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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

Streamlining Rules and Processes: New Steps Forward

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 25, 2015 - 12:32 PM

Over the course of my career I have witnessed many instances where regulatory delay and burdensome red tape slowed the pace of innovation and hampered investment in the communications sector, which plays such a vital role in our country's economic growth. That's why one of my first steps as Chairman was to launch a comprehensive review of the Commission's operations, with the goal of streamlining processes, updating or removing outdated rules, and generally improving how the agency conducts its businesses. Next month, the Commission will consider two new initiatives in this ongoing effort.

Already, we've seen significant improvements to the agency's operations. Commission staff have made substantial progress on reducing matters pending for more than six months, processing license applications and renewals, disposing of petitions for reconsideration and applications for review, and closing open dockets. One of the most obvious reforms was overhauling the consumer complaint process. We opened a new complaint portal early this year, and continue to make enhancements in the data being made available publicly regarding the complaints filed here at the FCC.

One area of focus had been modernizing Part 25 of the Commission's rules, which governs licensing and operation of space stations and earth stations for the provision of satellite communications services. Led by our International Bureau, the Commission has already revised or eliminated numerous Part 25 rule provisions.

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Back to Basics: Accessibility and Public Safety

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 29, 2015 - 03:50 PM

November will mark my second anniversary as FCC Chairman. On this occasion, our open meeting agenda reflects the very same priorities I spoke about on my first day. From the outset I’ve spoken about the Commission’s responsibility to uphold the core values that have historically defined our communications networks, what I call the Network Compact. Two of those core values are access and public safety, and each will be featured at our upcoming meeting.

If you’re looking for evidence of communications technology’s power to save lives, look no further than the events of July 1, 2013 in East Windsor, Connecticut. A tornado swept through town, tearing apart an inflatable indoor soccer dome and blowing parts onto the nearby highway. Literally two minutes before the tornado hit, the soccer dome was filled with 29 children and five camp counselors. With moments to spare, they were evacuated to an adjoining building where they sought shelter. The reason they knew to seek cover was that the manager of the summer camp received an alert from the National Weather Service on her phone saying a tornado was headed her way, and she responded immediately.

The reason she received that warning was because the FCC and FEMA, working with the wireless industry, established the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system to deliver critical information to Americans on their wireless phones. Typical messages include severe weather information and Amber Alerts. Now that stakeholders have a few years’ experience with the service, we can make it even better.

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Detroit’s Digital Divide

October 27, 2015 - 01:43 PM
Photo of  Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

It’s always good to get out of Washington. It’s even better when you get to visit one of America’s great cities. This week, we have had the pleasure of visiting the Motor City: Detroit, Michigan.

In the mid-20th century, Detroit’s economy got a boost from a new network of highways that fueled a spike in auto manufacturing from eight million units in 1950 to a peak of 15 million in the 1970s. Today, new broadband networks are creating even greater opportunities for the people of Detroit, but they are also raising new challenges. The most immediate challenge is that an unacceptable number of Detroit residents are being bypassed by the broadband revolution. Detroit’s digital divide is among the most extreme in the nation. Thirty-eight percent of its residents do not have broadband at home. For low-income households, the percentage offline is a whopping 63 percent.

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Thinking Globally, Acting on Mobile

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 1, 2015 - 03:13 PM

One of the Commission’s biggest challenges is to make sure our rules and policies evolve to reflect major changes in the communications and technology landscape. Two of the biggest developments of the digital age are that the economy has gone global and everything is going mobile. Today, I’m circulating two items to boost U.S. competitiveness in our global economy by removing barriers to private investment and unleashing mobile innovation.

Few sectors of our economy hold more promise for economic growth, job creation and U.S. leadership than mobile communications. The mobile apps economy is a “made-in-the-USA” phenomenon that has already created more than 750,000 U.S. jobs. More than 99 percent of smartphones worldwide run U.S. operating systems, up from about 20 percent in 2009. And one of the biggest edges for the U.S. is that we were the first to deploy LTE wireless networks at scale, making America the test bed for early 4G innovation. Roughly half of American mobile subscribers had 4G connections at the end of 2014, compared to 13 percent of subscribers in Europe and 10 percent in Asia.

To maintain our leadership position, we need to continue looking to the future and act now to facilitate the next generation – the fifth generation – of mobile technology. The fifth generation of mobile networks could leverage both low-band and high-band spectrum to provide significantly greater wireless broadband speeds for consumers.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking I am circulating today is an important step toward creating an environment for this next generation of wireless to develop, take hold, and explode across the United States.

This NPRM proposes a framework for flexible spectrum use rules for bands above 24 GHz, including for mobile broadband use. Promoting flexible, dynamic spectrum use has been the bedrock that has helped the United States become a world leader in wireless.

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Ensuring the Resiliency of Our Communications Infrastructure

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
August 27, 2015 - 12:57 PM

Imagine a community with tens of thousands of residents suffering a communications blackout for more than 48 hours. Not only were residents unable to send emails or make phone calls, their banking system shut down, leaving people unable to make credit card transactions or withdraw money from an ATM. This is not a hypothetical. It happened last month in the Northern Marinas Islands, a U.S. territory in the Western Pacific Ocean. The cause: a break in an undersea cable. While this happened on the other side of the world, it's a cause for concern for all of us. Undersea cables carry more than 95 percent of all U.S. international voice, data, and Internet traffic. Today, I'm circulating a proposal to my colleagues that would enhance the security and reliability of this key piece of the Internet's physical infrastructure.

There are approximately 60 submarine (or "undersea") cables that provide connectivity between the mainland U.S. and consumers in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as virtually all connectivity between the U.S. and the rest of the world. Many submarine cables are jointly owned and operated by multiple companies.

While submarine cables are vital to America's economic and national security, licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis, and the information that we receive is too limited to be of use. In contrast, other communications providers — including wireline, wireless, and satellite —are required to report outages to the FCC's Network Outage Reporting System (NORS).

Why are outage reports important? Think of the old saw about how "you can't manage what you don't measure." The data we collect from NORS has allowed us to analyze outage trends and recommend solutions to make these networks more resilient and reliable. We should do the same for these undersea cables.

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Upgrading Media Rules to Better Serve Consumers in Today’s Video Marketplace

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
August 12, 2015 - 11:54 AM

While summer may be hiatus for some television programs, here at the Commission we’ve been hard at work to ensure a more competitive video marketplace for American consumers.

In December of last year, Congress passed bipartisan legislation known as the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR) Act of 2014, which instructs and permits the Commission to modernize rules regarding the satellite, cable, and broadcast television markets. Today, I am circulating a bundle of orders and proposals that fulfill this mandate to better reflect today’s media marketplace and further protect the public interest.

Our work under the STELAR legislation will accomplish two primary pro-consumer ends.  First, pursuant to STELAR requirements, we adopt a process by which parties may seek modification of a TV station’s local television market to add or delete communities in order to better reflect market realities.  This process has been in place for cable since 1992, and this order will extend that process to the satellite market, but will now also allow local governments, as well as broadcasters and satellite providers, to seek changes to markets for purposes of satellite carriage.  Where satellite providers have the technical ability to carry a station, and where broadcasters are willing to be carried, the market modification process may, in some instances, address the problem of “orphan counties” and allow consumers to receive previously unavailable in-state broadcast programming, including news, public affairs, and sports.  

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Leading towards Next Generation "5G" Mobile Services

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
August 3, 2015 - 03:05 PM

Over the past decade, wireless services and technologies have dramatically evolved while shaping our economy and society. We've moved from analog to digital, from voice only services to wireless broadband, from 2G to 4G, and beyond. The Commission has consistently fostered policies promoting wireless deployment and innovation. We have seen an extraordinary growth in demand for wireless services. We've made additional spectrum available, but also pursued a flexible use regulatory strategy that allows providers to use spectrum resources to meet their needs and to develop and deploy innovative technologies without Commission approval (of course, with necessary competitive safeguards).

Technological innovation both supports and stretches the boundaries of flexible use policies, allowing more and more uses and users to coexist. This is true of so-called "5G technologies", enabling higher-spectrum bands for mobility than previously thought possible. These higher-frequency bands are currently allocated for a variety of uses, including fixed, mobile, and satellite. It is because of the success of flexible use policies that helped the United States become a leader in LTE that we intend to build our 5G policies on the bedrock of flexible use. 5G may mean not only better broadband, but also services and applications fundamentally different from those that are possible today, including services not yet even imagined, and potentially entire new industries.

My goal is to foster an environment in which the widest possible variety of new technologies can grow and flourish. The Commission took the first step in the fall of 2014 when it adopted a Notice of Inquiry asking about expanded wireless use of higher-frequency bands. We expect to follow up on the Notice of Inquiry and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the use of higher-frequency bands for mobile and other uses this year.

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Seizing the Opportunities of Unlicensed Spectrum and Wireless Microphones

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 16, 2015 - 04:30 PM

From the outset of our work to implement the world’s first Incentive Auction, a central goal has been to maximize the amount of spectrum made available for not only licensed use, but also unlicensed use. Unlicensed spectrum has been powerful platform for driving innovation, investment, and economic growth. Breakthroughs like Wi-Fi, which relies on unlicensed spectrum, have generated hundreds of billions of dollars of value for our economy and consumers.

Last year, the Commission adopted an Incentive Auction Report & Order that proposes three channels for unlicensed use nationwide. While some have sought to define “nationwide” as synonymous as “uniform in every market,” that is most likely a physical impossibility that ignores how broadcast participation can vary in every market. Today, I’m circulating two items for consideration, alongside the other Incentive Auction items, at next month’s open meeting. The Part 15 Report and Order will assure unlicensed spectrum is available in every market.  The Wireless Microphones Comprehensive Report & Order will address the long term needs of wireless microphone users.

Our proposal would benefit consumers in the form of increased investment and innovation in unlicensed products and services. The proposal also helps those who rely on wireless microphones by altering operational parameters and expanding access to spectrum.

The technical standards we are proposing for unlicensed operations would create certainty for unlicensed device users and manufacturers while reducing the risk of interference to licensed users. These items are important components of a suite of proposals that establish clear rules and protections for unlicensed devices as well as licensed wireless microphone devices in the Incentive Auction band as well as in other wireless bands where licensed wireless mics will gain additional access.

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Advancing Technology Transitions by Protecting Consumers, Competition and Public Safety in an IP-World

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 10, 2015 - 11:30 AM

The transition to efficient, modern communications networks is bringing new and innovative services to consumers and businesses. The Commission’s approach to these technology transitions is simple: the shift to next-generation fiber and IP-based networks from analog switch- and copper-based networks is good and should be encouraged. But advances in technology will never justify abandonment of the core values that define the relationship between Americans and the networks they use to communicate.                               

After an open, rigorous process, I will be circulating to my fellow Commissioners an item that would update the FCC’s rules to help deliver the promise of dynamic new networks, provide clear rules of the road for network operators, and preserve our core values, including protecting consumers and promoting competition and public safety.

Public safety, in particular, offers a vivid example of how technology transitions are concurrently creating both new opportunities and new challenges. IP-based networks enable 911 call centers to receive a greater range of information – such as text and video – so they can better support first responders in an emergency. However, IP-based home voice services are more vulnerable to outages during emergencies than their copper predecessors. While traditional, copper-based landline home phone service typically works during electric outages because they carry their own power, IP-based substitutes usually require an independent source of power.  This means they need backup power to keep operating.

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Enhancing Competition and Opportunity in the Mobile Marketplace

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 25, 2015 - 12:31 PM

Few areas of our economy hold more promise for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators than the wireless broadband sector. According to a Boston Consulting Group analysis, it already contributes $548 billion annually to U.S. GDP, and it is projected to account for 5 percent of our economy by 2020. BCG also reports that 90 percent of mobile consumers want even faster data speeds, broader coverage and other improvements. The opportunities being created by the wireless revolution are massive and will only continue to grow.

Small businesses, including women- and minority-owned businesses and rural service providers, should have the opportunity to share in this growth, but they have faced significant barriers to meaningful participation in the industry. At our next Open Meeting, the Commission will vote on rules that would revamp our outdated spectrum auction bidding policies to help these entities better compete in today’s mobile marketplace. At the same time, our reforms will enhance the integrity of the FCC’s auctions and ensure large corporations can’t game the system.

Making sure small businesses have real opportunities to provide spectrum-based services has long been a goal of Congress and the Commission. In the 1990s, the Commission enacted rules creating bidding credits for small businesses in spectrum auctions, fulfilling our Congressional mandate to help these entities compete more meaningfully at federal spectrum auctions.

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