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New Approaches to Broadband – Wireline, Licensed, and Unlicensed

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 2, 2014

Earlier this week, the Commission approved two items that use innovative approaches to free up spectrum for broadband. One order utilizes spectrum sharing in the AWS-3 band to make airwaves currently used by government available for flexible, commercial use. Another order is taking 100 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band that was barely usable – and not usable at all outdoors – and transforming it into space that is fully usable for Wi-Fi.

Building on this work, the theme of the Commission’s April 23rd open meeting agenda will be “New Approaches to Broadband – Wireline, Licensed, and Unlicensed.”

As evidenced by this week’s AWS-3 order, spectrum sharing is a potentially revolutionary new approach that will allow us to derive greater value from the finite spectrum resource. For consideration at our April open meeting, I am circulating proposed rules today that are designed to make the 3.5 GHz band a test-bed for spectrum-sharing innovation.

The proposal includes three tiers of prioritization: federal and non-federal incumbents, priority access licensees, and general authorized access users.

It includes a single, highly flexible band plan, avoiding the analog trap of Balkanizing spectrum into sub-bands, each with its own sets of rules.

The proposal also anticipates a wide range of flexible uses. Small cells will undoubtedly be a core use case, but we would not limit the band to such use.

Finally, the proposal reflects economic incentives. Even with the most efficient technology, there will always be places and times where there is rivalry for spectrum access. To that end, the proposal would set up a flexible auction and licensing scheme that leverages the technical capabilities of a Spectrum Access System (SAS) database. The SAS is like a traffic cop for spectrum in that it can assess what spectrum is available so that it can be accessed by prioritized users.

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TCPA: It is Time to Provide Clarity

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

For those that might not be familiar, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) (47 U.S.C. § 227) was enacted in 1991 to address the issue of unwanted telephone marketing calls and faxes.  It restricts making telemarketing calls, using automatic telephone dialing systems and artificial or prerecorded voice messages (often referred to as robocalls), and sending unsolicited faxes.  From most accounts, it appears to have been a general success.   

In enacting the TCPA, the Congress aimed to strike a balance between protecting consumers from unwanted communications and enabling legitimate businesses to reach out to consumers that wish to be contacted.  Over time, as the FCC and the courts have interpreted the TCPA, business models and ways of communicating with consumers have also changed.  As a result, the rules have become complex and unclear.  In addition to prohibiting abusive robocalls and junk faxes, which was the original intent, the rules are creating situations where consumers might not receive notifications and offers that they want and expect, and where new and innovative services and applications that help friends and family members communicate with each other could be restricted.  Clear rules of the road would benefit everyone.    

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FCC Accepting Nominations for Chairman’s Awards for Advancement in Accessibility; Deadline Is April 15

by Jamal Mazrui, Deputy Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative
March 21, 2014

*The deadline for nominations for Chairman’s AAA has been extended from March 31 to April 15. This blog post has been edited to reflect the deadline change.

One of the most cherished missions of the FCC is helping to bridge the accessibility gap in communications technologies. Entrusted by Congress with various regulatory responsibilities intended to raise the baseline level of accessibility found in communication technologies and advanced services enabled by the
Internet, the FCC in recent years has developed additional non-regulatory approaches to buoy its efforts to achieve these goals. To that end, the Accessibility and Innovation (A&I) Initiative was created to promote collaborative problem-solving on
accessibility among academic, industry, consumer and government
sectors.  A signature project of the A&I Initiative is the Chairman's Awards for Advancement in Accessibility (Chairman's AAA) to recognize innovators for contributions to accessible technology.

The FCC is now accepting nominations for the third Chairman's AAA. The deadline for submissions is Tuesday, April 15.

AAA nominations may be for mainstream or assistive technology, a developed standard or best practice, a free offering or commercial product produced by an individual or organization, whether nonprofit, business or government, anywhere in the world.  It must have been introduced, or substantially upgraded, in the market between August 1, 2012 and December 31, 2013.  Self-nominations and nominations by others are welcome

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Working Together on the Post-Incentive-Auction Broadcaster Transition

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
March 20, 2014

Making history is exciting, but it’s not easy.  In next year’s first-ever incentive auction, participating broadcasters will voluntarily relinquish spectrum rights in exchange for a share of the proceeds, and the recovered spectrum will be sold for wireless broadband use.  The remaining broadcast spectrum will be “repacked,” which means that some broadcasters who remain on the air will be given new channel assignments. That last step may sound anticlimactic, but getting it right will take the concerted efforts of everyone involved.  Together we’ll need to craft policies and procedures to transition the broadcasters with as little disruption to the industry and consumers as possible.

Today we released for public comment a report that the FCC commissioned from a spectrum consulting firm, Widelity, to help us understand the process and costs associated with the post-auction transition.  In producing the report, Widelity interviewed a broad range of broadcast industry experts, including TV broadcast group engineers, radio frequency and structural engineers, network engineers, suppliers, support companies, equipment manufacturers, and attorneys.  Importantly, Widelity’s report concludes, “With cooperation as well as patience, creative problem solving and guidance from the FCC and industry groups such as the National Association of Broadcasters, Association of Public Television Stations, and state broadcast associations, the transition can be achieved with the desired outcomes.”

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Notes from the Sandbox: The Rural Broadband Experiment

by Jonathan Chambers, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis
March 11, 2014

In his office at home, the Chairman of the FCC keeps a slice of an old C&P telephone pole, a small piece of history commemorating the Pole Attachments Act of 1978. It is a reminder of the physical nature of networks. The networks that carry my observations to you are physical and tangible – poles, ducts, conduits, wires, antennae on towers, nondescript buildings housing cables, routers, servers, generators and cooling units, and, of course, glass, millions of miles of glass.

That slice of telephone pole is also a reminder of how networks are built, and how an occasional nudge from the government can make a difference. I was fortunate enough to know some of the pioneers in cable and wireless when I worked with them in the 1990s. They were the ones who had climbed poles, the ones who had spliced cable and dug trenches and connected communities to the rest of the world, one community at a time. The cable pioneers built networks in rural areas where a television set couldn’t pick up a broadcast signal. First, they provided their communities with basic television service and then something interesting happened. They showed the country that cable television wasn’t a service just for rural communities – that with a new type of network you could watch more than local broadcast television. Those early pole climbers first helped themselves and their communities and then showed the rest of us what was possible.

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FCC Launches Webpage with Best Practices for Implementing Text-to-911

by Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
March 7, 2014

Today we launched an interactive webpage with best practices to assist text message providers and 911 call centers with deploying text-to-911.  

The webpage contains materials prepared by Vermont, Texas, and other state 911 call centers (known as public safety answering points or PSAPs) that have already successfully integrated text-to-911, with expertise and insight that can ease the deployment process for others.  For example, the State of Vermont has developed a list of “lessons learned” from its highly successful text-to-911 implementation as well as a series of informational videos for potential text-to-911 users.

The webpage is a tool enabling text providers and PSAPs to contribute and refer to comments, best practices, and informational materials.  It additionally contains documents from public safety organizations NENA and APCO, with Frequently Asked Questions, a checklist of issues that 911 call centers should consider, and technological options available to support text-to-911.

Why is this important?  In today’s world, wireless usage has become increasingly text-based. Yet in most parts of the country, if you send a text message to 911 during an emergency, it won’t be received.  Being able to text during an emergency is essential for the tens of millions of Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities. Texting can also provide an alternative means of contacting 911 when a voice call may place someone in danger, such as in an active shooter or domestic abuse situation, or when voice networks are congested. 

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Innovation in Voting Accessibility

by Sherry Dawson, Deputy Chief, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 7, 2014

Voting is a right we Americans value, and most of the time it’s fairly easy for most of us to participate in the electoral process. However, have you ever considered the challenges that come with using a voting machine if you have trouble reading, are blind or visually impaired, or if you have a physical disability that limits your mobility? The good news is that new accessibility solutions are being introduced to allow more people with disabilities to privately and independently vote, including a universally-designed voting machine developed by Clemson University’s Dr. Juan Gilbert. For this work, Dr. Gilbert received in 2011 an FCC Chairman's Award for Advancement in Accessibility in the category of civic participation.

Photo of Presenter Dr Juan Gilbert
Dr Juan Gilbert, Presidential Endowed Professor and Chair of the Human-Centered Computing (HCC) Division in the School of Computing at Clemson University.

On Tuesday March 11, as part of the FCC’s Accessibility and Innovation (A&I) Initiative Speaker Series, Dr. Gilbert will speak about his research team’s work to ensure voting technology is accessible to all people, regardless of ability or disability.  The presentation will be held from 9:00 a.m.-11:15 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room and will be followed by demonstrations in the FCC's Technology Experience Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on two voting systems developed in his lab that enhance the voting process.

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Moving Forward On the E-rate Modernization Path

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 6, 2014

Delivering on the announcement made by Chairman Wheeler in his Digital Learning Day remarks, the Wireline Competition Bureau released today a Public Notice seeking more focused comment on a set of key issues initially raised in the E-Rate Modernization NPRM.  Chairman Wheeler has laid out a timeline for an order in the coming months that would be effective in time for Funding Year2015.  Today’s Public Notice is an important mile marker on the road to E-rate modernization. 

The Notice seeks to strengthen the record on four important issues: (1) how to best structure the program in a way that places a greater focus on connectivity inside the walls of classrooms and libraries in an equitable manner to all eligible schools and libraries; (2) whether and how to establish a one-time deployment initiative within the structure of the existing program providing targeted additional funding for those schools and libraries who remain without access to a high-speed broadband connection; (3) phasing out or reducing support for legacy voice services; and (4) ideas on potential demonstration projects.  Additional focused comment on these topics will help the Commission tackle some difficult issues necessary to accomplishing the program goals laid out in the E-Rate Modernization NPRM.  While we seek answers to these questions, by no means does this Notice represent the full set of issues that may be addressed in a future order.     

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Protecting Television Consumers By Protecting Competition

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
March 6, 2014

Every four years, the FCC is required by law to assess its media ownership rules and determine if they need to be modified to serve the public interest. In fact, it’s been six years since the Commission last completed a quadrennial review, so it goes without saying that the video marketplace has changed dramatically since the FCC last updated these rules.

Later this month, the Commission will begin in earnest its 2014 quadrennial review, building on a record it has amassed over the years. This will be an open evaluation to understand how evolving market structures and competition should influence how we act to preserve the continuing values of competition, localism, and diversity of voices in our local media.

I come to the 2014 review with two bedrock beliefs: that broadcasting provides a vital public service as a part of its public trust, and that the overall changes in the media landscape are opening new opportunities for U.S. broadcasters.

While this review is pending, the current rules addressing media consolidation will remain in place.  But motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission Rules to enforce existing rules.

JOINT SALES AGREEMENTS

One notable development that requires immediate attention is the rise of Joint Sales Agreements in small- and medium-sized TV markets. Commonly known as JSAs, these are arrangements in which one station sells advertising time for another station in the same market. In more than two-thirds of JSA transactions, one station sold 100 percent of the advertising time of the other.

What does that mean in plain English?

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How The Sidecar Business Model Works

by Phil Verveer, Senior Counselor to Chairman Wheeler
March 6, 2014

The sidecar business model involves a dominant and weaker (or, to put it another way, an independent and a dependent) broadcaster in the same market.  The broker exercises operational and financial influence over the brokered station and performs the basic functions of station operation.  The model is used primarily in markets where one entity would not be allowed to hold more than one television license.  Part of the model’s utility thus involves overcoming a rule that is designed to promote competition, diversity, and localism.   The other part of its utility involves increasing the joint profits of the two (or more) broadcasters involved.

The typical sidecar business model has three principal components:  (1) a joint sales agreement (JSA); (2) shared services agreements (SSAs); and (3) special financial arrangements.

The JSA is the element that addresses advertising revenue.  Basically, the independent broadcaster takes over the ad sales for the dependent broadcaster.  In normal economic theory, if two ostensibly independent entities in the same market engage in coordinated selling, the expectation is that they will be able to raise the average per unit price they receive.  If this holds in the sidecar markets, advertisers buying local ads are paying more than they otherwise would.

The SSAs largely address the cost side of the broadcasting business.  The sharing of talent, other human resources, and hard assets presents an opportunity for efficiencies.  Everything else being equal, it is less expensive to hire three news reporters than four, one news director than two, and to maintain one studio rather than two, etc.

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