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The Need to Modernize the FCC’s IT Systems

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 16, 2014

It’s wonderful that more than 900,000 Americans have expressed their opinions in the first round of Open Internet comments. The Commission’s decision to extend until Friday the period for public comments on the Open Internet proceeding reflects both the public’s interest in the topic as well as the antiquated IT capabilities of the agency that have not been able to handle the surge of comments.

The FCC has been forced by budget restrictions to operate with an IT infrastructure that would be unacceptable to any well-managed business.  Efforts to upgrade this IT capability were a casualty of sequestration. Most recently, the agency requested of Congress approximately $13 million for IT upgrades in the FY 2015 appropriation. I appreciate that the Senate subcommittee has provided the Commission with full funding in its FY 2015 spending bill, so that we can make these important upgrades.   Unfortunately, the appropriations bill passed by the House today would fund the FCC at $17 million below current levels and $53 million below our overall budget request, dramatically undermining any effort to modernize our IT systems.

The ability to improve the FCC’s internal procedures – an important priority for Congress – will be hurt without 21st Century IT infrastructure.

The ability of the public to communicate with their government has – as we have seen – already has been hurt by the inability of the FCC to receive all of their comments without complication.

The ability of those companies the FCC regulates to express their views is similarly hurt by an infrastructure none of them would tolerate in their own companies, even though their fees pay for the FCC budget without touching tax dollars.

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Keeping Track of the Open Internet Comments Submitted to the FCC

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
July 14, 2014

*Update: The blog post below has been revised to reflect  the extension of the initial Net Neutrality comment period to 7/18.

This week marks the end of the first round of comments in the Commission’s Open Internet Proceeding.  During the past 60 days, the Commission has received a large number of comments from a wide range of constituents – both from the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) and from the openinternet@fcc.gov email address.  Chairman Tom Wheeler and I both enthusiastically support open government and open data, so with this post I wanted to share the hourly rate of comments submitted into the FCC’s ECFS since the start of public comments on the FCC’s Open Internet Proceeding (Proceeding 14-28). Here’s a link to a Comma Separated Values (CSV) text file providing those hourly rates for all comments submitted to ECFS and those specific to the Open Internet Proceeding; below is a graphical presentation of that same data.

As the data show, the public has been submitting a high-volume of comments into ECFS over the last two months. The FCC IT team rapidly implemented an additional caching feature on June 3 to support some of the highest concurrent commenting levels that ECFS has seen in its 17-plus year history.

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Creating a “Model City” to test spectrum sharing technologies

by Julius Knapp, Chief, Office of Engineering & Technology
July 11, 2014

Today, the FCC’s Office of Engineering & Technology (OET) and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a Joint Public Notice that seeks input on the establishment of a “Model City” program to test advanced wireless spectrum sharing technologies.

The NTIA and the FCC have encouraged and supported the development of advanced spectrum sharing technologies and techniques. Notably, the Commission recently revised its experimental licensing rules to facilitate development of radio technologies by establishing provisions for program licenses and innovation zones.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended the creation of an “urban Test City” to “support rapid experimentation” of advanced spectrum sharing technologies. The Joint Public Notice seeks to start the process of transforming this recommendation from an idea to reality. We have chosen to use the term “Model City” to better reflect the idea that systems or networks might be developed that could serve as a model for spectrum sharing techniques that can be deployed elsewhere.

It is too soon to know what a “Model City” might entail and what aspects would fall within the jurisdiction of the NTIA and/or the FCC. For example, the model city could be developed as a public-private partnership and implemented under existing provisions such as the FCC’s experimental licensing program.

What is clear is that there is a high likelihood that both NTIA and FCC will have a role to play, particularly because most of the spectrum is shared between federal and non-federal users. That is why we have initiated this process through a joint notice.

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Most Definitely: Terminate Dormant Proceedings

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
July 8, 2014

Last week, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) released a Public Notice seeking comment on whether to terminate almost 650 dormant proceedings (i.e., dockets that have no planned action and no further comments expected).  I applaud Chairman Wheeler for initiating this item as well as the CGB staff and the individual Bureaus and Offices that worked on this document. 

The charts below, prepared by my great staff, help visualize the scope of the Commission’s recent effort.  As the first chart shows, the agency has over 2,800 open proceedings pending.  The second chart organizes—by Bureau and Office—the specific proceedings contemplated for closure in the Public Notice. 

I’m in the process of reviewing CGB’s recommendations and its corresponding attachment, but in general I believe that closing outdated FCC proceedings makes a lot of sense.  Doing so could help the agency become more organized and focused on decisions that need to be made.  It could also make it easier for both Congress and the public to track what the agency is working on or still considering.  And it could help prevent the Commission from using antiquated information as a basis for regulating. 

In fact, clearing the regulatory decks is something we should probably do more often—maybe even annually.  The Commission may also want to consider creating an automatic closure process.  Perhaps after a year, and with appropriate notice, we could close proceedings that have been concluded and for which no further pleadings are filed.  This could significantly reduce the number of unnecessary open proceedings, while still allowing public access to the documents that were generated. 

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Disturbing Trend in USF Spending

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

Image of Chart showing USF and TRS Outlays and Chart showing USF Disbursements

Chart 1 shows the FCC’s actual outlays for the Universal Service Fund (USF) and Interstate Telecommunications Relay Services Fund (TRS) to date and the future spending projections through the year 2024 as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), our nation’s official budgetary scorekeeper.  Chart 2 shows the growth in USF disbursements, which have been the primary driver of the growth seen in Chart 1.[1]

Under the current structure, the programs are scheduled to grow to $10 billion in 2015 and steadily increase thereafter to reach $11 billion in 2024.  Most of that growth will continue to be attributable to USF.[2]  This means that in 2024, the funds will be over 21% larger than they were in 2013 and, in those 11 years, the funds will spend a remarkable $13 billion more than they would have if funding had been kept at 2013 levels.  Importantly, this trajectory just represents present circumstances.  In other words, it does not assume that the Commission will make any programmatic changes that would further increase spending.          

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Answers to Common Questions about the E-Rate Modernization Proposal to Get Wi-Fi in ALL Schools and Libraries

June 30, 2014

We have spent the past few days – at the American Library Association annual conference in Las Vegas and in Atlanta at the International Society for Technology in Education 2014 conference and the State Educational Technology Directors Association Emerging Technologies Forum – talking with stakeholders, from teachers and librarians to individual school superintendents, CTOs and state education technology directors, about Chairman Wheeler’s E-rate Modernization proposal.  In talking to these stakeholders, we found that there are some common questions people have about the proposal.  

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New Opportunities in New Mexico’s Indian Country

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 30, 2014

Earlier today, I had the pleasure of visiting the Pueblo of Acoma in central New Mexico along with Senator Tom Udall, my second visit to Indian Country in 2014.  I saw buildings carved out of the earth by hand in the 17th Century, and also met with community leaders focused on unlocking the digital opportunities of the 21st Century.

I had enlightening discussions with Tribal leaders on the economic development opportunities that come with enhanced communications access.  The conversations brought home the heightened importance for Tribal communities of so many issues before the FCC.

Acoma illustrates the power of communications technology to overcome geographic isolation and put a world of information and economic opportunity at the fingertips of citizens in even the most remote communities.

It also demonstrates how we still have a digital divide in this country, with rural communities, and especially Native Americans, disproportionately on the wrong side, getting bypassed by the Internet revolution.

Acoma is located in Cibola County, where nearly half of residents (45%) don’t even have access to 3 Mbps broadband, which is less than what’s recommended to stream HD video without problems. Barely 10 % have access to 10 Mbps broadband. We must do better.

In communities like Acoma with low broadband access rates, the local library is often a digital lifeline for area residents. That’s certainly true of Acoma.

I visited the Acoma Learning Center – the town library, which has a computer lab with 10 desktops. Area adults rely on the Learning Center’s computer lab to look up information on everything from jobs to health care, and children use these computers for help with their homework after school.

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FCC and GSA Team Up to Help Schools and Libraries Save Money on Wi-Fi

by Jon Wilkins, Acting Managing Director
June 26, 2014
FCC and GSA Team Up to Help Schools and Libraries

Correcting the lack of robust Wi-Fi in schools and libraries is a major focus of our E-rate modernization efforts. Nearly 60 percent of schools in America lack sufficient Wi-Fi to provide their students and teachers with modern educational tools, and far too many schools simply have no Wi-Fi at all. As the President said a year ago in announcing the ConnectED initiative, which called for high-speed wireless connectivity in all schools and libraries, “[i]n a Nation where we expect free Wi-Fi with our coffee, why shouldn’t we have it in our schools?”

The Chairman circulated an Order that will take steps to modernize the E-rate program last week, but our commitment to resolving the Wi-Fi gap in our nation’s schools and libraries does not end there. In support of the Chairman’s two overarching goals for the E-rate modernization proceeding – ensuring all schools and libraries have access to high speed broadband and maximizing the cost-effectiveness of E-rate supported purchases – the FCC and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) have entered into an agreement to partner to deliver to schools and libraries the opportunity to consolidate their purchasing power and save significant money on wireless access points, routers, and the other equipment they need to deploy modern, robust Wi-Fi networks. We expect this opportunity to be available for E-rate applicants in Funding Year 2015.

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The Incentive Auction: Helping Broadcasters Make Informed Decisions

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 25, 2014

Last month, the FCC made history by adopting rules for the first-ever Incentive Auction. We moved an innovative approach –marrying the economics of wireless providers’ demand for spectrum with the economics of television broadcasters, the current holders of spectrum—one huge step from concept to reality.  

Robust participation by broadcasters will be critical to the success of the auction. The auction is a risk-free, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for broadcasters, but the decision of whether or not to participate is completely voluntary and confidential.  We recognize that spectrum auctions are new for most broadcasters, and that we owe them additional information before the Incentive Auction.  As anyone who’s made a major sale or purchase knows, having more information leads to better decisions.

Before I joined the Commission I was an investor in technology companies.  In that job, I needed to know as much information about a company as possible in order to decide if I should financially back it. I called that research the “Book.”  As FCC Chairman, I’m committed to ensuring broadcasters have all the information they need to make an informed business decision about whether and how to participate in the Incentive Auction.

That process continues today.

First, we’re providing an updated estimated timeline of Commission actions leading up to and after the auction.  Importantly, this timeline details steps broadcasters will need to take to participate in the auction. Read our timeline.

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Access to the Underserved: Keeping Up with the Times

by Tom Wheeler, Chairman
June 20, 2014

Eighty years ago yesterday, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Communications Act into law, establishing the Federal Communications Commission. This new agency’s central mission was “to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service.”

Fast forward to today, and the Commission’s work remains focused on ensuring ALL Americans have access to world-class communications. In 2014, that increasingly means access to wired and wireless broadband. Consistent with that focus and our founding statute, the theme of the Commission’s July open meeting will be, “Access to the Underserved: Keeping Up with the Times.”

One of the Commission’s primary vehicles for ensuring citizens can get online is our E-Rate program. Over the past 18 years, E-Rate has helped ensure that one of society’s most basic responsibilities – educating our children – has evolved with new technology. At school, students and teachers benefit from connecting to the world of online information. In libraries, that connection expands all citizens’ ability to gather information, apply for jobs, and interact with government services.

The realities of the Internet, however, are different today than they were when E-Rate was introduced. The E-Rate program must be updated to meet today’s needs of schools and libraries.

New technologies like tablets and digital textbooks are providing great new opportunities for individualized learning and research. Effective use of this technology requires individual connections in schools and libraries to personal devices, and Wi-Fi is the most cost-effective way to provide this connectivity.

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