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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

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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Crafting Balanced Incentive Auction Rules in the Public Interest

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 17, 2015 - 04:26 PM

This Sunday marks the first day of summer, and what will be the critical season for finalizing key details for next year’s Incentive Auction.  This two-sided auction will use market forces to make available more low-band spectrum to meet the wireless broadband needs of consumers and businesses for the twenty-first century, and to promote a competitive wireless marketplace.  More spectrum will spur innovation, economic growth and lead to greater consumer choice.

Commission staff recently wrapped up a nationwide tour of information sessions with broadcasters and, in order to confirm with interested broadcasters that all parties are counted, released a list of auction-eligible stations. Last week, the full Commission approved revised rules to provide broadcasters with more flexibility to reach agreements to share their spectrum with other TV stations, which broadcasters have told us would give them more incentive to participate in the auction.

Now we turn to the crucial task of finalizing our auction rules.  In order to serve as the foundation for a successful auction that best serves the public, those rules must carefully balance the range of goals that Congress established for us. For the last 19 months all the interested parties have been jockeying for rules that benefit their position. I understand the jockeying – I once engaged in it myself – but it is now time to end the back-and-forth and make decisions. No single party will be happy with everything we’ve done, but the final product is a balanced solution to a challenging situation with more moving parts than a Swiss watch. One message we heard loud and clear, however, was that the final rules must be as simple as possible. We have thus eliminated earlier ideas that added to complexity.

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A Lifeline for Low-Income Americans

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 28, 2015 - 01:25 PM

The Lifeline program was established in 1985 to help low-income Americans afford access to vital communications. Our nation’s enduring promise is opportunity for all, and helping financially struggling Americans access basic communications empowers individuals to pursue new opportunities and build better lives. This principle has remained constant since Lifeline’s inception. In 1996, Congress ratified the goal of access to advanced communications for low-income consumers in the Communications Act. Over a span of three decades, the program has helped tens of millions of Americans afford basic phone service. But as communications technologies and markets evolve, the Lifeline program also has to evolve to remain relevant.  As I told Congress earlier this year, it is time to overhaul Lifeline to make sure it is still performing the critical function for which it was formed.

Today, we take the first step in that process.  I am circulating new proposals to “reboot” Lifeline for the Internet age.

First, we propose to make Lifeline more efficient and impactful by establishing minimum standards of service for voice and broadband, so both beneficiaries and those who pay into the fund can know that they are getting the best value.

Broadband is key to Lifeline’s future. In 2015, broadband access is essential to find a job: more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 job openings are online. Americans need broadband to keep a job, as companies increasing require basic digital literacy skills. We rely on broadband to manage and receive healthcare, and to help our children do their homework. A 2012 study estimated that broadband helps a typical U.S. consumer saves $8,800 a year by providing access to bargains on goods and services.

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Another Win for Consumers

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 27, 2015 - 02:28 PM

Few things rankle consumers as much as unwanted calls and texts. Thanks to the passage of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, consumers can choose which calls they want and do not want. Yet, in order to maintain those protections, we must continue to close loopholes and empower consumers. The responsibility to protect consumers from robocalls that can be both costly and intrusive does not expire with changes in technology.

That's why I am proposing today the Commission crack down on robocalls, robotexts, and telemarketing calls – the number one source of consumer complaints at the FCC.

Last year alone, we received more than 215,000 complaints related to unwanted and intrusive calls and texts. The filer of one complaint detailed receiving 4,700 unwanted texts over a 6-month period. We've also seen reports of 27,809 unsolicited text messages over 17 months to one reassigned number, despite requests to stop the texts.

The Commission has received numerous petitions from companies – including bankers, debt collectors, app developers, retail stores, and others – seeking clarity on our consumer rules. I intend to use these petitions as an opportunity to empower consumers and curtail these intrusive communications.

I am proposing that the Commission rule on more than 20 pending petitions related to consumer protection and send one clear message: consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive, and the FCC is moving to enforce those rights and protect consumers against robocalls, spam texts, and telemarketing.

We will empower and protect consumers in a number of ways.

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If You Reform It, They Will Come

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 11, 2015 - 03:10 PM

E-rate is the nation's largest education technology program, and it has helped to ensure that almost every school and library in America has basic Internet connectivity. In the 18 years since E-rate was established, technology has evolved, the needs of students and teachers have changed, and basic connectivity has become insufficient. That's why, last year, the FCC took steps to reboot and modernize how we connect our schools, libraries – and most importantly, our students – to 21st century educational opportunity.

We improved the program's cost-effectiveness, set specific, ambitious goals for the broadband capacity delivered to schools and libraries – a short term target of 100 Mbps per 1000 students, and a longer term target of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students   – and re-purposed funding for Wi-Fi and robust broadband connections capable of supporting cutting-edge, one-to-one digital learning.

These reforms will only have their intended impact if schools and libraries step up to take advantage of new opportunities. Early indications are that they are up to the challenge.  Applications are in for E-rate funding for the coming school year, and schools and libraries have responded to the FCC's E-rate reforms by seeking a total of $3.9 billion in support, including more than $1.6 billion for internal Wi-Fi networks.

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