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AWS-3 Auction: Lessons Learned

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 27, 2015 - 03:10 PM

From my perspective, the recent AWS-3 auction has to be deemed an overall success.  It is hard to say otherwise when it released 65 megahertz of spectrum for more efficient purposes, allocated 1611 licenses to current and prospective wireless providers to expand wireless broadband services, and grossed revenues totaling $44.9billion (net revenues are estimated at $41.3 billion).  Nonetheless, this auction highlighted many important issues and raised quite a few concerns.  Here are some takeaways that will help shape my views as we consider future spectrum policy.

Licensed vs. Unlicensed Spectrum.  This auction clearly demonstrates there is still a critical need for licensed spectrum in our overall spectrum framework.  Although some argue that the future lies only with unlicensed or shared spectrum, this view ignores the fact that our nation’s commercial wireless carriers still seek exclusive spectrum in order to be able to maintain quality of service and network control.  The simple proof of this is the bidding activity, extensive bidding rounds and the final revenue figures for the AWS-3 auction.  Having waited almost seven years since the 700 MHz auction and facing huge projected growth in wireless data usage, participants fought for eleven weeks to win the exclusive right to use the available licenses.  And these entities, along with those that didn’t participate or win large numbers of licenses, are reportedly looking closely at the broadcast incentive auction to acquire additional licensed spectrum. 

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USF High-Cost Program: Best and Realistic Timelines

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 24, 2015 - 01:27 PM

According to the FCC's most recent report, nearly 14 million Americans lack any access to fixed broadband. In an effort to remedy this, in 2011, the Commission established the Connect America Fund (CAF) within the USF high-cost program to provide federal universal service support to private carriers serving high-cost parts of the nation. While progress has been made to implement various parts, thanks to the great work of staff, there hasn't been a sense of urgency at the Commission due to a lack of energy and commitment to complete the hard tasks that remain. Sadly, unless something significant changes, unserved Americans will have to wait even longer to get access to broadband.

Like many, I was pleased that, at recent Congressional hearings, Chairman Wheeler provided additional insight on the timeline for CAF reforms to Members of the House and Senate who want to see faster progress, as I have advocated for over a year. It's especially good news to hear the Chairman promise to complete a CAF not just for the larger rate-of-return (ROR) carriers but also for the smaller ROR carriers by the end of this year and to hold a CAF Phase II auction for price cap areas next year. I take him at his word that he intends to try to meet his commitments. The problem is that, when I mapped out the steps that would need to occur to meet these promises, it became obvious that it's extremely unlikely that the Commission will be able to adhere to that schedule. Many of the individual actions and program steps are interconnected. For instance, it seems unlikely that the Commission would set up a CAF for very small ROR carriers without knowing which carriers will opt-in to a CAF ROR model.

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Fixing Flawed and Non-Existent “Editorial Privileges”

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 9, 2015 - 03:58 PM

Maybe the only good thing to come from the Commission’s net neutrality proceeding is that it shined a spotlight on a dark corner of FCC process: the flawed procedure for finalizing and releasing Commission documents after they are voted on by the Commission at an Open Meeting.  Those who are not familiar with FCC procedures might think that the work ends once the Commission has voted on an item.  In truth, it is just the beginning of the end. 

The fact that there is so much confusion, and that Commission staff felt the need to issue a “Nothing to See Here” blog, shows that FCC processes are counterintuitive and unnecessarily opaque.  I’ve questioned other FCC procedures previously (here and here).  Now I am suggesting we fix the post-adoption process as well.  At the same time, the FCC really ought to take a fresh look at all of its procedures, actually codify the specific ones that still make sense, and post them so that the official process is more transparent and better understood by all. 

Editorial Privileges

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Affirmatively Expand Permissible Foreign Ownership

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 3, 2015 - 04:03 PM

For decades, extensive studies and corresponding analysis have demonstrated the vast benefits of removing barriers to international trade. Our experiences from previous trade agreements have shown the direct payoffs of eliminating or reducing artificial barriers and protectionist measures. Among countless other benefits, increased trade has produced higher standards of living for Americans, expanded foreign markets for our products, reduced costs for goods and services. It's also one area where many Republicans and Democrats in Congress and elsewhere, as well as the current Administration, strongly agree. Fortunately, the Commission has the opportunity to further this bipartisan cause by reducing barriers to foreign investment in the U.S. communications marketplace. Let's seize this moment!

The Communications Act already affords the Commission the flexibility to relax restrictions on foreign investment in certain radio licensees, including broadcast and commercial wireless. Specifically, current law prohibits greater than 25 percent of foreign investment in a U.S. entity that controls, directly or indirectly, a U.S. radio licensee, but only if the public interest would be served by the Commission refusing or revoking a license. In other words, the Commission is free to permit a higher foreign limit or waive the limit altogether, which was confirmed in the Commission's unanimous November 2013 Declaratory Ruling. Disappointingly, the Commission declined, at that time, to make such a positive step, deciding only to confirm that requests from current or prospective broadcast licensees seeking approval for foreign investment above the threshold would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

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The Process of Governance: The FCC & the Open Internet Order

by Jon Sallet, General Counsel
March 2, 2015 - 03:22 PM

The Commission’s recent adoption of new Open Internet rules has received unprecedented attention and, along with national debate about the outcomes, has generated significant interest in the process by which the FCC, like other independent regulatory agencies, creates rules. In particular, people want to know when the new rules will be released for public review. The answer is tied to a broader question of governance: How does the FCC best create an enforceable rule that reflects public input, permits internal deliberation, and is built to withstand judicial review? As with its substantive decisions, the answer is simple – by following Congress’ blueprints. As with governance generally, the goal is obvious: To engage in effective, informed action that furthers the public interest.

That’s “blueprints” in the plural. The two pillars of Congressional will are expressed in the Communications Act, the touchstone of our substantive authority, and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), the foundation of federal administrative action.

Among the Communications Act’s important provisions are two of particular importance to the Open Internet Order: Title II, which governs “telecommunications service,” and Section 706, by which Congress empowered the FCC to promote broadband deployment and to remove barriers to broadband network investment while promoting competition.

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Celebrating National Consumer Protection Week

by Kris Monteith, Acting Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 2, 2015 - 01:44 PM

This week, March 1-7, 2015, the FCC is celebrating National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), joining with a coalition of more than 85 consumer advocacy groups and federal, state and local government agencies in a coordinated campaign to help raise awareness about consumer protection. Together we’re encouraging consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. 

At an NCPW kickoff event in late February, the FCC  joined a number of coalition member in face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staff to discuss consumer issues and disseminate helpful consumer information.

Each day throughout NCPW we encourage you to check our website – http://www.fcc.gov– for tips and links to helpful information about issues such as smart device theft protection, phone bill cramming, accessibility to consumer help, emergency communications, and more.

Our coalition’s web site (http://www.ncpw.gov/) also offers consumers a wealth of tips and information on topics such as finances, health, privacy, technology and more.

You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you're planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau works year-round with the Commission’s other bureaus and offices to educate consumers facing issues and challenges around communications technologies and services, with the goals of consumer protection and empowerment.

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Technology Has Heart

by Dr. Nina Miller, Senior Policy Fellow, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 27, 2015 - 10:24 AM

As we near the end of February -- American Heart Month -- and begin to look toward spring, it’s a good time to reflect on a critical health issue in the United States:  heart disease. At the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, our goal is to better enable the use of broadband and advanced technologies to help consumers get well and stay healthy. Heart disease, affecting a growing number of Americans each year, is an area ripe for innovative technology-based solutions to improve its management, treatment, and ultimate prevention.

The critical nature of this endeavor requires little explanation for in the words of Aristotle, “the heart is the perfection of the whole organism.” And yet, despite its philosophical and biological significance, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women with over 600,000 lives lost each year. That accounts for an astonishing 1 in every 4 deaths. Furthermore, 1 in 3 American adults currently have some form of heart disease.

As a physician, I have seen the devastating effects of advanced heart disease first hand. From repeat hospitalizations due to poorly controlled heart failure to emergency surgeries for heart attacks, the impact of heart disease is profound. Fortunately, however, I have also seen the promise of broadband-enabled solutions to better prevent and control this disease.

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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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Driving Wi-Fi Ahead: the Upper 5 GHz Band

February 23, 2015 - 05:02 PM

Today’s Wi-Fi spectrum bands are wildly popular.  But with more and more people and devices taking advantage of this technology, these bands are getting congested.  It reminds us of the famous Yogi Berra quote, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” 

In response to the growing use of Wi-Fi, the Federal Communications Commission has taken steps to meet the growing demand for additional unlicensed spectrum.  Last year, we added 100 megahertz of spectrum for Wi-Fi in the lower 5 GHz band.  The Commission is also seeking to secure some unlicensed spectrum opportunities in the 600 MHz band as part of our upcoming incentive auction.  But more needs to be done—and soon.

One spectrum band that we believe needs greater attention is in the upper 5 GHz band.  In light of the proximity to spectrum in other parts of the 5 GHz band that are already used for unlicensed services, this is a prime candidate to help meet the demand for Wi-Fi.  Unlicensed services generally share spectrum with other radio services on a non-interference basis.  So one of the bands identified for potential new sharing is the 75 megahertz of spectrum located at 5850 to 5925 MHz (also known as the U-NII-4 band) that was allocated by the Commission in 1999 for Dedicated Short Range Communications Service (DSRC) systems intended to improve roadway safety. 

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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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