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Official FCC Blog

Leading towards Next Generation "5G" Mobile Services

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
August 3, 2015 - 03:05 PM

Over the past decade, wireless services and technologies have dramatically evolved while shaping our economy and society. We've moved from analog to digital, from voice only services to wireless broadband, from 2G to 4G, and beyond. The Commission has consistently fostered policies promoting wireless deployment and innovation. We have seen an extraordinary growth in demand for wireless services. We've made additional spectrum available, but also pursued a flexible use regulatory strategy that allows providers to use spectrum resources to meet their needs and to develop and deploy innovative technologies without Commission approval (of course, with necessary competitive safeguards).

Technological innovation both supports and stretches the boundaries of flexible use policies, allowing more and more uses and users to coexist. This is true of so-called "5G technologies", enabling higher-spectrum bands for mobility than previously thought possible. These higher-frequency bands are currently allocated for a variety of uses, including fixed, mobile, and satellite. It is because of the success of flexible use policies that helped the United States become a leader in LTE that we intend to build our 5G policies on the bedrock of flexible use. 5G may mean not only better broadband, but also services and applications fundamentally different from those that are possible today, including services not yet even imagined, and potentially entire new industries.

My goal is to foster an environment in which the widest possible variety of new technologies can grow and flourish. The Commission took the first step in the fall of 2014 when it adopted a Notice of Inquiry asking about expanded wireless use of higher-frequency bands. We expect to follow up on the Notice of Inquiry and issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on the use of higher-frequency bands for mobile and other uses this year.

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Revamping Predictive Judgments & Interim Rules

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
July 27, 2015 - 02:44 PM

In addition to setting overall timelines for Commission review of agency rules, as I previously recommended, there are two agency practices that warrant re-evaluation:  where the agency relies on a “predictive judgment” to establish a policy or rule; and where the agency adopts an “interim” rule.  In both cases, the Commission supposedly relies on the best information to make a decision that is inherently time limited.  Unfortunately, when utilized, there is often no follow-up with hard facts or final rules.  That means those offering or receiving communications services in the marketplace are forced to adhere to rules based on stale decisions or outdated information.  We can and must do better.

Predictive Judgments

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International Cooperation with Mexico for a Successful Incentive Auction

July 24, 2015 - 03:35 PM

Coordinating with Mexico and Canada to harmonize our TV and wireless spectrum bands is a critical component of meeting the Commission’s goals for the Incentive Auction. We are thrilled to be able to report some exciting progress on this front.

Last week, the Mexican communications regulator, the Instituto Federal de Telecomunicaciones (IFT), confirmed through an exchange of technical coordination letters with the FCC that our two agencies intend to follow common guidelines for repacking TV stations that will clear 600 MHz spectrum for mobile broadband use in both countries.

Last year, Mexico announced its plan to relocate all of its television stations below channel 37, and this exchange of letters outlines the procedures by which we will work together to help advance the ongoing FCC and IFT spectrum reconfiguration process.  They also describe the procedures by which the two agencies intend to help advance both Mexico’s analog-to-digital transition and the ongoing FCC and IFT spectrum reconfiguration process. 

Taken together, these steps are another milestone on the road to a successful Incentive Auction.  Many thanks to our counterparts at IFT for their hard work and cooperate efforts to reach this point.


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Task Force on FCC Process

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Chairman’s office
July 21, 2015 - 11:38 AM

I recently provided an update on the ongoing activities throughout the FCC to tackle the process reform recommendations from the Staff Working Group’s Report on FCC Process Reform from early 2014.  To complement these activities, a task force has recently been formed that includes representatives from all five Commissioners’ offices at the FCC.  The task force will consider ways to improve the effectiveness of the Commission’s internal processes from the Commissioners’ perspective, taking into account views expressed by internal and external stakeholders about the FCC’s internal processes and protocols. 

As part of this review, the task force will seek public input from those who regularly interact with the FCC, including consumers, licensees, communications law practitioners, and anyone with an interest in improving the FCC’s decision-making processes.  The task force will also review the practices of other similarly situated agencies to compare their operations with those at the FCC. 

Topics that will be reviewed and considered will include, but are not limited to: (a) the use of delegated authority, and practices for providing notice of matters being handled on delegated authority; (b) procedures for pre-vote circulation of Commission-level matters; (c) procedures associated with editing Commission decisions; (d) practices to encourage efficient Commission decision-making, such as the Consent Agenda;  (e) approaches for providing increased transparency of FCC procedures and protocols, and (f)  practices to track, disclose and encourage prompt Commissioner votes on items on circulation.

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Seizing the Opportunities of Unlicensed Spectrum and Wireless Microphones

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 16, 2015 - 04:30 PM

From the outset of our work to implement the world’s first Incentive Auction, a central goal has been to maximize the amount of spectrum made available for not only licensed use, but also unlicensed use. Unlicensed spectrum has been powerful platform for driving innovation, investment, and economic growth. Breakthroughs like Wi-Fi, which relies on unlicensed spectrum, have generated hundreds of billions of dollars of value for our economy and consumers.

Last year, the Commission adopted an Incentive Auction Report & Order that proposes three channels for unlicensed use nationwide. While some have sought to define “nationwide” as synonymous as “uniform in every market,” that is most likely a physical impossibility that ignores how broadcast participation can vary in every market. Today, I’m circulating two items for consideration, alongside the other Incentive Auction items, at next month’s open meeting. The Part 15 Report and Order will assure unlicensed spectrum is available in every market.  The Wireless Microphones Comprehensive Report & Order will address the long term needs of wireless microphone users.

Our proposal would benefit consumers in the form of increased investment and innovation in unlicensed products and services. The proposal also helps those who rely on wireless microphones by altering operational parameters and expanding access to spectrum.

The technical standards we are proposing for unlicensed operations would create certainty for unlicensed device users and manufacturers while reducing the risk of interference to licensed users. These items are important components of a suite of proposals that establish clear rules and protections for unlicensed devices as well as licensed wireless microphone devices in the Incentive Auction band as well as in other wireless bands where licensed wireless mics will gain additional access.

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Update on Process Reform at the FCC

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Chairman’s Office
July 13, 2015 - 01:18 PM

In early 2014, we embarked on an ambitious initiative to improve how we do business at the Commission with the release of the Process Reform Report.  The 154 recommendations in the report focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of how the agency conducts business, handling items more quickly and more transparently (especially backlogged matters), improving our interactions with external stakeholders, and eliminating or streamlining outdated rules, procedures, and processes.  

FCC staff throughout the agency has been working hard on these recommendations over the last year, and that work continues every day.  There are ten active working groups, as well as teams tackling backlogs, streamlining, IT upgrades and many other process reform objectives within the individual Bureaus and Offices.  There’s much work left to be done, but we’ve made a lot of progress, and I’m very proud of the team effort.  Here are just a few of the highlights of the notable accomplishments over the last year:

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Setting Timelines for Revisiting Agency Decisions

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
July 10, 2015 - 04:12 PM

All too often, the FCC imposes rules, placing new burdens on companies and affecting the marketplace, without any plan to revisit whether those rules remain necessary or relevant in the future. These decisions, and their attendant costs, can linger for years on autopilot while the FCC turns its attention to other policy matters. One obvious example is the newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership rule, a true anachronism enacted in 1975, but with each year that goes by many other Commission rules that may have been great ideas at the time drift further toward irrelevancy, or worse, become affirmative barriers to innovation. Quite frankly, in the age of hyper-speed “Internet years,” the Commission’s approach to some issues is stuck in the age of rabbit ears, and this problem is expanding exponentially right along with our rules.

While the FCC has statutory obligations to periodically review certain aspects of its rules, such as section 11 of the Communications Act, these requirements are generally given short shrift, when they are adhered to all. This is certainly an area where the agency needs to make significant improvement, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon.

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Advancing Technology Transitions by Protecting Consumers, Competition and Public Safety in an IP-World

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
July 10, 2015 - 11:30 AM

The transition to efficient, modern communications networks is bringing new and innovative services to consumers and businesses. The Commission’s approach to these technology transitions is simple: the shift to next-generation fiber and IP-based networks from analog switch- and copper-based networks is good and should be encouraged. But advances in technology will never justify abandonment of the core values that define the relationship between Americans and the networks they use to communicate.                               

After an open, rigorous process, I will be circulating to my fellow Commissioners an item that would update the FCC’s rules to help deliver the promise of dynamic new networks, provide clear rules of the road for network operators, and preserve our core values, including protecting consumers and promoting competition and public safety.

Public safety, in particular, offers a vivid example of how technology transitions are concurrently creating both new opportunities and new challenges. IP-based networks enable 911 call centers to receive a greater range of information – such as text and video – so they can better support first responders in an emergency. However, IP-based home voice services are more vulnerable to outages during emergencies than their copper predecessors. While traditional, copper-based landline home phone service typically works during electric outages because they carry their own power, IP-based substitutes usually require an independent source of power.  This means they need backup power to keep operating.

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Enhancing Competition and Opportunity in the Mobile Marketplace

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 25, 2015 - 12:31 PM

Few areas of our economy hold more promise for aspiring entrepreneurs and innovators than the wireless broadband sector. According to a Boston Consulting Group analysis, it already contributes $548 billion annually to U.S. GDP, and it is projected to account for 5 percent of our economy by 2020. BCG also reports that 90 percent of mobile consumers want even faster data speeds, broader coverage and other improvements. The opportunities being created by the wireless revolution are massive and will only continue to grow.

Small businesses, including women- and minority-owned businesses and rural service providers, should have the opportunity to share in this growth, but they have faced significant barriers to meaningful participation in the industry. At our next Open Meeting, the Commission will vote on rules that would revamp our outdated spectrum auction bidding policies to help these entities better compete in today’s mobile marketplace. At the same time, our reforms will enhance the integrity of the FCC’s auctions and ensure large corporations can’t game the system.

Making sure small businesses have real opportunities to provide spectrum-based services has long been a goal of Congress and the Commission. In the 1990s, the Commission enacted rules creating bidding credits for small businesses in spectrum auctions, fulfilling our Congressional mandate to help these entities compete more meaningfully at federal spectrum auctions.

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Reaffirming Cross-Border Relations

by Mindel DeLaTorre, International Bureau Chief
June 19, 2015 - 12:13 PM

Earlier this month, I traveled to Mexico as part of a U.S. Government delegation – including the FCC and Departments of State and Commerce – attending the first high-level spectrum discussion since Mexico established the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT). We were warmly welcomed by IFT, the Secretariat of Communications and Transport and the Secretariat of Foreign Relations.

We traveled to Mexico to advance ongoing staff discussions on important telecommunications and cross-border spectrum coordination issues and further strengthen the bilateral relationship between both countries on these issues. From my perspective, both delegations were very pleased with the outcome of these discussions. (IFT's take on these discussions)

Specifically, we agreed to work together on a revised agreement that would facilitate implementation of Positive Train Control technology in the 220-222 MHz band along the common border. PTC systems are intended to reduce the risk of rail accidents by enabling real-time information sharing between trains, rail wayside devices, and control centers. PTC technology is designed to automatically slow or stop a train in order to avoid a collision or derailment.

On 800 MHz, which is a band the FCC is reconfiguring for public safety and first responder radio communication, we agreed to a roadmap accelerating the reconfiguration process along the common border. The roadmap is in accordance with a Protocol signed with Mexico in 2012. It includes a process for confirming when channels are cleared in Mexico.

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