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Need for Speed, Part II

by Walter Johnston & James Miller, Office of Engineering and Technology
April 13, 2011 - 12:18 PM

Consumers may need better information to determine which broadband service to purchase to meet their needs. Yesterday, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) released a Public Notice requesting comment on this topic. As CGB Bureau Chief Joel Gurin noted, the metrics for broadband speed and performance are not as meaningful to consumers as, say, measures of fuel economy:  “Most people don’t understand megabits-per-second in the way they understand miles-per-gallon.”

But in another way, fuel economy and broadband performance are similar—they’re complex measurements influenced by many factors. How much gas you use depends on everything from how full your tires are to how cold it is outside to how aggressively you drive. Similarly, a single user checking email at 10 AM might find a lower speed broadband service to be sufficient, but the same connection might not support a household with a heavy gaming user, a VoIP- and VPN-using telecommuter, and movie fans watching HD-quality streaming video in the living room at 7 PM. 

It’s no simple task to determine how “fast” your Internet connection is; just developing a measurement methodology that accurately captures and represents performance is a serious technical challenge.

The FCC took on this challenge when we set out to test broadband performance in the homes of 10,000 volunteers across the nation. To do this test, we contracted with SamKnows, a consulting company that conducted a similar effort in the United Kingdom with the regulatory authority for the UK communications sector. Our nationwide test is the first precise U.S. measurement of internet services as delivered to the home by the service provider.

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Reforming Intercarrier Compensation for Broadband

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
April 13, 2011 - 12:10 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:119:height=100,width=71]]In February, the Commission took a pivotal step to reform government policy to better reflect the world of broadband today and in the future.  In adopting the USF/ICC Transformation NPRM, the Commission launched major reform of the nation’s universal service and intercarrier compensation systems, building momentum to get the job done as soon as possible.  The current system, based on a voice-centric world, actually deters investment in 21st Century Internet protocol networks.
One part of this effort will examine and learn from the actions that state partners have taken to reduce intrastate access rates – rates that service providers charge one another to complete long distance calls within a state.  By taking action to reform these charges, states further the FCC’s goals of modernizing the intercarrier compensation system for a broadband world, reducing incentives for regulatory gamesmanship, and paving the way to lower long distance and wireless rates for consumers.

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The Beantown Media and Technology Experience

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
April 13, 2011 - 06:30 AM

Last week, I spent a few days in Boston, aka Bean Town, aka Cradle of Modern America. Since the purpose of the trip was to participate in Free Press’s National Conference on Media Reform (NCMR) and visit Verizon’s LTE Innovation Lab in nearby Waltham, I anticipated being impressed by the level of creativity and excitement at both venues. The trip exceeded my expectations. The majority of the attendees at NCMR are folks who have dedicated their lives to “building the movement for better media” on both traditional and new media platforms. Thursday evening, my legal advisor, Louis, and I had dinner with Jay April and Sean McLaughlin. I knew that both are accomplished and acclaimed veterans of community radio and television. They are also very charming and intelligent.

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Broadband Service: Tell Us About Your “Need for Speed”

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
April 11, 2011 - 01:39 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=71]]Imagine that you're in the market for a new car - but in a different marketplace than the one we're all familiar with. In this parallel universe, fuel efficiency is not described in miles per gallon, but in measure called "miles per blodget" that you pretend to understand, but don't. The car you're interested in is advertised as getting "super mileage" of "up to 50 miles per blodget," without any exact mileage number. And you've heard from friends and news reports that no one has actually measured whether this car, or any car on the market, gets the mileage that it claims.
That's the situation facing many consumers who are trying to choose a new broadband service. As the FCC found in a 2010 survey, 80 percent of Americans with broadband don’t know what speed they’re getting. It’s a safe bet that most of us don’t know what a given number of megabits-per-second translates into in terms of our own online experience. And ads that promise “blazing fast” speeds aren’t giving consumers precise information to help them make comparative choices.
Internet service providers have recognized this problem and have taken some good steps to help educate their customers about the services they offer. Today, the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau of the FCC issued a Public Notice that builds on their work to open a national discussion on the “need for speed.” We’re asking some basic questions: What internet speeds, and what other factors in broadband performance, are important to consumers? How do consumers’ broadband needs vary depending on the applications they want to use, from email to gaming? And how can that information best be made clear and easy to understand?

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Disaster Response

by Louis Sigalos, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau - Southwest Region
April 11, 2011 - 11:45 AM

Hurricane Katrina changed so much for so many.  For those who lived in the path of the storm, the change was devastating and profound.  Their lives were forever changed.  For the Federal Communications Commission the change was not nearly as dramatic, but from these events we were changed as well.
Among the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, was an obliterated communications infrastructure.  Following the storm, the White House called upon every federal agency to participate in the relief effort.  So, there we were, the FCC on the ground in Louisiana.  What could we do?  How could we help?
Many times out of adversity, ingenuity reveals itself and, in this case, there was an immediate need to know which licensees, especially fire departments, police, hospitals, and broadcasters had communications capabilities. Well, at the FCC we are uniquely qualified to do that and we call the equipment and software that provides us with that capability “Roll Call.”  It’s a package of radio spectrum analyzers, scanners, antennas, and computers that can sweep the spectrum and catalog activity in specific frequencies that we license.  Simply put, we scan the airwaves, take the gathered data and cross reference it against our licensing database.  The result is a report that shows who is broadcasting/transmitting and who is not within a specific geographic region.  This is incredibly valuable information when trying to assess the impact of a hurricane on the communications infrastructure.

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Rulemaking at the FCC

by Joel Kaufman, Office of General Counsel
April 11, 2011 - 11:17 AM

Most FCC regulations are adopted by a process known as “notice and comment” rulemaking.  Under that process, the FCC gives the public notice that it is considering adopting or modifying rules on a particular subject and seeks the public’s comment.  The Commission considers the comments received in developing final rules.

The Office of General Counsel has posted on its web page a series of questions and answers about the rulemaking process so that members of the public may more effectively participate in it.  We include a description of how the rulemaking process works, how to file comments at the FCC, how to find comments filed by others, and tips for making your comments more effective.

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A Secure Public Safety Broadband Network

by Kurian Jacob, Electronics Engineer, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 11, 2011 - 09:48 AM

It clearly is important to have a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network for the nation’s first responders.  Interoperable communications during incidents such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katharina, would have improved the rescue efforts by many fold.  To establish a first baseline to ensure nationwide interoperability for public safety broadband communications, in the Third Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (Interoperability Order and NPRM), the Commission mandated LTE as a common technology platform and asked for comment on a range of technical issues.
If the public safety network is not secured, the sensitive information it carries could be compromised by intruders which may lead to wide-ranging disasters. As recognized in the Interoperable Order and NPRM, it is essential that the information it transports be secure on an end-to-end basis.  Although having LTE as the common technology alone won’t ensure that the network is secure, it does provide a platform for having a common set of security features.
Accordingly, in the Interoperability Order and NPRM we are looking for inputs on mandating the optional security features of LTE.  And we are also trying to understand whether these security features are sufficient to ensure that the information carried over the public safety broadband network will be secure or if additional steps must be taken.  We look forward to reviewing the comments on this important issue.

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The 4.9 GHz Band, RF bits and pieces

by Pat Amodio, Chief of Radio Frequency Engineering, ERIC, PSHSB
April 8, 2011 - 01:53 PM

In February, the FCC held a workshop on the 4.9 GHz band, spectrum dedicated to Public Safety for Broadband use. This 50 megahertz of spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band (4940–4990 MHz) is the largest spectrum allocation for public safety broadband services. The workshop consisted of two panels.  The first, which I had the pleasure to moderate, discussed how the 4.9 GHz band is currently used by public safety.   What did we learn from this workshop? Let me offer the perspective for a Radio Frequency (RF) Engineer.

The first panel had excellent state and local representation and included panelists from the Brookline (MA) Police Department; the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT); the Missouri Department of Public Safety; and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, California.

Scott Wilderfrom Brookline Police Department explained that their wireless network allows officers to access all public safety databases from their vehicle mounted laptops. Officers can, among other things, upload reports accessing criminal databases and download video and images of missing and wanted persons. The antenna is installed on the roof of the police cruiser. The network equipment and antennas are mounted on light poles within Brookline – ideal for propagating a signal to and from police vehicles.

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Examining Network Reliability & Resiliency

by Jamie Barnett, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 8, 2011 - 10:58 AM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:54:height=106,width=70]]Today the Commission initiated a comprehensive examination of the reliability and resiliency of communications networks, including broadband networks, particularly their ability to provide services during major emergencies, such as natural or man-made disasters.
The recent events in Japan illustrate the importance of resilient critical infrastructure.  No one would disagree that communications services are critical and central to our lives.  This is so because of how many segments of our Nation’s economy are dependent on resilient communications services, and because most aspects of our daily lives seem to revolve around access to communications services.
If you get a call to come pick your child up from school because he or she isn’t feeling well, and you ask that homework assignments be emailed to you, and then stop at the pharmacy on the way home and purchase medicine by swiping a card, you’ve consumed communications services in three different ways, each important to you.  Worse still, try to imagine the value you would place on being able to contact your family in the wake of a disaster.  Now, imagine a scenario where your child – or your spouse – needs urgent or life-saving attention.  Can you reach 9-1-1?  Does the ambulance have the information to know exactly how to find you?  Can the emergency room doctor receive medical records transmitted electronically to hasten treatment?  The stakes of reliable communications rise greatly where protection of human lives is involved.

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Digging for More Broadband Deployment

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
April 7, 2011 - 12:52 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:119:height=98,width=70]]It’s easy to forget that the virtual reality of the Internet depends on the gritty reality of wires hung on utility poles, wireless signals carried by antennas and receivers on towers and fiber buried under streets and railroad rights-of-way. But the cost of reaching consumers and businesses with broadband Internet access depends in no small part on the time and expense required to string wires on poles and dig under streets.
To reduce costs and delays, the FCC is working to reform infrastructure policies through its Broadband Acceleration Initiative.  The goal: help broadband providers get robust, affordable wired and wireless broadband everywhere.  Today, that initiative bore fruit when the FCC approved real reform in the arcane world of pole attachments.
Consider this: some communications companies report that it can take many months or even years for utility companies to do the work necessary for broadband providers to attach their wires or antennas to utility poles.  Wireless providers, for example, report that faster and more predictable attachments could save them over $5 billion – money that could be better spent on deploying and upgrading broadband for consumers across the country.  So today we adopted rules that will make expanding and improving broadband networks faster, cheaper and more predictable.

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