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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 - 02:21 PM
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 - 02:41 PM

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 - 02:56 PM

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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Internet Traffic Exchange: Time to Look under the Hood

by Julie Knapp and Walter Johnston, Office of Engineering & Technology
June 18, 2014 - 03:36 PM

No one company defines your personal Internet experience. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that sell you Internet access are only one part of a complex ecosystem that also includes backbone providers, content delivery networks, and other Internet traffic actors. The connection points between and among these groups have many names: peering, transit, proxy services, interconnection, or traffic exchange.

Here’s why those connection points matter to consumers: let’s say you’re trying to watch a video on YouTube. To get from YouTube servers to your computer, the video has to traverse a number of networks in order to get to your ISP, and ultimately to get to your computer. If the video can’t stream efficiently from network to network along its way to your ISP, your viewing experience may suffer as a result.

It has become clear from consumer complaints to the FCC—and even in some comments consumers have filed for the Open Internet NPRM—that consumers are frustrated by recent trouble with their Internet experience for certain services and content providers. The recent disputes between Netflix, Cogent and ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon are an example of this issue.

We need to get to the bottom of this.

Last week, Chairman Wheeler announced that he has directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed. Commission staff has begun requesting information from ISPs and content providers.

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Managing E-Rate to Maximize Benefits for Schools & Libraries

by Jon Wilkins, Acting Managing Director
June 17, 2014 - 01:53 PM

What does good management have to do with quality education?  When it comes to the E-rate program, quite a bit.  In recent months, we have been improving management of E-rate to speed approval of broadband expansion projects sought by schools and libraries across the country. And it’s working: E-rate funding will reach the $1 billion milestone this week for funding year 2014, twice as fast as any previous year in E-Rate history.

These early commitments will enable schools and libraries to put E-rate dollars to work sooner for students and patrons.  For example, E-rate supported broadband connections will help the Baltimore County Public School System continue its roll-out of a one-to-one personalized digital learning environment to the district’s 100,000 students. 

We’ve made a particular effort to speed larger applications this year, including state and regional consortia.  Included in the $1 billion of commitments to date are state-level consortium applications in Iowa, Maine, Mississippi, Tennessee, and West Virginia.  Statewide and consortium applications can simplify processes for applicants, increase access in rural areas, and drive down costs for consortium members and for E-rate.  For example, the Mississippi state consortium recently negotiated new, low, flat-rate pricing for high speed connectivity across most of the state, driving down prices for all districts, and helping rural districts get connected without special construction charges.  The program administrator – USAC – and the FCC have dramatically accelerated the processing of state-level consortium applications this year.

You can search other funding commitments on USAC’s web site.

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Introducing the Internet to the FCC’s Contest Rule

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 16, 2014 - 02:31 PM

Have you ever listened to your car radio while you were stuck in traffic and heard a super-fast talker rattle off the rules that apply to a contest for a trip to some sunny destination?  Or, maybe you’ve seen the small print displayed at the end of a contest promoted on television.  These detailed disclosures—such as who is eligible for a contest, how to participate, the value of the prizes, and when and how winners will be selected—are efforts to comply with the FCC’s “Contest Rule.”  I agree that it is important to notify the public about the terms and conditions of the contests aired on broadcast stations, but are these fast-talkers and tiny, on-air print the most effective means to communicate this information in the Internet age?  I suggest there is a better way.

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FCC Launches Direct Video Communication Access to Help Consumers Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

by Greg Hlibok, Chief, Disability Rights Office
June 11, 2014 - 02:22 PM

The FCC has unveiled a new type of support service specifically designed for consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate in their primary language, American Sign Language (ASL).   The “ASL Consumer Support Line,” announced by Chairman Tom Wheeler at the M-Enabling Summit last night, allows deaf and hard of hearing consumers to engage in a direct, interactive video call with a consumer specialist at the FCC who can provide assistance in ASL for filing informal complaints or obtaining consumer information.  

The direct ASL video concept was first conceived by FCC staff members in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau’s Disability Rights Office who have observed that direct access to communication, rather than through intermediaries such as interpreters or video relay service (VRS), provide greater autonomy to the consumers.   This direct video access will allow consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate in their native language, ASL, with ease and confidence that their messages are being delivered in an exact manner.  

Now, direct video access to the FCC has finally become a reality for deaf and hard of hearing consumers who communicate primarily in ASL. 

We believe the new service will be highly preferred to VRS and to filing written complaints through the FCC’s website because of the difficulty in trying to convey the complexity of complaints for disability-related issues.

Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the ASL Consumer Support Line by calling 844-4-FCC-ASL (844-432-2275) or 202-810-0444. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday.

You can watch an ASL web video about the ASL Consumer Support Line at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/disability-rights-office.

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Removing Barriers to Competitive Community Broadband

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 10, 2014 - 04:17 PM
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

If any city understands the power of networks to drive economic growth, it’s Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s proximity to the Tennessee River – a natural network – fueled its initial growth. When the railroad network arrived in the mid-19th century, Chattanooga became a boom town. The railroad allowed raw material to flow into the area and finished products to flow out to markets around the country – making Chattanooga an industrial powerhouse.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, and when it comes to networks driving economic growth in Chattanooga, past is prologue.

Mayor Berke and the city’s leaders recognized that today’s high-speed broadband networks will be the indispensable platform for tomorrow’s economic growth and the jobs of the future. That’s why Chattanooga invested in building out one of the nation’s most robust community broadband networks.

The network was partly built out of necessity. Local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market. Without faster networks, Chattanooga residents were at risk of finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, bypassed by the opportunities high-speed connectivity enables.

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With an Eye Towards WRC 2015

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 9, 2014 - 01:33 PM

It is never too early to engage in preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference, or “WRC,” a meeting hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) every three to four years.  This conference facilitates the international coordination of spectrum usage and satellite orbit allocations, and the next one is scheduled for November 2015 (“WRC-15”) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Although it does not typically generate much fanfare, the conference is critical because the decisions made there can directly affect the future development of all mobile services—key drivers of innovation, economic growth and job creation.

WRC-15 is especially important because it will address many significant issues.  Topping the agenda will be identifying more spectrum bands to meet the ever-growing demand for wireless services.  WRC participants will consider modifying the allocations to allow for wireless broadband operations in the broadcast spectrum, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands.  The United States has already taken action to open these frequencies to commercial wireless service in this country, but consumers will benefit if we are successful at WRC-15 in reaching international agreement.  Spectrum harmonization helps prevent harmful interference and promotes the seamless use of wireless devices across borders—a growing concern in our increasingly mobile world.  It also enables communications equipment manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale as they create devices that can be used and sold internationally, at lower prices.

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Closing the Wi-Fi Gap in America’s Schools and Libraries

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 6, 2014 - 01:18 PM

Chairman Wheeler examines a 3-D printer in an engineering classroom at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va.

I had the pleasure of visiting Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia yesterday. The visit confirmed my deep belief that broadband-enabled technologies have the power to revolutionize education – empowering students and teachers. I saw students using laptops to access science lessons and collaborate in the cloud on year-end projects. I saw English as a Second Language students using apps to help learn their new language at their own pace. I talked to students using connected technology, including 3-D printers.

This was my third trip to a school since becoming FCC Chairman, and a consistent theme is emerging from these visits:  “connectivity” used to mean connecting to the school; today it means connections to each student. That means that schools need robust Wi-Fi networks. It is wireless broadband connectivity that changes the learning experience and opens new opportunities for students and teachers. What I saw was how Wi-Fi to each student’s desk is the essential component of interactive, personalized instruction tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I saw how Wi-Fi makes students more productive.

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