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Blog Posts by Tom Wheeler

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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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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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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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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Innovation in the 3.5 GHz Band: Creating a New Citizens Broadband Radio Service

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
March 27, 2015 - 03:51 PM

Five years ago, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a report identifying possible spectrum bands for reallocation for commercial uses. In the report, it identified the 3550-3650 MHz band as a potential opportunity for future commercial use. At the time, there was relatively little commercial interest in this band. But some saw an opportunity to promote new wireless technologies, new business ideas, and new spectrum management techniques to increase our nation’s broadband capacity. Today I circulated to my colleagues a draft Report and Order that will seize that opportunity by creating a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

The 3.5 GHz band is an innovation band. As a result of technological innovations and new focus on spectrum sharing, we can combine it with adjacent spectrum to create a 150 megahertz contiguous band previously unavailable for commercial uses. It provides an opportunity to try new innovations in spectrum licensing and access schemes to meet the needs of a multiplicity of users, simultaneously. And, crucially, we can do all of this in a way that does not harm important federal missions.

The draft Report and Order implements a three-tiered sharing paradigm, which we have explored in multiple rounds of notice and comment over the past two years. The lowest tier in the hierarchy, General Authorized Access (GAA), is open to anyone with an FCC-certified device. Much like unlicensed bands, GAA will provide for zero-cost access to the spectrum by commercial broadband users. In the Priority Access tier, users of the band can acquire at auction targeted, short-duration licenses that provide interference protection from GAA users. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, incumbent federal and commercial radar, satellite, and other users will receive protection from all Citizens Broadband Service users.

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Good News for Consumers, Innovators and Financial Markets

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 26, 2015 - 12:05 PM

Thank you to the over four million Americans who participated in the Open Internet proceeding. Thanks to them, this decision on Internet openness was itself the most open proceeding in the history of the FCC.

As a result, the FCC today has taken an important step that should reassure consumers, innovators and the financial markets about the broadband future of our nation.

Consumers now know that lawful content will not be blocked or their service throttled. Today’s action puts in place bright line rules to ban these practices outright.

Innovators now know they will have open access to consumers without worrying about pay-for-preference fast lanes. This, too, is a bright line rule to ban paid prioritization.

Financial markets now know that rate regulation, tariffing and forced unbundling – the old-style utility regulation – has been superseded by a modernized regulatory approach that has already been demonstrated to work. The rules under which the wireless industry invested $300 billion to build a vibrant and growing business are the pro-investment model for the rules we adopted today.

The future of the Internet does not reside in backward-looking regulation from another era. There are 48 sections of Title II of the Communications Act. The modern regulatory approach we adopted today cuts away 27 of those provisions (even more than were removed for mobile voice service) to establish the above-mentioned bright line regulations for issues that exist today, and to apply the well-known “just and reasonable” standard as the rule for Internet activity going forward.

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