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Just Around the Broadband Bend

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 23, 2015 - 04:04 PM

It's often said that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.  I had just such an experience when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force went to Jackson and Sunflower County, Mississippi

Our meetings, roundtables, and site visits demonstrated the transformative power of broadband in health.  They reinforced in living color ― indeed, in Ole Miss crimson and Jackson State navy ― that we can’t be weary in well doing and that there is a critical need especially in our rural communities to get broadband done right and get it done right, now.  And, they put real faces and families behind our every policy effort.

According to a recent study, Mississippi was ranked the unhealthiest state in the nation for the third consecutive year.  As the deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers will tell you, Mississippi has the highest number of deaths from cardiovascular disease and the second highest prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the country.  On the broadband connectivity front, the vast rural stretches of the state present significant challenges. 

But, Mississippi is much more than its health and broadband connectivity metrics.  I saw this first hand when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force visited rural Mississippi, the second stop in its Beyond the Beltway series.

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Embrace the Internet for EEO “Widely Disseminated Rule”

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 20, 2015 - 03:21 PM

As I have said previously, I believe the Internet is the greatest man-made invention in my lifetime. We spend a considerable amount of time and effort at the Commission determining how best to remove barriers to its deployment, studying and reporting its speed and availability, scolding broadband companies for not doing enough and, in some cases, providing American ratepayer subsidies to ensure it will reach all corners of our country.  Therefore, it comes as a surprise – and a disappointment – that we don’t embrace it when it comes to compliance with existing Commission rules.  I previously highlighted that the Internet was the appropriate vehicle for providing broadcast contest rules, and the Commission has been updating our regulations accordingly, but the Internet may be just as important for communications companies trying to attract a diverse workforce. 

The Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules require broadcast and cable companies to distribute information far and wide—and provide evidence of such outreach—when they have open positions to be filled.  Specifically, the rules require broadcasters with five or more, and multi-channel video programming distributors with six or more, full-time employees to cast a wide net to recruit minority and female applicants for all full-time job vacancies. These employee search efforts are required to be part of companies’ public files, which are either currently online or likely to be in the near future, and are subject to random Commission audits to ensure compliance and analyze performance.  And companies are subject to enforcement actions when EEO rules are not followed.    

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Sound Principles for Lifeline Reform

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 13, 2015 - 03:51 PM

Over the last few years, the Commission has taken action to reform each of its universal service distribution programs to refocus them on broadband. The only program outstanding is the Low-Income or "Lifeline" program. Given recent pronouncements, I expect some changes to Lifeline in the not-too-distant future.

The Lifeline program was originally intended to provide low-income consumers with a discount to help make wireline telephone service more affordable. Over time, it began to pay for prepaid wireless service, and the "discount" often covers the entire monthly bill. That shift has more than doubled the size of the program. It also created problematic incentives that opened the door to waste, fraud and abuse that have never been sufficiently resolved. This is unacceptable.

The Commission has taken important steps to rein in program excesses, including by requiring annual eligibility re-certifications and instituting a database (the NLAD) to screen for duplicate subsidies. However, it appears that abuses are continuing.

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The 'Wonders' of Video Description Technology

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 13, 2015 - 01:47 PM

A few months ago, Stevie Wonder visited the FCC to talk about how we can harness the power of technology to make performance art more accessible.  At that time, I discovered that Mr. Wonder would be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.  When he urged the FCC to raise awareness about and availability of audio description of video programming, I thought the Grammy special would be a wonderful showcase.

On February 16, 2015, thanks to the leadership of CBS CEO Les Moonves, CBS will use video description on its broadcast of "Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life - an All-Star GRAMMY Salute." It is the first time video description has ever been used for a musical performance program. 

If you're unfamiliar with video description technology, it's a feature that allows consumers who are blind or visually impaired to listen to an audio track describing a video program's visual elements when there is no audio accompanying those elements.  The audio describes non-verbal actions taking place on the screen, such as a body language, scene changes, setting, visual jokes, costumes or other content.  People who can see take for granted these silent but essential aspects of programming, but, without video description, people who are blind miss them.

Many popular television programs today offer video description services, including Fox's "Bones," NBC's "Grimm," PBS's "Downton Abbey," Nickelodeon's "Go Diego Go, " USA's "Royal Pains," and many more. You can experience what video description offers to the public by watching this video clip.

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Wireless Providers Fulfill Commitment to let Consumers Unlock Mobile Phones

February 11, 2015 - 02:40 PM

One year ago, the FCC announced a voluntary commitment among a number of mobile wireless service providers to adopt policies that allow their customers to switch networks while keeping their existing devices – a process called cell phone unlocking.  That commitment came with a one-year deadline. Today, we are proud to report that the country’s major providers have met their commitment.

Specifically, the principles adopted into the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service include pro-consumer provisions on disclosure, postpaid and prepaid unlocking, notice, customer response time, and unlocking phones for deployed military personnel.  When CTIA adopted these six principles, participating providers committed to a one-year implementation deadline.  

Under this commitment, participating wireless providers will unlock your postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of your service contract or installment plan have been met and your account is in good standing.  Participating wireless providers will unlock prepaid mobile devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements.  Participating providers will clearly notify you when your postpaid device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked.  Additionally, your wireless provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.

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Delegated Authority: Serious Objections and Solutions

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 2, 2015 - 03:47 PM

I am fortunate to work at an agency with incredibly dedicated and talented staff.  The vast majority of personnel at the FCC are hardworking public servants, intent on conscientiously carrying out our work overseeing the communications industry.  The Daily Digest shows how much they accomplish every single day on a wide range of issues.  Generally, I support their efforts.

Notwithstanding my support for the staff’s work, there are certain aspects of the FCC’s duties that should be reserved and addressed by the full Commission.  Chief among those are matters that are new or novel.  The FCC’s rules reserve new or novel issues for a Commission vote—and there are good reasons for doing so.  That way the full Commission has the opportunity to set precedent on matters of first impression that can have significant and long-lasting legal and policy consequences.  It is also helpful for the Commissioners, with their broader perspectives, to act on issues that may have implications for other segments of the communications industry.  Moreover, it ensures that parties that want to challenge final FCC decisions are able to do so in a timely manner.  It does little good to have a decision be decided at the bureau level when everyone knows the result will be appealed to the full Commission (unless the goal is to intentionally fail to act on an application for review).   

At times, the Commission has, by order, given additional authority to the Bureaus and Offices, beyond what is already provided for in the rules.  Such ad hoc delegation can sometimes be permissible.  However, looking back over the last 30 years, that seems to be the exception, not the norm.  And past delegations shouldn’t become a justification for future delegations.  Why am I hamstrung by a decision to delegate an issue to staff made by a Commission years ago? 

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Municipal Broadband: A Snapshot

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
January 30, 2015 - 03:32 PM

Those who wish to preempt state laws impacting municipal broadband networks often cite up to 21 states that have limitations or restrictions on such networks. A closer inspection of the specific state laws being criticized, however, offers a much different picture regarding the scope and particulars of the specific state limitations. In other words, if the Commission were to preempt state laws (assuming it has requisite authority), what "barriers" would it be preempting? An FCC filing by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), an advocate of municipal broadband networks, is a good place to start this analysis. The chart below reflects CLIC's latest filing with the Commission and groups individual states based on common limitations or restrictions (states with multiple limitations are reflected in the chart below).

Upon review, it is clear that many of the limitations or restrictions appear to be justified practices by state governments and should be excluded from any preemption discussion.  Beyond the extensive rhetoric and absent Congressional direction, nullifying state-enacted taxpayer protections to further a political goal sends the Commission down an extremely troubling path.

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A New Year’s Resolution: Using Broadband to Get Healthy and Stay Well

by Dr. Chris Gibbons, FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
January 30, 2015 - 10:57 AM

It’s that time of year again . . . resolution time. You often hear that people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits. From eating better to being more active, we all tend to see the New Year as a way to make a fresh (and healthy) start.

But sometimes convenience is a major factor in making our health resolutions stick. That’s where broadband and technology comes in. As demonstrated at the recent Consumer Electronics Show, there are a variety of technological advances already being used to improve health and health care. And as we saw in “Back to the Future,” technology has the ability to make one truly “fly” – and in today’s world, broadband provides the wings.

Recent advances in broadband-enabled sensor technology offer the potential for more convenient, and ultimately less-costly and less-invasive solutions. Some devices, such as the fitness trackers (that many of us got as holiday gifts) can give us that extra motivation necessary to maintain healthy habits. But there are others, from pill cameras to injectable devices that, while less universal, are increasingly available from your doctor or other medical professional.  The exciting advances just around the corner can boggle the mind.

These new types of broadband-enabled health technologies are generically called “ingestibles,” “wearables” and “embeddables.”  It’s worth getting familiar with these technologies and talking with your doctor about how digital health tools can help you.

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Putting Auction 97 in the History Books

by Roger C. Sherman, Chief, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
January 29, 2015 - 12:18 PM

The bidding in Auction 97 – the AWS-3 auction – has concluded. There will be a lot of discussion about the results over the days, weeks and months ahead, and rightly so – this was an historic auction. Although winning bidders must still make payments and submit applications prior to the grant of licenses, by any measure it’s safe to say that the auction was an overwhelming success. Based on the information available at this time, here are the highlights:

  • 65 megahertz of spectrum made available to meet the Nation’s demand for wireless broadband;
  • $7 billion to fund the Nation’s first nationwide broadband public safety network;
  • $300 million for public safety communications research;
  • $115 million in grants for 911, E911, and NextGen 911 implementation;
  • More than $20 billion for deficit reduction; and
  • Funding for relocating Federal systems.

With all the buzz about the auction revenues, let’s not forget the ultimate purpose of this auction – to make more spectrum available for wireless broadband. Additional spectrum resources will improve wireless providers’ ability to meet capacity and coverage needs across the country. This means better wireless service – faster speeds and greater access – for consumers.

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Update on Advance Posting of Commission Meeting Items

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
January 16, 2015 - 02:53 PM

In August, I wrote a blog post urging the Commission to post on its website the actual text of the items to be considered at our Open Meetings at the same time they are provided to Commissioners.  I made the suggestion because the inability of the public to obtain a complete picture of what is in a pending notice of proposed rulemaking or order routinely leads to confusion over what exactly is at stake.  Making matters worse, Commissioners are not allowed to reveal the substantive details to outside parties.  We can’t even correct inaccurate impressions that stakeholders may have received, and we are barred from discussing what changes we are seeking.  This barrier to a fulsome exchange can be extremely frustrating for all involved.

Despite positive feedback from people at the FCC, outside parties, Members of Congress, [1] and the general public, four months later, we have yet to post a single meeting item in advance.  Moreover, the lack of full disclosure and transparency has continued to be a problem as some parties have not been fully briefed on recent items, such as the recently adopted 911 Reliability NPRM, while others are not briefed at all. 

The reason that nothing has happened, I am told, is that there are two basic concerns with the proposal:  1) that it could be harder to comply with the Administrative Procedure Act (APA); and 2) that it could be more difficult to withhold documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  I do not find either argument persuasive or insurmountable. 

APA

The APA requires reasoned decision-making based on full and fair consideration of the record.  That is, we need to review all of the comments and ex partes in a proceeding and respond to the substantive issues raised. 

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