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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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Crafting Balanced Incentive Auction Rules in the Public Interest

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 17, 2015 - 04:26 PM

This Sunday marks the first day of summer, and what will be the critical season for finalizing key details for next year’s Incentive Auction.  This two-sided auction will use market forces to make available more low-band spectrum to meet the wireless broadband needs of consumers and businesses for the twenty-first century, and to promote a competitive wireless marketplace.  More spectrum will spur innovation, economic growth and lead to greater consumer choice.

Commission staff recently wrapped up a nationwide tour of information sessions with broadcasters and, in order to confirm with interested broadcasters that all parties are counted, released a list of auction-eligible stations. Last week, the full Commission approved revised rules to provide broadcasters with more flexibility to reach agreements to share their spectrum with other TV stations, which broadcasters have told us would give them more incentive to participate in the auction.

Now we turn to the crucial task of finalizing our auction rules.  In order to serve as the foundation for a successful auction that best serves the public, those rules must carefully balance the range of goals that Congress established for us. For the last 19 months all the interested parties have been jockeying for rules that benefit their position. I understand the jockeying – I once engaged in it myself – but it is now time to end the back-and-forth and make decisions. No single party will be happy with everything we’ve done, but the final product is a balanced solution to a challenging situation with more moving parts than a Swiss watch. One message we heard loud and clear, however, was that the final rules must be as simple as possible. We have thus eliminated earlier ideas that added to complexity.

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Welcome Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council V Members

by Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
June 15, 2015 - 02:36 PM

Today the FCC announced that the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (or “CSRIC”) has been re-chartered for two more years and also announced the members of the new CSRIC. CSRIC is a federal advisory committee that provides recommendations to the FCC on actions the Commission can take to help ensure the security and reliability of communications systems.

CSRIC members are a diverse group of expert stakeholders from the public and private sectors. John Schanz, Executive Vice President and Chief Network Officer for Comcast Cable, will be the Chair of the CSRIC, and we are very happy that he will be steering this effort. Schanz, one of the nation’s leaders in securing commercial communications networks, brings invaluable expertise to this role at a time when both the challenges and opportunities presented by evolving technologies are greater than ever.

CSRIC V, named so because this is the fifth re-chartering of the council, will hold its first public meeting on June 24.  It will have a busy agenda. We expect to charge these experts with developing recommendations on issues including how to reduce the frequency and impact of misrouted 911 calls, how to improve Next Generation emergency alerting and 911 services, and how to enhance the resiliency and reliability of communications infrastructure, especially as communities depend increasingly on wireless services.  I also expect that members will examine the challenges associated with prioritizing emergency communications during disaster-related infrastructure outages.

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