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Blog Posts by Julie Veach

Driving Lifeline Updates With Data

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 22, 2015 - 01:10 PM

As you may know, Lifeline was launched in 1985 to help ensure that land line phone service was affordable for low-income consumers. Congress ratified the program in 1996 and codified the principle that low-income consumers should have access to "advanced telecommunications and information services." In 2008, as consumers snapped up cell phones, the FCC opened the door to Lifeline support for mobility – and then updated its rules in 2012 to protect against the waste, fraud and abuse. Having learned our lesson, in the same order that made huge steps in cleaning up mobile support, the Commission tried to think ahead about gathering the data to consider Lifeline support for broadband, which has become essential to modern life.

Specifically, the FCC launched the Low Income Broadband Pilot Program to study what policies might overcome the barriers to adoption of broadband by low-income households. I’m happy to say that the data are now in from these 14 varied pilots, and we’re releasing the data to the public for analysis, along with our own short report with a few immediate takeaways:

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Looking for the Best Approach to Preserve the Open Internet

October 27, 2014 - 04:21 PM

Earlier this month, the Commission held the last in its series of six Open Internet Roundtables.  At each one of these roundtables—totaling over 20 hours— panelists with diverse viewpoints dove into many of the thorniest issues in this proceeding, responding to questions from the public, FCC moderators, and the Chairman.  The Chairman, Commissioners, and stakeholders have also engaged in vigorous discussions of these issues at events around the country.  All for the purpose identified by the Commission in its Open Internet NPRM:  to find the best approach to protect and promote Internet openness.

We listened and we learned.  With specific regard to the Roundtables, here are some key takeaways.  

We heard economists debating harms to Internet openness, including but not limited to broadband providers’ incentives and ability to engage in anti-competitive behavior.  We heard engineers describing Internet technologies, including current techniques for managing today’s networks.  And we heard enforcement experts discussing how to design an enforcement process for open Internet rules that balances certainty, flexibility, and access for all stakeholders. 

Each of us also personally moderated panels about the Commission’s legal authority and policy choices for fixed and mobile broadband services. 

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Transaction Reviews and the Public Interest

October 7, 2014 - 02:57 PM

Today, in connection with two significant and simultaneous merger reviews, the Media Bureau issued an Order establishing unique protections for the Merger Applicants’ programming contracts, retransmission agreements, and other related materials.

This new procedure balances three important public-interest obligations: (i) the Commission’s need for access to highly relevant information about the Applicants’ business practices, (ii) other parties’ need to express informed views to the Commission about the transactions, and (iii) the need to ensure that sensitive competitive information is used solely for that purpose.

These obligations are supported by the law, which requires that we decide whether a proposed transaction would further the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” That analysis is informed by the Applicants’ past course of conduct, which is critical to understanding the impact of a future merger.  Equally important is the legal command that the Commission’s decision be based on a public record developed through public notice and an opportunity to comment.

The Commission often obtains sensitive commercial information along the way. And it has a long-established method of handling such information. Through a binding Protective Order, third parties can gain access to Highly Confidential Information only after agreeing to restrictions that are based on years of Commission experience. For example, the only people allowed to see Highly Confidential Information are outside representatives who personally acknowledge and commit to abide by these restrictions.  The information may be used only in connection with the proceeding in which it is produced, and no one involved in competitive decision-making is eligible to see it. Individuals also must destroy or return the information when the Commission’s proceeding is over.

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Exploring New Ideas for Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
September 22, 2014 - 12:29 PM

Last week was a big one in the Commission’s quest for the best approach to protect and promote an Open Internet.

Our public comment period ended on Monday . . . with more than 3.7 million comments and reply comments submitted by a public that is passionate about this issue. Many of these comments focused on potentially harmful effects of paid prioritization on innovation and free expression, among other values. On Tuesday and Friday, the Commission hosted 12 hours of discussions in the Open Internet Roundtables, including dialogue on the threats to an Open Internet and policies to address those threats, the scope of new Open Internet rules, proposed enhancements to existing transparency rules, the application of Open Internet rules to mobile broadband, the best ways to enforce Open Internet rules, and the technical aspects of ensuring an Open Internet.

On Wednesday, Chairman Wheeler testified before Congress and explained that all options are open and that, in particular, Title II is very much on the table. On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Open Internet.

At the week’s close, Chairman Wheeler emphasized that the Commission is looking for a rainbow of policy and legal proposals, rather than being confined to what he called limited “monochromatic” options.

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Protecting Consumers in the Transition from Copper Networks

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 7, 2014 - 04:17 PM

A unanimous Commission held in January that the technology transitions currently underway are a positive development for American consumers—holding promise for innovative new services and unleashing innovation and opportunity.  The Commission also agreed that its role is to ensure that these transitions reinforce and advance the fundamental values found in the Communications Act:  public safety, competition, consumer protection, and universal service.

An important transition is the move away from the old copper-based networks to networks that rely on fiber, wireless, and other technologies.  These technologies can offer benefits for consumers and network providers alike.  For example, copper deteriorates quickly in flood situations, and the broadband speeds it can support have been limited (although some innovative companies offer broadband services over copper at speeds above 50 Mbps).  Fiber can support broadband speeds of 1 Gbps or more; wireless facilities are often less costly to deploy and can support use at multiple locations. 

But customers have come to rely on the features and functionalities of the old copper networks.  Communications systems can fail in different ways and for different reasons depending upon the underlying technology used; this raises questions about consumer expectations, and potential consumer harms, as they transition from one technology to another.  For example, based on their experience with copper networks, consumers may expect their plug-in phones to work during a power outage without any action on their part.  Consumers may also expect a variety of familiar data-based services, such as credit card readers, home alarms, and medical alert monitors, to function in a particular way.  Networks other than copper may not support these functionalities, or not in the ways that consumers have come to expect.

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Moving Forward On the E-rate Modernization Path

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 6, 2014 - 02:49 PM

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

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 3, 2014 - 10:14 AM

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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Providing Relief for the Families of Inmates From the High Cost of Staying in Touch

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
September 26, 2013 - 05:00 PM

Today, the Commission released an Order that will provide meaningful relief to millions of Americans who have borne the financial burden of unjust and unreasonable interstate inmate calling service (ICS) rates.  These reforms are the right thing to do.  Our actions will increase inmates’ ability to stay in contact with their families and loved ones—including the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent.  That increased contact reduces recidivism, which benefits all of us through safer communities and by reducing the expense of incarcerating the re-offenders.  In fact, one study notes that a 1% reduction in recidivism would lead to $250 million in annual cost savings.   

The ICS rates that spurred us to act are high.  In one case, the cost of a 15-minute call is $17.50—about $1.15 per minute.  The Order we released today is a major step toward fulfilling our statutory obligation to ensure that rates for all consumers are just, reasonable and fair. 

Let’s take a look at the reforms:

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Setting the Right Incentives for Investment in Rural Broadband

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 16, 2013 - 03:41 PM

Today, the Wireline Bureau is seeking comment on a number of issues relating to broadband funding for smaller rural carriers, known as rate-of-return carriers.

One of the problematic results of the Commission’s old Universal Service System was what we called the rural-rural divide: because the system failed to target support where it was needed and provided little accountability, some rural communities received world-leading broadband, while others, often right next door, were left behind.  In part, this problem arose because of the different systems governing smaller, rate-of-return carriers, and larger companies, known as price cap carriers.

About two-thirds of all universal service support for landline service went to rate-of-return carriers, although they serve about 20-30% of the expensive rural areas where no other provider is offering voice and broadband, the areas where support is most likely needed.  In many cases, disparities arose because these smaller carriers serve some of the very hardest areas to reach or because they have been aggressively extending broadband where it wouldn’t otherwise reach.  But to a significant extent, the disparity simply had to do with regulatory distinctions, or arose because the old rules lacked safeguards or accountability. 

In order to help ensure all Americans get access to broadband while increasing efficiency and accountability -- no matter what kind of company serves an area -- we overhauled universal service and created the Connect America Fund.  These reforms required making support for all types of carriers more efficient and accountable. 

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How We’re Investing Smart To Expand Rural Broadband

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 16, 2013 - 11:44 AM

The Connect America Fund is the FCC’s 21st Century solution to expanding broadband to unserved areas of rural America.  One reason why the Connect America Fund can stay within a budget as it accomplishes this task – while continuing to support traditional voice service as its 20th Century predecessor program did – is because we are targeting the right amount of subsidies to the right places: places where help is needed the most. The old universal service fund did little to protect against unneeded subsidies. Developing ways to stop this fiscal waste was a major focus of our 2011 Connect America reforms.

We are well on the way to implementing these reforms, including making initial decisions on a Cost Model that will calculate what level of support is needed, down to the Census block level.  Today, we’re adopting another set of policies to make sure that we don’t support providers in Census blocks where another provider is delivering service without subsidies.

It’s fiscally prudent to reserve the Fund for areas where there’s no business case to serve consumers. And it’s common sense that in areas where a provider delivers voice and broadband without subsidies, a business case has been made.  Moreover, giving subsidies to one provider and not the other is unfair.

So accounting for unsubsidized providers is critical as we distribute support for rural voice and broadband in this phase, Phase II, of the Connect America Fund.  Here’s how we are going to do it.

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