For the past few days, I’ve been meeting with my foreign counterparts at the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Symposium for Regulators in Geneva, Switzerland. As part of a panel discussion, I delivered remarks about the FCC’s strategy for seizing the opportunities and managing the challenges created by emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. I spoke about how connectivity can help deliver on the promise of these technologies—and how the FCC is prioritizing top drivers of connectivity like flexible-use spectrum and light-touch regulation of infrastructure.
It was a timely discussion. That’s because today, as I travel back to the United States, I’m teeing up several measures that would advance these goals. I’ll ask my fellow Commissioners to vote on them at the FCC’s August 2 meeting.
Leading off our August agenda will be 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity. We’ll finalize the rules for the auction of airwaves in the 28 GHz band and the auction of the 24 GHz band, which will follow immediately afterward. One of the game-changers for 5G is that new technologies have made it possible to use millimeter-wave spectrum for mobile broadband. With so many wanting so much spectrum for 5G, we’re moving as quickly as possible to make these bands available for commercial use. Adopting these rules will pave the way for auctioning these 5G-critical airwaves and allow us to start the bidding on November 14.
These will be the first auctions of high-band spectrum for 5G services, but they won’t be the last. Specifically, I’m excited to announce my plan to move forward with a single auction of three more millimeter-wave spectrum bands—the 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands—in the second half of 2019. To help facilitate that auction on this timeline, I’m proposing rules to clean up the 39 GHz band and move incumbents into rationalized license holdings. This will help make the 39 GHz band as attractive as possible for new bidders, while consolidating incumbent spectrum licenses into more usable blocks. As part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking we will consider at the FCC’s August meeting, I’m also proposing to have 100 MHz license blocks for the 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands, so they can more easily be auctioned together. These are important steps that will help solidify U.S. leadership in 5G.
Spectrum’s not the only key to 5G. We’ll also have to make network deployment—and in particular the smaller, denser infrastructure of 5G networks—easier. One of my first acts as Chairman was to create the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee to develop expert recommendations on removing barriers that raise the costs and slow the buildout of communications infrastructure. A key focus of the Committee was easing access to utility poles, and one of its recommendations was streamlining the process to “make ready” those poles for new attachments. (Many poles already have electric utility, telephone, and cable lines attached to them.) Instead of having multiple parties sequentially prepare poles for a new attacher, as is current practice, the process can be much quicker if a single construction crew does all the make-ready work at once. By making it quicker and cheaper to attach to poles, we can accelerate network buildout and make it easier for new entrants to provide more broadband competition. So I’ve circulated an order that would adopt this so-called “one-touch-make-ready” policy while at the same time ensuring that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect existing attachments and worker safety. The order that we we’ll vote on at our August meeting also makes clear that it is contrary to Federal law for states or localities to put in place moratoria on network buildout.
Switching gears a bit, I’ve talked a lot about the need to close America’s digital divide. One of the reasons we want every American to have access to high-speed Internet connectivity is because of its potential to improve healthcare. Broadband connectivity fuels a wide range of telehealth services, and as Commissioner Brendan Carr recently highlighted, there’s a movement in telehealth towards connected care everywhere. Whether it’s via remote patient monitoring or mobile health apps, patients can see improved outcomes and lower costs through care that can be delivered directly to them regardless of where they’re physically located. That’s why I’ve asked Commissioner Carr to lead the FCC’s effort to explore ways the Commission can promote connected care everywhere. We’ll formalize this at our August meeting, where we’ll be considering a Notice of Inquiry that would seek comment on a Universal Service Fund pilot program to support the delivery of telehealth services to low-income Americans, with a focus on services delivered beyond brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities.
Earlier, I spoke of new spectrum auctions. But we can’t forget that the Commission is still managing the transition of broadcasters following the incentive auction that concluded in 2017. In RAY BAUM’s Act, Congress authorized the Commission to reimburse certain low power television and television translator stations, as well as FM radio stations, for costs incurred as a result of the post-incentive auction broadcast television repack. And today, I’m circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which seeks comment on rules to implement Congress’ directive. Our goal is to provide funds efficiently while at the same time ensuring that there are robust safeguards against waste, fraud, and abuse.
Rounding out our August meeting agenda, we’ll vote on establishing the requirements that will govern our broadcast “incubator” program. This program is one that the FCC envisioned last year to encourage the entry of new and diverse voices into the broadcast industry. If adopted, my plan will enable the pairing of small aspiring, or struggling, broadcast station owners with established broadcasters who will provide assistance with training, finances, mentoring, and industry connections. And at the end of the incubation period, the incubated entity will have the right to purchase the incubating entity’s interest in the incubated station. The end result? The incubator program would lead to greater diversity and competition in the broadcast industry.
As I come home from Geneva, I’m as energized as ever to deliver the networks of the future for the benefit of all Americans. With a lot on tap for our August meeting, on top of tomorrow’s open meeting (where we’ll make progress on opening up mid-band spectrum and improving emergency alerts), a good summer is only getting better.