January 7, 2016 - 4:30 pm
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

It’s the first week in January, and that means it’s time for the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. Every year, this celebration of technological ingenuity gives us a glimpse of what the future will look like. If there’s one overriding trend of this year’s show -- and the past several shows – it’s that everything will be online in the future, from our clothes to our cars, and every sector of our economy and society will be changed by ubiquitous connectivity. At the FCC, we are focused on seizing the new opportunities created by our wired and wireless broadband networks in all facets of American life. The Commission’s January meeting agenda will reflect the diversity of these efforts, with items to enhance both public safety and civic engagement.

For decades, broadcasters have kept what are now known as “public files,” which disclose community-relevant information such as political advertising sold and data on ownership and equal employment opportunities. But there’s a catch. For too long, the public could barely access the “public” file. It was maintained only on paper in file cabinets at the actual radio and TV stations. In the Internet age, that didn’t make any sense, so, in 2012, the FCC adopted rules moving television station’s paper public files online, in a central, Commission-hosted database rather than maintaining paper files locally at their main studios.  TV broadcasters completed their transition to the online file in July 2014. In December 2014, the Commission proposed to extend this effort by expanding the online public file database to include cable, DBS, broadcast radio, and satellite radio companies. 

I am circulating a Report and Order to my colleagues to finalize that transition. This proposal does not include new disclosure requirements and would lower long-term costs for industry.  This modernization of the public inspection file is plain common sense.  The evolution of the Internet and the expansion of broadband infrastructure have transformed the way society accesses information today. Most important, the public will gain greater transparency and easier access to the information contained in the public files.

 To enhance public safety, I am circulating a second proposal to improve the Emergency Alert System (EAS), our national public warning system. We propose strengthening EAS by promoting participation on the state and local levels, supporting greater testing and awareness of EAS, leveraging technological advances, and bolstering EAS security. The goal is to promote community preparedness and ensure that Americans are best served by the warnings and alerts they receive during emergencies.

To maximize the benefits of broadband for the American people, we not only need to facilitate innovation in areas like public safety and civic engagement, but also to make sure all Americans have advanced communications capabilities. The Commission has a statutory mandate to assess and report annually on whether broadband is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. At our January open meeting, we will take up consideration of our latest Broadband Progress Report.

The report’s topline finding is that consumers need access to both fixed and mobile broadband in today’s world. Further, while the nation continues to make meaningful gains in broadband deployment, 34 million Americans still lack access to fixed high-speed broadband. Rural Americans – especially in Tribal Lands -- are being disproportionately left behind, with roughly 40 percent of these populations lacking broadband access, compared to 4 percent in urban areas.  That’s not good enough.

 The report maintains the fixed broadband speed standard, set last year, of 25 Mbps downloads/3 Mbps uploads, while leaving to future reports what the specific mobile broadband benchmark should be.  Hopefully, this report will catalyze a discussion on how we can do better.

From the CES showrooms to our own living rooms, we see evidence that wired and wireless broadband is changing the way we live. As we enter the new year, I look forward to working with my colleagues to explore new ways to harness the power of communications technology to improve the lives of the American people.

Updated: 
January 7, 2016