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Official FCC Blog

Technology Transitions: Consumers Matter Most

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 31, 2014 - 03:19 PM

This past January, the Commission unanimously adopted an order to speed technology transitions for the benefit of consumers.  How?  By assuring that technology transitions bring innovation while protecting the enduring values that consumers have come to expect from their networks, including public safety, consumer protection and competition.

The time has come to put those principles into practice. Today, I am circulating to my fellow Commissioners two items that take up the task of encouraging technology transitions while protecting those core values.

Tremendous benefits can be realized by the transition of public safety to IP-based networks. For example, IP-based networks will enable 911 call centers to receive a greater range of information – such as text, video, and data from vehicle crash sensors – to better support emergency response.

But the introduction of new technologies has also introduced new vulnerabilities that cannot be ignored. We have seen a spike in so-called “sunny day” outages, when failure comes from the failure of software or databases and not from natural disasters. As the Public Safety Bureau reported to the Commission earlier this month, a “sunny day” outage this past April left consumers in 7 states without 911 service for up to 6 hours.  Some 6,600 911 calls were not completed during that time.  This is simply unacceptable.

A single 911 call today can involve multiple companies operating in multiple locations across the country, and that means a failure in one place can leave people without 911 service across multiple states, indeed across the nation. 

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More Data: Pocket Dialing

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
October 30, 2014 - 04:25 PM

In response to my recent blog post regarding the harmful consumer practice of pocket dialing, I received a letter from Kelly Dutra, the Director of the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency (WCCCA) in Beaverton, Oregon.  The letter begins, “I read with interest the Business Week article ‘FCC Commissioner: Butt-Dialing is Taxing 9-1-1’ and let you know you are right on target.  They account for over 30% of our wireless 9-1-1 calls.  In 2005 we installed a system that all wireless calls must pass through to make it to a Calltaker.  The wireless 9-1-1 caller must speak or press any key for the system to recognize it as an actual call to be passed through.” 

Ms. Dutra continued, “I have attached a separate sheet showing numbers from 2012 to current. I’ve also been studying the number of butt calls that make it through the system we just began including in our weekly, monthly, and annual reports.  The device we have in place blocks on average 30% but another 15-20% of the calls that make it through the system are still butt dials with enough noise in the background for the system to treat it as an active call.”

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Learning from the Rural Broadband Experiments

by Carol Mattey, Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
October 29, 2014 - 01:39 PM

Last week, the Wireline Competition Bureau opened the application filing window for parties interested in participating in the Commission’s rural broadband experiments.  Already we have seen activity in the online system we are using to accept the applications, with many entities working on their applications.   Interested parties have until 6 p.m. on Friday, November 7 to submit applications for this funding opportunity.     

The opening of the filing window marks a historic occasion.  For the first time, the Commission is using a competitive bidding process to award ongoing Connect America Fund support that will bring broadband to rural America.  Applicants have the opportunity to bid on $100 million in available funding through the rural broadband experiments, with defined criteria for the level of service we expect winning bidders to provide and an objective, clear-cut methodology for selecting winning applications.  

Already, we’ve learned a lot from these experiments:  working on the nitty-gritty details of the application form, doing outreach to get the word out to potential bidders, and getting the online system up and running.  Once the application window closes, we’ll be learning about competitive interest to build networks to rural communities that will deliver services that far exceed the Commission’s current performance standards.  And I’m sure we will learn something unexpected that will help the Commission make decisions regarding the design of the Phase II auction that will occur after the offer of model-based support to price cap carriers. 

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Tech Transitions, Video, and the Future

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 28, 2014 - 02:48 PM

Consumers have long complained about how their cable service forces them to buy channels they never watch.  The move of video onto the Internet can do something about that frustration – but first Internet video services need access to the programs.  Today the FCC takes the first step to open access to cable programs as well as local television.  The result should be to give consumers more alternatives from which to choose so they can buy the programs they want. 

In 1992 Congress realized that the then-nascent satellite industry would have a hard time competing because much cable programming was owned by cable companies who frequently kept it from competitors.  Congress mandated access to cable channels for satellite services, and competition flourished.  Today I am proposing to extend the same concept to the providers of linear, Internet-based services; to encourage new video alternatives by opening up access to content previously locked on cable channels.  What could these over-the-top video providers (OTTs) supply to consumers?  Many different kinds of multichannel video packages designed for different tastes and preferences.  A better ability for a consumer to order the channels he or she wants to watch.

So-called linear channels, which offer the viewer a prescheduled lineup of programs, have been the largely exclusive purview of over-the-air broadcasting, cable, and satellite TV.  But these kinds of packages of programming are coming to the Web as well.  DISH has said that it intends to launch an online service that may include smaller programming bundles. And it has already begun offering foreign language channels online.  Sony, DIRECTV, and Verizon are also in the hunt.  Recently, CBS announced a streaming service that includes linear channels, separate from cable subscriptions; and the new HBO service may as well.

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Looking for the Best Approach to Preserve the Open Internet

October 27, 2014 - 04:21 PM

Earlier this month, the Commission held the last in its series of six Open Internet Roundtables.  At each one of these roundtables—totaling over 20 hours— panelists with diverse viewpoints dove into many of the thorniest issues in this proceeding, responding to questions from the public, FCC moderators, and the Chairman.  The Chairman, Commissioners, and stakeholders have also engaged in vigorous discussions of these issues at events around the country.  All for the purpose identified by the Commission in its Open Internet NPRM:  to find the best approach to protect and promote Internet openness.

We listened and we learned.  With specific regard to the Roundtables, here are some key takeaways.  

We heard economists debating harms to Internet openness, including but not limited to broadband providers’ incentives and ability to engage in anti-competitive behavior.  We heard engineers describing Internet technologies, including current techniques for managing today’s networks.  And we heard enforcement experts discussing how to design an enforcement process for open Internet rules that balances certainty, flexibility, and access for all stakeholders. 

Each of us also personally moderated panels about the Commission’s legal authority and policy choices for fixed and mobile broadband services. 

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FOCUS100’s Push for Greater Diversity in the Tech Industry

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
October 27, 2014 - 02:58 PM

Earlier this month, I travelled to New York City to attend digitalundivided’s FOCUS100, which describes itself as “the most diverse tech conference on the planet.”  I was inspired by dozens of women who either have founded technology companies or are having a direct impact on bridging digital divides.  The federal government shutdown kept me from addressing the group last year when I served as Acting Chairwoman, but this year, I was thrilled to attend.

According to published reports, African American women in the tech industry receive less than one percent of the financing venture capital funds provide each year.  So in 2012, Kathryn Finney founded, to arm diverse female tech innovators, from all over the world, with the training, mentorship and exposure needed to successfully participate in the male dominated industry.  “The social enterprise that develops programs that increase the active participation of urban communities, especially women, in the digital space,” provides classes and events to promote four key areas:  (1) Start – a workshop series focused on teaching urban entrepreneurs how to turn their ideas into a product; (2) Grow – a network of meet-ups that allow entrepreneurs to support each other; (3) Focus – a program that mentors tech companies that black women cofounded; and (4) Invest – a project that helps urban tech companies find funding.  

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Incentive Auction Progress Report

by Gary Epstein, Chair of the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force
October 24, 2014 - 11:59 AM

When Chairman Wheeler arrived at the Commission last November, he described the incentive auction as taking a cutting edge concept to market on deadline. At that time he wrote in a blog post, “managing a complex undertaking such as this also requires an ongoing commitment to continuously and honestly assess its readiness and its project plan.”

Now is a good time to take stock of where we are and where we are going. It is also time to carefully consider and recalibrate our proposed timing for the commencement of the incentive auction.

Following the Commission’s adoption of the Report and Order in May, we have made consistent progress implementing the incentive auction. Of particular note, the Commission has followed through on commitments made in the Report and Order and initiated rule-makings to address the operations of important services affected by the incentive auction, including unlicensed white spaces devices, wireless microphones and Low Power Television.  And just last week, the Commission addressed several broadcast and wireless interference issues.

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Reflections on this week's ITU discussions

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
October 24, 2014 - 11:24 AM

Every four years, the International Telecommunication Union holds a Plenipotentiary Conference to address the strategic direction of the ITU on telecommunications issues. I have just spent several days in Busan, Korea at this year's conference, working side by side with other USG officials, including head of delegation Ambassador Danny Sepulveda from the State Department, Assistant Secretary Larry Strickling from NTIA, Assistant Secretary Andy Ozment from DHS, and my colleague from the FCC, Commissioner Mike O'Rielly.

Together, we held a series of bilateral meetings with delegations from other countries on the important work of the conference, seeking to ensure the international community helps to provide development and capacity-building assistance to countries on important issues like infrastructure deployment and cybersecurity. Regulatory issues were hot topics in many of these meetings, as well as in a number of FCC bilateral meetings with our counterparts from independent regulators and telecom ministries.

I came away from these meetings with a few key points.  First, virtually every regulator emphasized how important it is to get broadband to rural and remote areas of their countries - to promote economic development, education and effective healthcare.  Not just connectivity, but broadband. They understand that broadband access can unlock the potential for individuals to prosper in their local communities instead of migrating to urban centers in search of a better quality of life.

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FCC Releases Open Internet Reply Comments to the Public

by Gigi B. Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs, Office of the Chairman
October 22, 2014 - 04:07 PM

**This blog has been updated as of 12/23/2014 to refelect the following:

Corrected December 23, 2014: The number of comments received during the reply comment period was initially reported erroneously in this post as 725,169 comments received through ECFS and CSV file uploads and another 1,719,503 comments received via the email address, for a total of 2,444,672 comments.

The correct number of comments the FCC received during the reply comment period is 1,393,835 received through ECFS and CSV file uploads and another 1,158,014 comments received via the email address, for a total of 2,551,849 comments. The FCC intends to release this revised data in XML format as well.

It is now well known that the FCC’s Open Internet docket is the most commented upon rulemaking in the agency’s history, with more than 3.9 million submissions to date filed both through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS), our dedicated  email address, and via  the additional option of Comma Separated Values (CSV) files.   Regardless of the method through which a comment was filed, every comment submitted has been made part of the official record of this proceeding. 

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Safety and Broadband Must Go Hand in Hand

October 15, 2014 - 12:11 PM

The wireless industry is a powerful driver of growth in our economy. New facilities pop up all the time, giving the devices in our pockets and purses better service and faster broadband connections. Our country relies on these connections, but serving America's exploding demand for them shouldn't come at the cost of a worker's life.

Too often though, that's exactly what is happening. In 2013, 13 workers lost their lives in this industry. This year: 11 so far. The tower industry might be small, currently employing 10,000 to 15,000 workers, but it's quickly proving to be one of the most dangerous. And if we don't do something now, the number of fatalities will grow as fast as the industry does.

This is why our agencies joined together yesterday with telecommunications and tower industry leaders to address this heartbreaking problem. We know that we can only solve it if we work together; that we each have a role to play in stopping these senseless tragedies. It's also why we're proud to announce that our partnership on this issue doesn't end today, but will continue in the form of a joint working group the FCC and DOL have decided to form, with industry participation, to develop recommended practices for employers.

We know that no one intends for a tower construction project to take a life. Contracts for tower work are often written to ensure safety from top to bottom, but that message often gets diluted in a decentralized industry that uses so much subcontracting. We have to make sure the protections are making it from the folks on the ground to the person 1,000 feet in the air holding the wrench or wearing the harness.

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