the current system of etched labels containing FCC certification information on the outside body of each electronic device.  Instead, this information could be provided through software on device screens. 

There are numerous potential benefits to e-labeling.  Specifically, e-labels can provide more information to consumers than is conveyed today.  Beyond the required FCC certification information, details can be added by manufacturers regarding device warranties, recycling, and trade-in opportunities.  In addition, e-labels can be updated remotely to address any inaccuracies, such as typographical errors. 

Another advantage of e-labeling is cost savings.  As devices have become smaller and more aesthetically appealing, etching the labels requires more design time and expensive equipment.  E-labeling could dramatically reduce or eliminate these costs without sacrificing consumer information.  The Commission has already permitted e-labeling for a small subset of devices.  In 2001, the Commission’s rules authorizing software defined radios (SDR) permitted the voluntary use of e-labeling by device manufacturers.       

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Setting the Record Straight on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 24, 2014

There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission.

The Notice proposes the reinstatement of the Open Internet concepts adopted by the Commission in 2010 and subsequently remanded by the D.C. Circuit. The Notice does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule. The Notice does follow the roadmap established by the Court as to how to enforce rules of the road that protect an Open Internet and asks for further comments on the approach.

It is my intention to conclude this proceeding and have enforceable rules by the end of the year.

To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted.

Incorrect accounts have reported that the earlier policies of the Commission have been abandoned. Two points are relevant here:

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3.5 GHz: New Ideas in the “Innovation Band”

by John Leibovitz, Deputy Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau & Special Advisor to the Chairman for Spectrum Policy
April 23, 2014

In a speech last month at the Brookings Institution, the Chairman issued a challenge – let’s confront change in spectrum policy and reorient our perspective from what was to what can be. Today, the Commission is leading by example. The Commission is issuing a detailed proposal for a new service in the 3.5 GHz Band- the Citizens Broadband Radio Service – representing a watershed for innovative spectrum sharing policies.

In July 2012 the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology issued a report suggesting that we could help meet the demand for spectrum by increasing civilian access to spectrum currently reserved for government use. In 2012, the Commission took the next step by proposing to implement a dynamic spectrum sharing scheme in up to 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz Band.

3.5 GHz is an ideal “innovation band.” Because the federal use in this band occurs primarily around the coasts, it is a great opportunity for intensive wireless broadband use on a shared basis. In 2010, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration proposed just that – broadband wireless could share the band with government incumbents. The use of innovative spectrum sharing technologies is the key to unlocking the potential of this band. But without a new approach to thinking about spectrum rights and responsibilities, we will not be able to expand access to new civilian uses.

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Getting the Incentive Auction Right

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 18, 2014

Few FCC policies have generated more attention than the Incentive Auction. “Groundbreaking,” “revolutionary,” and “first-in-the-world” are just a few common descriptions of this innovative approach to making efficient, market-driven use of our spectrum resources.

Such attention is warranted. The Incentive Auction is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand the benefits of mobile wireless coverage and competition to consumers across the Nation – particularly consumers in rural areas – offering more choices of wireless providers, lower prices, and higher quality mobile services.

Spectrum is a finite public resource, and refers to the public airwaves that carry all forms of wireless communication Americans use every day. Twenty-first century consumers in both rural and urban areas of our country have a seemingly insatiable appetite for wireless services, and thus, for spectrum.

Getting the Incentive Auction right will revolutionize how spectrum is allocated. By marrying the economics of demand (think wireless providers) with the economics of current spectrum holders (think television broadcasters), the Incentive Auction will allow market forces to determine the highest and best use of spectrum.

More immediately, the Incentive Auction will deliver tremendous benefits for U.S. consumers across the country.

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