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Problems with FCC Advisory Committees

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
May 1, 2015 - 03:06 PM

Through this blog, I’ve raised quite a few issues with the current operations of the FCC, especially the workings of the so-called 8th Floor, and the critical need to improve transparency and accountability. Let me add another area in need of review and reform: the Commission’s advisory committees (and councils). Specifically, I believe changes are necessary in such areas as the appointment process, internal operations, work assignments, reporting requirements, staff involvement, and implementation of recommendations. In other words, a top-to-bottom examination and overhaul is in order.

Let me be clear: advisory committees can be a good thing – if established and used properly. Seeking outside expertise and input should be encouraged, and it’s why I have advocated that all interested parties should weigh-in on our proceedings. It makes all the sense in the world to seek advice and technical knowledge from those integrally involved with developing, deploying or using a particular technology or set of technologies, or those who are active users of said technology.

A fundamental problem with the current workings of the non-statutorily set advisory committees, however, is that the Chairman’s office has absolute and complete power over every aspect of their existence. Sure, individual Commissioners are invited to say a few words to open a meeting or congratulate their good works, which I often do, but not much else. The membership, selection of the committee chairs, timing of any reports and/or recommendations, and all other aspects of their operations are determined solely by the Chairman. If all of the decision-making is in the hands of the Chairman, how can a committee’s outcomes ever be considered bipartisan, or better-yet, nonpartisan and independent?

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Expanding Access to "Life-Changing" Technology

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 30, 2015 - 01:07 PM

"I feel more equal, more independent. It changed my life" – Lori Siedman, Boston, Massachusetts

"I just don’t have the words to explain how exciting this is for me and how very significant this is to me." – Rosetta Brown, Conyers, Georgia

"I’ve been given a chance to be a productive member of society." – Ramona Rice, Riverdale, Utah

When you hear people speaking in such powerful terms, you take notice. When they are talking about a program under your jurisdiction that is due to expire, you take action.

Established by the FCC in July 2012, the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, what we call iCanConnect, empowers low-income individuals who are deaf-blind to access 21st Century communications services.

The program provides up to $10 million annually for communications technologies for individuals who have both significant vision loss and significant hearing loss. In addition, it provides training for these individuals to ensure they can fully utilize the equipment they receive.

Programs are in place in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and they are having a powerful impact. Thousands of individuals like Lori Siedman, Rosetta Brown, and Ramona Rice have been served, thousands of pieces of equipment have been distributed, and many hours of training have been delivered.

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AWS-3 Update: The Licensing Process Continues

by Roger C. Sherman, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
April 29, 2015 - 12:33 PM

The AWS-3 auction was a blockbuster success – 1,611 new spectrum licenses, 31 winning bidders, and more than $41 billion in net revenues--not to mention that it made available an additional 65 megahertz of spectrum for consumers’ mobile broadband use.  The story of this historic auction is still being written as we undertake our review of the “long-form” license applications filed by winning bidders. We do not yet know if every winning bidder is qualified to receive licenses and/or bidding credits, which is why the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is undertaking a thorough and comprehensive review of all applications.

Today, we released the second “Accepted for Filing” Public Notice in connection with the license applications filed by the winning bidders in the auction. This means that, following its initial review of the applications, including requesting additional information from some applicants, Bureau staff has determined that nine more AWS-3 license applications are now complete, in addition to the applications that the Bureau staff previously accepted for filing. Given the intense public interest in this process, it is important to understand what today’s public notice does and, perhaps more importantly, does not do.

Today’s Accepted for Filing Public Notice is just that – a notice to the public that certain applications are now complete and available for public review.  The Notice does not opine on the merits of any of the applications, nor does it make a finding that any of the applicants who have requested small business bidding credits are eligible for – or will receive – them. 

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Breaking Down Barriers to Innovation in the 3.5 GHz Band

by John Leibovitz, Deputy Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and Special Advisor to the Chairman for Spectrum Policy
April 21, 2015 - 04:47 PM

On Friday the FCC unanimously voted to create the Citizens Broadband Radio Service in the 3.5 GHz Band. This action will create a 150-megahertz band suitable for wireless broadband, including 100 megahertz previously unavailable for commercial use because it was earmarked for military radars. The Commission adopted a comprehensive framework encompassing three tiers of shared use (Incumbents, Priority Access, and General Authorized Access), coordinated through one or more Spectrum Access Systems. Today we released the rules for this new “innovation band”, which will become effective when they are soon published in the Federal Register.

The new 3.5GHz rules will provide tangible benefits for all Americans. First, the new rules will support important national defense missions by protecting incumbent radar systems from interference. Second, the new rules will further increase the speed, capacity, and adaptability of wireless networks, leading to better mobile Internet performance for everyone. Finally, we expect to see wide deployment of wireless broadband in industrial applications – advanced manufacturing, energy, healthcare, etc. – supporting innovation and growth throughout our economy.

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Modernizing the FCC.gov Website

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC CIO
April 20, 2015 - 01:14 PM

In August, the FCC team began a six-month research and design project to dramatically improve the usability and functionality of FCC.gov and its subdomains. The outcome of these collaborative efforts resulted in an interactive prototype of what the improved FCC.gov will look like, as well as an outline of how website content will be organized and structured based on our research findings.

Our Research

The focus of our research was to identify and understand what different FCC.gov visitors want from our website and how to optimize the way they search, use, and interact with the website. The first round of research began by analyzing web content and web analytics. This gave us a sense of the web pages with the most traffic and most commonly searched terms by website users.

The second round of research involved several iterations of “card-sorting” with internal and external audience groups. Card-sorting is a method used in website design to help evaluate and determine the navigation and information architecture of a site. The information architecture of a site represents the way content is structured and organized for users. Ultimately, card-sorting helped us better understand how content should be organized on the site and gave us the foundation for the information architecture.

The third round of research was done in parallel. We conducted one-on-one user experience interviews with various external stakeholders, documenting common tasks and areas of concern with the current site. The interviews were invaluable in helping us better understand current user behavior and needs.

Our Findings

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Working Together to Close the Rural Digital Divide

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 17, 2015 - 02:32 PM

Over the last few years, the FCC has made significant progress modernizing its universal service programs to make broadband available to all Americans. Importantly, the FCC in 2011 unanimously voted to transform the USF high-cost program for the large “price cap” carriers into the Connect America program, which supports rural broadband networks. This program is now moving into its second phase, in which $1.8 billion will soon be offered to expand broadband in price cap areas where deployment would not occur absent subsidies.

At the same time, however, another part of the universal service program that provides $2 billion annually in support for smaller rural carriers – called rate-of-return carriers – requires modernization. Senator Thune rightly recognizes this fact, and my colleagues and I recently made a commitment to him to take action on this issue by the end of this year. Modernization would ensure that this program reflects the realities of today’s marketplace and supports the deployment of broadband networks throughout rural America. We started this process last April when the Commission unanimously adopted a Further Notice that set forth the principles to guide our efforts in modernizing this program. Yesterday, we took another important step as my staff, Commissioner O’Rielly and his staff, Commissioner Clyburn’s staff, and staff from the Wireline Competition Bureau met with associations and others representing rate-of-return carriers to ask for their creative cooperation in getting this job done for rural consumers. I share Commissioner O’Rielly’s vision that we can get this done if we are prepared to roll up our sleeves and work together.

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Direct Video Communication: Access for People who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Speech Disabled in an IP World

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 14, 2015 - 02:27 PM

A few months ago, I received a note from a woman in New Mexico, recounting her recent experience in making a 911 call. She had fallen in her home, alone, badly hurt and bleeding.  She dialed 911, reached an emergency center, an ambulance was dispatched and she was taken to a medical facility.

You might be wondering why someone would write to the Chairman of the FCC about a 911 call. The reason is that this was an emergency for someone who is deaf and the call was made through Video Relay Service (VRS), a program administered by the FCC. The woman had never before had a reason to make an emergency call and, when she made the call, she wondered whether the technology would work.

Most of us take for granted that when we make a phone call, the call goes through. You call from any type of device to any phone number. You don’t think about how the call travels – via circuit or packet, time division or code division, copper or fiber, 1.9 GHz or 700 MHz Networks are interconnected. Telecommunications software is increasingly interoperable.  

Now, imagine that you hear with your eyes. You contact friends and family by video calling and your native language is American Sign Language (ASL).  And when you call a hearing person who does not speak your language, the call is automatically routed over the Internet through a VRS sign language interpreter who conveys what you want to communicate to the hearing person.  The VRS interpreter voices everything you sign to the hearing person and signs back everything that the hearing person says.  

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Serving America's Public Safety Telecommunicators

by Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 14, 2015 - 10:35 AM

This week (April 12-18) is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, when the nation recognizes the dedicated men and women who answer Americans’ calls for help at 911 centers across the country.  These call takers and dispatchers provide the first critical contact for those in need of emergency services.  In the midst of crises, they obtain vital information from callers in order to link them rapidly to police, firefighters, and emergency medical responders – and at times even dispense vital, life-saving information themselves. 

To perform this critical mission, the nation’s telecommunicators need a 911 system that keeps pace with technological advances, particularly as communications networks migrate to Next Generation technologies and consumers embrace smartphones and new communications applications.  New technologies also bring opportunities to improve our 911 system, but they do not lessen the nation’s need for skilled telecommunicators.  Even the best technology cannot replace the essential person-to-person connection offered by a 911 call-taker to a person in need or a dispatcher’s knowledge of the local community that is often critical to timely and effective response.

It is why our focus at the FCC must be on helping telecommunicators secure the technology that will best support them in the challenging work they do and help them do their jobs more effectively.  

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Let’s Move on Updating the AM Radio Rules

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 13, 2015 - 11:04 AM

During her impressive tenure as Acting Chairwoman, Commissioner Clyburn kicked off an important proceeding asking what the Commission should do to keep AM radio thriving.   The so-called AM Radio Revitalization NPRM started an important dialogue on the future of the AM band.  I am committed to taking action in this proceeding so that AM radio will flourish while also preserving the values of competition, diversity, and localism that have long been the heart and soul of broadcasting.

As the oldest broadcasting service, AM radio has been a vital part of American culture for decades and today remains an important source of broadcast programming, particularly for local content. In fact, Americans turn to the AM dial for a majority of all news and talk stations.

However, AM radio stations currently face unique technological challenges that limit their ability to best serve their listeners. In some cases, outdated regulations make it difficult for AM stations to overcome these issues. In other cases, interference concerns that are unique to AM stations are an obstacle.

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Guest Speakers & Questions at FCC Open Meetings

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 10, 2015 - 01:26 PM

Over the years, Open Meetings at the FCC have taken a variety of formats.  At one time, Open Meetings were working sessions where issues were debated live and staff were questioned about different policy choices.  More recently, they have been summaries of decisions already made that are capped off by an official vote.  Lately, it has even become common to invite select guest speakers to Open Meetings to provide testimony in addition to the Bureau presentations.    

Guest Witnesses

While I fully support improving the functionality of the Open Meetings in terms of structure and process, I am not convinced that adding guest speakers is beneficial or appropriate.  While witnesses may provide valuable insight into issues the Commission is considering, these presentations come far too late in the process to inform the outcome of an item.  Indeed, they fall within a no-mans-land where they are practically too late to be ex partes but technically too early to be congratulatory.  Therefore, it’s not clear what substantive value is gained by inviting stakeholders to speak at an Open Meeting.  If the only purpose is to add a glitzy spectacle, then that’s inappropriate and perhaps not demonstrative of the proper decorum befitting a federal regulatory agency.    

Instead, it seems that the purpose of inviting guest speakers is to further promote the viewpoint championed in the item about to be adopted.  And the more controversial the item, the more likely we are to receive such presentations.  But, the lengthy Bureau presentations and approving statements already accomplish that goal.  There is no need to add to the chorus or to try to further rebut or dilute dissenting opinions.    

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