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Duplication Alert: Broadband Pilot Projects

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 6, 2014

January’s IP Trials Order contained a provision to use USF dollars to fund rural broadband “experiments” designed to deliver robust, high-speed, scalable broadband service.  The language put out for comment on this new program potentially gives the FCC latitude to do any number of things in this space, including gigabit communities.

Exactly five days later, Congress spoke to this very same issue.  Included in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“The Farm Bill”) is a provision that allocates up to $50 million—$10 million per year for FY 2014-2018— to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a Rural Gigabit Network Pilot Program.  To be eligible for these funds, a provider must be able to build out “ultra-high-speed Internet service” within three years in rural areas that lack such service.   

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Early Progress in Efforts to Learn About the Impact of Technology Transitions

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 3, 2014

In January, the Commission’s unanimously adopted Technology Transitions Order kick-started the process for a diverse set of experiments and data collection initiatives focused on how consumers are affected by the historic technology transitions that are transforming our nation’s communications networks.  Just one month later, providers and members of the public are accepting the Commission’s invitation to participate in that process.

For example, on Friday AT&T filed a proposal for service-based experiments that would explore the transitions to wireline and wireless Internet Protocol-based services in its wire centers in Carbon Hill, Alabama and the other in West Delray Beach, Florida.  The Wireline Competition Bureau then issued a Public Notice seeking public comment on AT&T’s proposal.  Just last week, the Bureau sought comment on a service-based proposal filed by another entity, Iowa Network Services. 

There also is much enthusiasm around the targeted rural broadband experiments that the Technology Transitions Order authorized.  At least 15 parties­ already have filed expressions of interest in conducting a rural broadband experiment with Connect America funding, and we expect to receive many more expressions of interest by the initial March 7 deadline.  We also look forward to the Rural Broadband Workshop that the Commission will host on March 19. 

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FCC Speed Test App for iPhone Expands Options for Mobile Broadband Performance Information

by James Miller and Walter Johnston, Office of Engineering and Technology
February 25, 2014

Late last year, we expanded the Measuring Broadband America program to include mobile broadband measurement, and released our first FCC Speed Test app for Android smartphones. Mobile broadband services are increasingly important to consumers, and this was an exciting first step in our program.

Today we are very pleased to announce that the FCC Speed Test App for iPhone is available for download, further extending our program.

The FCC Speed Test app for iPhone uses the same interface and technologies as our Android app, delivering you useful information about your broadband performance and, like the Android app, is ad free. After reviewing and agreeing to the privacy policy and terms of use, understanding mobile performance on your iPhone is as easy as clicking “Run now” to start testing your performance.

While we believe the app is useful in informing you regarding your phone’s performance, by downloading the app you are also supporting our open broadband data program, contributing to the information we make freely available to the public on the nation’s mobile broadband performance

There are some differences from our Android app. Because the iOS app cannot run periodically in the background, you will need to run tests manually to test your cellular and Wi-Fi network. The kinds of information you can see about your cellular modem performance, like signal strength and the type of connection, are also more limited.

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Adoption of Unlocking Standards Offers Consumers Additional Choices

February 21, 2014

Consumers often question why they may not have the choice of using their existing mobile wireless device when they change between compatible wireless service providers.  The answer is usually a practice called cellphone locking and it is about to change.

On February 11, 2014, CTIA-The Wireless Association adopted six standards on unlocking into the CTIA Code for Wireless Service.  Implementation of these six standards by major mobile wireless service providers will give consumers greater freedom and flexibility while increasing competition among service providers to innovate.  Participating wireless service providers will implement three of these six standards by May 11, 2014, and all of these standards by February 11, 2015.

Once these standards are fully implemented, your service provider will unlock your postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of your service contract or installment plan have been met and your account is in good standing.  Service providers will unlock prepaid wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements. Service providers will clearly notify you when your device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked.  Additionally, your service provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.

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From the Wall to the Desk: Facilitating 21st Century Digital Learning

by Trent Harkrader, Associate Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
February 20, 2014

In his recent Digital Learning Day speech, Chairman Wheeler emphasized the tremendous potential of digital learning for America’s students and teachers.  Among the reasons for the revolution going on in teaching and learning, the Chairman highlighted two transformative technological changes:  “First, inexpensive tablets turn the computer from something in the corner of the classroom (or in the computer lab down the hall), to something on each student’s desk.  Second, Wi-Fi means connecting to the Internet is no longer a function of being close enough to the plug on the wall.”

As numerous commenters have pointed out, these changes mean that as the FCC modernizes the E-rate program, we have to be thinking about getting high speed connectivity all the way to students’ desks and to open library work spaces, not just to the school or library door.  Today, a host of services -- including legacy services like long distance calling and paging -- are categorized as “priority one” services and funded before any money goes to high speed Wi-Fi in classrooms and libraries.  As a result, the existing E-rate program has been increasingly unable to meet the need for Wi-Fi funding. 

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FCC Driving Innovation in Health IT for all Americans at HIMSS

by Matthew Quinn, Director of Healthcare Initiatives
February 19, 2014

February 23-27 is the annual Health Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Conference & Exhibition, an event that brings together 37,000+ healthcare IT professionals, clinicians, executives and vendors from around the world.

To highlight its efforts in supporting health IT innovation, the FCC is participating in a variety of activities during HIMSS.

Join Commissioner Clyburn as she kicks off the first-ever HIMSS Pre-Conference Symposium on “Health IT and Rural Healthcare: Embracing Opportunities and Overcoming Challenges” (Sunday, Feb 23 from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM).

The Symposium will also feature a review of FCC healthcare programs led by Director of Healthcare Initiatives, Matt Quinn and presentations from the leadership of Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA), Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and other public and private stakeholders working to bring health IT to rural America.

Connect with Commissioner Clyburn and HIMSS Federal Health Community Chair, Matt Quinn at the HIMSS Federal Health Community Networking Breakfast (Monday, Feb 24 from 6:45 – 7:30 AM).  Commissioner Clyburn and ONC Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacob Reider will highlight ways that federal employees can gain value from HIMSS and the Federal Health Community.

Learn from Matt Quinn about FCC’s collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and ONC on in promoting safety and innovation in Healthcare IT through its participation in Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act, otherwise known as FDASIA from Tuesday, Feb 25 from 10:00 – 11:00 AM 

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Commissioner O’Rielly’s Thoughts on Broadcast Television JSAs and SSAs

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 18, 2014

It used to be that Americans had few choices for watching television—options included a handful of broadcast networks and maybe a cable subscription with 30 channels, if consumers were lucky.  Today, the choices for entertainment and news are seemingly limitless and available on multiple platforms (i.e., free-over-the-air, cable, telco, satellite, wireless).  The Internet and advances in digital technologies have transformed the media marketplace so that Americans can watch whatever they want, whenever they want.  Local broadcasters—once the only content providers in town—must now compete fiercely for viewers.  They must also compete with online entities such as Groupon, Google and Amazon.com for local advertising revenues.  

Generally, other video platforms are free to enter into partnerships, legal agreements, or economic relationships that enable such entities to take advantage of economies of scale.  But, for numerous reasons, the FCC maintains rules that prevent broadcasters from doing the same. 

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Commissioner O'Rielly’s Blog Introduction and Views on E-Rate Reform

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 12, 2014

As the newest Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, it seems only appropriate that I take advantage of all modern communications tools, including the blogosphere.  For my inaugural FCC blog post, I wanted to share my thoughts on the timely and important issue of E-Rate reform.  Before I begin, let me be clear that my postings represent my views and only my views.  I do not speak for the Commission, the Chairman, or my fellow Commissioners.

E-Rate is the federal universal service program that helps schools and libraries obtain discounted access to telecommunications services and the Internet.  I support the program.  It is enshrined in the statute and I appreciate the vast opportunities that connectivity can offer students.  I remember writing book reports in high school based on the World Book encyclopedias my parents bought in 1972.  I also remember our local library and the limitations of the paper Dewey Decimal system files.  The Internet puts all of that to shame. 

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Channel Sharing: A New Opportunity for Broadcasters

by Tom Wheeler, Chairman
February 11, 2014

I’ve seen the future, and it’s using 50% less bandwidth to produce a picture with increased quality of up to 300%.

I just completed a tour of KLCS, a public broadcaster in Los Angeles. As Chairman of the FCC, visiting a television station isn’t necessarily that noteworthy. But today’s visit was different, because KLCS is about to make history.

KLCS has entered into an agreement with KJLA, a Spanish-language station in L.A., to become the first broadcasters in America to pilot the concept of sharing channels of spectrum, which are the airwaves that transmit mobile images and information to TVs, radios and other wireless devices.

Seeing is believing! On my visit I saw KLCS putting out 1 HD stream and 7 standard-definition streams of programming on its current allotted channel of spectrum, what they call multi-casting. What’s really exciting is that as part of the pilot program with KJLA, KLCS will test broadcasting two full HD streams of programming over the same channel. If the pilot works as engineers expect it will, this could be a game changer for the concept of channel sharing.

So why does this matter?

If you live in the United States and you are reading this, you realize that America has gone mobile. Most Americans would have a hard time imagining life without their smartphones, and tens of millions are similarly in love with their tablets.

The problem is that spectrum, the lifeblood of all wireless technologies, is finite. That wasn’t a problem before the mobile web, when most consumers were mostly watching videos or surfing the web at home. If we don’t free up more airwaves for mobile broadband, demand for spectrum will eventually exceed the supply. If you’ve ever been frustrated by websites that loaded slowly or videos that wouldn’t download to your phone, you have a sense what that world could look like.

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Envisioning the IT Future for FCC Enforcement Field Offices

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
February 4, 2014

During my first 120 days at the FCC, I have enjoyed several opportunities to listen and learn from the different views and perspectives at the FCC. Each Bureau and Office has critical missions and IT needs, and I'd like to share some of what I've learned about the Enforcement Bureau's need for mobility.

Shortly after my arrival at the FCC, the Enforcement Bureau reached out to me with a broad vision for leveraging technology to future-proof the agency's on-scene, investigative capabilities. One of EB's key initiatives in this broad effort was a “mobility strategy” for its Field Offices. This included a discussion of what technologies could help personnel collaborate securely in any time, in any place. “Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question” is a quote attributed to e.e. cummings, and our search for what technologies could assist FCC Enforcement Field Offices similarly presented a terrific opportunity to develop a high-level storyboard of the technology solutions for which we are searching.

At the end of this blog are three pictures – each with text captions – that show a brief story of what the FCC is interested in pursuing for the IT future of FCC field office mobility. We hope to use a similar process of storyboards for other FCC endeavors in the future. Developing storyboards helps programmatic and technical teams across FCC reach common understanding. This allows us to dive deeper into additional details on workflows intended for automation as well as identify potential modular, enterprise reuse opportunities across initiatives. We also can share the storyboards with industry consortia for thoughts on what new technologies might help us address our needs.

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