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Official FCC Blog

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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Another Step Toward Fairness in Inmate Calling Services

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
September 30, 2015 - 12:46 PM

Over two years ago, the FCC adopted an Order reforming rates for inmate calling services, easing the burden of exorbitant charges for millions of families. This change was a long time coming. The journey began in 2003 when Mrs. Martha Wright, a retired nurse from Washington, D.C., came before the Commission seeking relief from the hundred-dollars-a-month bills she was making significant personal sacrifices to pay so she could stay in touch with her imprisoned grandson. Over the next decade, others from around the country joined this cause. I was honored to hold the gavel when the inmate calling reform Order was adopted in August 2013, and humbled that many of the petitioners who demanded change – including Mrs. Wright’s grandson – were in the Commission Meeting Room that day.

The 2013 Order was a big deal. But it was also only a first step. It covered interstate calls but not intrastate, and the caps the Commission adopted were interim pending further review. Over the past two years, we’ve been able to learn from the initial reforms, and today the Commission is moving forward with an item that draws on these lessons and takes another important step forward to make inmate calling rates affordable to promote connectivity with friends and family to prevent inmates returning home as strangers, which increases the likelihood of recidivism.

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Improving Broadcasters’ Physical Security

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
September 29, 2015 - 03:55 PM

The Commission’s effort to require online public inspection files for most television and radio broadcast stations (and others) brings with it the opportunity to improve the physical security of broadcast stations. Simply put, once the public is able to view these documents online, there should be no need for public access to broadcast station premises. Given past attacks on station employees and the physical risks these individuals can face, it is all the more important that the Commission clarify our rules so that if any station makes its public inspection file available online – either as required by our rules or on its own initiative – it is no longer required to make its facilities or premises open to the public. This positive step will improve the safety of broadcast stations while enhancing public access to key records.

Across our nation, local broadcasting personnel often become real celebrities in their communities. In many instances, people see or hear a station’s on-air talent on a daily or weekly basis, and find them throughout the community performing various official and public service functions. From on-air broadcasting and investigative reporting to charity fundraising and many other functions, station employees are the face of broadcasters in cities, towns and localities throughout America. These efforts are part of the reason that broadcasters and their hardworking staff are widely celebrated.

Unfortunately, the exposure and notoriety from such high profile professions in today’s media driven environment can lead to greater safety risk for station personnel. We all know there are some number of unstable individuals interacting in every society, and broadcast station employees can be particularly vulnerable to threats or actual harm, including physical assault or worse.

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Tools for PSAPs

by Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
September 28, 2015 - 01:23 PM

As we come to the end of September, National Preparedness Month, I'd like to highlight two tools that Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) – America's 911 operations centers – can use: one to alert their communities, and the other to alert the FCC to local public safety communications issues. These tools – emergency alerts and the FCC's new Public Safety Support Center – can help public safety communicators carry out their lifesaving missions.

Emergency Alerts

As part of National Preparedness Month, educates Americans to make an emergency communications plan, which includes learning how to receive emergency alerts and warnings from local officials. But are local officials ready to fully leverage alerting systems to warn their communities? One emerging best practice is for PSAPs, who field incoming emergency calls, to also have a means of sending out critical information to the public.

Here's an example of how alerting can support incident response: Last year, an anonymous 911 caller reported an active gunman in an elementary school in Seminole County, Florida. Officials placed the school on lockdown as police responded. It turned out that the call was a hoax. Before the hoax was exposed, however, news of the supposed shooter was distributed via social media, and concerned parents converged on the school. Public safety officials did not have a tool to counteract incomplete or inaccurate information on social media. Regardless whether the shooter had proven real, the cordon of armed police combined with the influx of parents complicated the situation, and an even more dangerous incident could have resulted. But imagine, on the other hand, if the police and other emergency managers could have used targeted alerting to inform parents that all was okay – or, in a different scenario, sent them instructions about where they could safely gather?

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A Draft Pirate Radio Policy and Enforcement Statement

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
September 24, 2015 - 12:12 PM

This past summer, when the Commission was considering an order to close several of the Enforcement Bureau’s field offices and reduce field agent positions, a number of entities raised concerns about how this reorganization would impact our efforts to combat pirate radio. It was hard to imagine that the heat would be turned up by an Enforcement Bureau further constrained by fewer agents and a smaller footprint. But assurances were made that a sleeker, streamlined Enforcement Bureau would be able to perform all of its duties with even greater efficiency. When further concerns were raised, new language was even added to the eventual order promising a revitalized enforcement effort against illegal broadcasters via development of a "comprehensive policy and enforcement approach."

At the time, I questioned how long it would take to develop and adopt such a simple document. I even queried the Enforcement Bureau chief whether it could be done by the end of the summer, but no timetable was provided in our friendly exchange. To my knowledge, nothing further has emerged since the adoption of the field reorganization order.

So, in the interest of furthering the discussion and getting the ball rolling on our unanimously-approved promise of a policy and enforcement approach for pirate radio, I offer the below draft. I hope that this small step, which did not take a substantial time commitment or resources, will renew focus on the Commission’s difficult, but fundamental, obligation to police our spectrum and assist in the resolution of instances of harmful interference on behalf of radio broadcasters and all other spectrum users, who are charged with serving the American people.

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The Time Has Come to End Outdated Broadcasting Exclusivity Rules

by Bill Lake, Chief, Media Bureau
September 22, 2015 - 09:54 AM

Last month, Chairman Wheeler circulated an order that would eliminate the Commission’s network non-duplication and syndicated exclusivity rules.  As Chairman Wheeler explained, these 50-year old rules are past their prime in light of the significant statutory and marketplace changes that have occurred since their adoption.  Given these changes, it’s time for the Commission to end its intrusion into this aspect of the commercial marketplace and leave it to TV networks, syndicators, and broadcast stations to implement the exclusive distribution rights that they choose to create.

Some have objected to our proposed action on the ground that the exclusivity rules are inextricably linked to the compulsory copyright licenses enacted by Congress for cable and satellite operators.  These advocates argue that, as a result, the Commission should keep its exclusivity rules unless and until Congress repeals the compulsory copyright licenses.  Otherwise, the argument goes, the cable and satellite operators will be given a free ride to retransmit copyrighted material without paying for it and in disregard of exclusive rights that broadcasters have bargained for.

The asserted inextricable link does not exist -- nor does the imagined free ride.  These advocates ignore major pieces of the intervening history – notably the creation of the retransmission consent regime in the 1992 Cable Act.

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Steering into the Future with More Wi-Fi by Sharing the Upper 5 GHz Band

September 16, 2015 - 04:42 PM

Earlier this year, we joined together to write about making more space for Wi-Fi by exploring sharing opportunities in the 5850-5925 MHz band, or 5.9 GHz band.  More unlicensed airwaves in this band could lead to lots of good things—more wireless hotspots, less network congestion, greater speeds, and faster innovation.  So we are pleased to see that our vision for this spectrum is now a lot closer to reality thanks to the efforts of Congress and a broad group of stakeholders with interest in these airwaves. 

First, a little history for perspective.  Back in 1999, the 5.9 GHz band was set aside by the Commission for the automotive industry.  Since that time, efforts have been underway to use this spectrum to develop technology that can reduce car crashes and improve roadway safety.  This system, known as Dedicated Short Range Communications Service (DSRC), is designed to have cars “talk” in real time to one another and communicate with street lights, curbs, bicycles, and even pedestrians to reduce the number of auto accidents, including fatalities.     

We saw efforts to develop DSRC firsthand this summer, when we travelled together to Michigan to visit the Crash Avoidance Metrics Partnership (CAMP) and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), which are the national hubs for this safety initiative.  While there, we test-drove new car safety prototypes, listened to concerns about possible Wi-Fi interference, and discussed spectrum sharing with both auto manufacturers and researchers.  We also got the chance to see Mcity, one testing ground for the driverless cars of the future.  It was a terrific visit, and we came away with a desire to work harder to resolve outstanding issues and improve opportunities for both auto safety and Wi-Fi in the 5.9 GHz band.

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Fulfilling the Promise of Broadband

by Matt DelNero, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
September 14, 2015 - 09:16 AM

Today marks the beginning of Lifeline Awareness Week 2015, when agencies and organizations across the country conduct outreach to eligible low-income households about the Lifeline program. It’s also worth pausing today to recognize the work that our partners in public utilities commissions across the country do towards making Lifeline both beneficial to its subscribers and the best use of the ratepayer dollars that support it. While these efforts often take place behind-the-scenes, they are critical to ensuring that low-income Americans can access the vital communications technologies they need.

Since the program began in 1985, Lifeline has offered families of limited means discounted phone service so they can access the economic, personal, and public safety benefits of reliable telecommunications service – from calling a child’s school to reaching 911 in the event of an emergency.

But as we all know, the communications landscape has changed fundamentally over the past 30 years, and full participation in society now requires more than simple voice service.  In June, the Commission found in its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Lifeline program that “[t]oday, broadband is essential to participate in society.” With that in mind, the Commission sought comment on how to best include broadband and promote efficiency in the Lifeline program, among other important questions. 

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The Charter Transaction: Status Update

by Jon Sallet, General Counsel
September 11, 2015 - 03:46 PM

With the filing of the proposed Charter-Time Warner Cable-Bright House Networks transaction, the FCC staff went to work, first by reviewing the application for completeness and then, when it was officially accepted for consideration, by beginning the analysis of whether the proposed transaction meets the Commission's public-interest standard.

Now, the staff review enters its second phase, when others can contribute their views to the Commission's consideration. Today, the Media Bureau issued a Public Notice establishing the timeline for public comment, shortly after the Commission adopted a Protective Order to be used in the consideration of this transaction.

The first set of public comments will be due on October 13, 2015 and today also marks the beginning of the so-called shot clock, which begins the 180-day period in which the Commission endeavors to complete its review.

Comment is critical to the Commission's informed consideration but not all information can, of course, be public. Indeed, the application itself, which is composed of information chosen by the Applicants, contains more than 100 instances in which information is asserted to be confidential or highly confidential.

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Enacting More "Sticks": Spectrum Fees for Government Users

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
September 8, 2015 - 03:20 PM

Wireless service and device use is exploding and more commercial spectrum – both licensed and unlicensed – is going to be needed to meet the insatiable demand. While improvements in spectral engineering and infrastructure builds may provide some relief, spectrum is a finite resource so large swaths of spectrum now used by the U.S. government must be reallocated to the private sector to resolve upcoming shortages. And the establishment of spectrum fees for government agencies, or Agency Spectrum Fees (ASF), is one tool to make this happen.

There are many means to reduce the Federal government's spectrum allotment. Statutorily forcing agencies to relocate to other bands remains the most effective way, but this requires strong leadership, is usually a one-time event focusing on specific frequencies and can run into political storms. Others advocate for new incentives that provide agencies funding to voluntarily surrender valuable bands, but this too has drawbacks as the "carrots" needed to achieve success can exceed rationality and may only be effective in narrow circumstances. Further, it is unclear whether such incentives would change the behavior of individual agencies to use their spectrum more prudently. The benefit of ASF is that they can function as a more nuanced "stick" approach that continually generates, if operated correctly, spectrum efficiencies. More importantly, it is not an either/or situation: they can work as an individual solution or be part of a multi-layered approach.

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