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Spreading the Good Word about Lifeline

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
September 8, 2014 - 01:34 PM

Most Americans take their home phone service for granted. But for families who are struggling to pay for food, clothing and shelter, phone service is a luxury that often must be put on hold for better times. Unfortunately, those better times may be elusive without the connection that basic phone service provides to jobs, support from family and friends, and emergency services.

That's where the FCC's Lifeline program fits in. Since 1985, Lifeline has offered a discount on phone service to low-income consumers so that everyone can have access to the jobs, opportunities and security that a home phone provides. This week, the FCC is teaming up with our partners in the states to host Lifeline Awareness Week to get out the word about this vital program. We want to make sure that low-income consumers are aware of the program – and understand the rules for participation.

Together with the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates, our partners in Lifeline Awareness Week, we have posted on our web site important information about program benefits and the rules for companies and consumers alike. For example, companies must only sign up consumers who are eligible, and consumers must recertify their eligibility annually – or else lose their Lifeline service. This way, we preserve Lifeline for those who need it the most.

The most important point of Lifeline Awareness Week is this: empowering the neediest among us with the benefits of basic communications benefits society as a whole by helping lift families out of poverty and expanding opportunities. Spread the word!

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The Future of FCC.GOV

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC Chief Information Officer
September 5, 2014 - 03:47 PM

In August the FCC launched a project to improve fcc.gov and unify all of our related subdomains. The project is focused on enhancing our website to allow the FCC to more effectively meet the needs of our site’s internal and external stakeholders.

To ensure optimal usability for fcc.gov users, the FCC has partnered with industry leaders on user experience, search and analytics. Over the next four months, the project team will conduct research, prototyping, and usability-testing to complete a data and stakeholder-driven design for fcc.gov.

The first phase of the project will be completed by mid-January and will include improved search capabilities of the FCC’s current publicly available content and a working prototype of the new fcc.gov. Phase one of the project will focus on four key areas:

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A Brief History of Competition Policies and Networks

by Jon Sallet, General Counsel
September 5, 2014 - 01:13 PM

Yesterday, Chairman Wheeler gave an important speech on the status and the future of broadband competition, emphasizing the increasingly limited choices emerging for American consumers for wired broadband connections at the higher speeds that consumers increasingly demand. He looked at the facts and the future, recognizing that “meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking and that Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections.”

The status of competition today is, of course, the sum total of past actions, including past policy perspectives on the nature of competition, which the Chairman also recognized.

As it happens, two large anniversaries in the past 12 months marked critical epochs in the history of America’s approach to communications industries and competition.

December 2013 was the 100th anniversary of the so-called Kingsbury Commitment, the antitrust settlement struck between American Telephone & Telegraph and the Department of Justice.  The Commitment set a national policy favoring regulated monopoly over competition but failed to consider the steps that government could have taken to boost competition, such as the establishment of interconnection obligations between competing local telephone companies. 

This was the Era of Regulation: when monopoly was considered an act of nature and government stood in the shoes of consumers. From 1913 until the early 1980s, the prevailing view favored just one telecommunications network – “Ma Bell” – with the government using regulation to do what consumers were not permitted to do – discipline their supplier and decide what’s best.

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Alaska: Lessons Learned

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
September 5, 2014 - 12:49 PM

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 - 01:43 PM

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 - 11:28 AM

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 - 02:12 PM

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 - 12:39 PM

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 - 12:44 PM

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 - 12:29 PM

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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