May 4, 2016 - 4:00 pm
By Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

All that’s old is new again at the Commission’s May open meeting. Our agenda will feature many long-standing Commission priorities -- public safety, universal service, process reform – and build on a foundation of recent reforms to three key Commission programs.

On public safety, just this week, a storm blew through the Washington area that downed electric wires and knocked out power for more than 10,000 homes and businesses in the Washington area. For more than a decade, communications providers have kept the FCC apprised of major disruptions in their networks through our network outage reporting requirements. The data have allowed staff to detect adverse outage trends, support providers’ service restoration efforts, and communicate with public safety officials during times of crisis. These reports also provide the FCC with a unique industry-wide view into communications outages that enables us to help make networks more reliable.

This becomes even more important as critical infrastructure services rely increasingly on interconnected communications networks. However, communications providers currently report 911 outages that occur on legacy networks, but not for next-generation 911 over IP networks. That’s why I am circulating an item that would refine our network outage reporting requirements and propose common-sense updates to keep pace with technological change. This proposal would initiate a dialogue and seek comment on ways to keep our reporting requirements current, whether for outages to emergency or non-emergency communications, so that we can continue to collectively safeguard the networks that American consumers and businesses rely upon.

Like public safety, expanding broadband in rural America is one of the FCC’s top priorities. To that end, we’ve modernized our telephone-era universal programs for the Internet age, and these reforms are delivering results. Last year, the nation’s largest carriers accepted $9 billion from the new Connect America Fund to expand broadband in their rural service areas. And in March, the FCC reformed its broadband support for the nation’s smallest carriers, which will provide $20 billion over the next 10 years.

Now, we’re taking the next steps to unleash the power of the marketplace to expand broadband in remaining areas. Building on the Commission’s experience with its Rural Broadband Experiments program, I’m proposing new rules that would allocate over $2 billion over the next decade in Connect America Fund support for rural broadband through competitive bidding.

The Order I’m proposing to the Commission would set robust yet flexible standards for broadband deployment, recognizing the diverse challenges inherent in deploying broadband in rural America. It would also target support where it’s most needed on the local level, ensure accountability, and safeguard against waste, fraud, and abuse.

Ultimately, we hope the power of competitive bidding will spark robust broadband deployment and service offerings across rural America in the most cost-efficient way possible.

The third item on our May meeting agenda would further update our rules for the public inspection files broadcasters and cable operators maintain to disclose community-relevant information. Previous reforms to our “public file” rules have focused on making this information available online. Throughout this process, we have been mindful to make sure the rules do not create unfair burdens.

Yesterday, at the request of Commissioner O’Rielly, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to eliminate two outdated public file requirements: one regarding the retention of copies of letters and emails from the public and another requiring cable operators to publicly disclose the location of their control center for receiving and processing television signals.

These recommendations are consistent with our agency-wide process reform initiative to review all Commission regulations and update or repeal outdated and unnecessary rules.

In this fast-moving, constantly evolving sector, the Commission needs to make sure our rules are keeping pace. This month, we have to opportunity to take three Commission programs that were recently updated and continue fine-tuning them to better serve the American people.