August is supposed to be the slowest month of the year in Washington, but it’s been as hectic for me as it’s been humid. I spent the past few weeks launching a new podcast, awarding $1.5 billion to expand broadband to over 700,000 unserved rural homes and businesses, climbing a 131-foot-tall cell tower, and exploring how the IP-based Next Gen TV standard is progressing, among other things. Basically, I could write the wonkiest essay ever about what I did on my summer vacation.
And things aren’t slowing down as we emerge from the Labor Day break! The FCC is coming out of the gate today with a full agenda for our September meeting.
Leading off this month’s meeting will be a proposal to address problems with 911 calls placed from centralized communications systems — like phones that are used in office buildings, schools, and hotels. The first problem involves making sure callers using these systems can get direct access to 911. These systems often require that you dial 9 to make an external call, which can create confusion and has caused too many 911 calls to not go through. The second problem is the lack of precise location and routing information that would help first responders find the caller. Too often, emergency responders only know the building or complex where the call is coming from, but not the room or office where help is needed.
In September 2017, the FCC began to study this issue. The findings from that inquiry inform this proposal. Additionally, this proposal would implement provisions of the Kari’s Law Act. This legislation was enacted by Congress in March 2018. It requires direct access to 911 in multi-line telephone systems. I’ve had the honor of getting to know Hank Hunt, whose daughter’s passing inspired Kari’s Law. I stood by his side three years ago in Marshall, Texas, when I announced the first results of my initiative to enable direct access to 911, and I stood by his side earlier this year when legislation named for his late daughter was signed. I’m grateful that on September 26, we’ll honor his advocacy by proposing rules that can and will save lives.
The next item on deck was actually previewed this morning by Commission Brendan Carr, who has been very capably spearheading our work to facilitate the deployment of next-generation wireless networks. As Commissioner Carr laid out in greater detail, this order focuses on two main issues: reducing excessive local fees for processing permits and allowing access to public rights of way, and addressing unreasonable delays in authorizing deployments. By updating our rules to make it easier to install wireless infrastructure, the Commission is taking another critical step to promote U.S. leadership in 5G wireless services.
In addition to advancing high-profile issues like public safety and the next generation of wireless connectivity, our September meeting will also include important issues that dig into the regulatory weeds.
A consistent theme of our efforts to modernize or repeal outdated rules is identifying data collections that can be streamlined or eliminated outright. One of those data collections on the media side is Form 325, which requires cable operators to submit information on how networks operate — things like network structure, system-wide capacity, programming, and the number of subscribers. We’ve found that much of the information on this form can be obtained from other sources without imposing a burden on cable operators and the Commission. Additionally, the video business has changed a lot, diminishing the usefulness of this form. In fact, the Commission in recent years has rarely used the information we collect through this form. So in three weeks, we’ll hopefully vote to eliminate this unnecessary requirement.
Another important media issue we’ll consider is a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing two issues raised by a remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The topic is how local franchising authorities may regulate incumbent cable operators and cable television services. The proposals we’re teeing up are designed to promote competition by ensuring parity between incumbent cable operators and new entrants and to help ensure that local franchising requirements don’t discourage cable operators from investing in new facilities and services.
Returning to the topic of my “summer vacation”: a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the beautiful state of Utah. There, I “virtually met” the Superintendent of the Kane County School District, which has seven schools spread out over 4,000 square miles — a district twice the size of Delaware. Students who play sports routinely spend hours shuttling to and from games across vast remote areas that lack wireless service. To help the students do their homework during this time, the school buses are equipped with Wi-Fi. That Wi-Fi connection is made possible by a satellite transmitting data to a receiver on the bus — what we call an Earth Station in Motion (ESIM). That brings me to the next item on our agenda. Currently, ESIMs are regulated differently based on the type of vehicle they are attached to, whether it’s ships, airplanes, or school buses. This doesn’t make a lot of sense, so the FCC will be voting to consolidate and streamline these rules, eliminating burdens and adding frequencies where ESIMs can operate. If adopted, this item will enable a fast-growing segment of the satellite industry to innovate and invest in new technologies — and to deliver high-speed services like those used by the kids on those Kane County buses.
At the outset of this post, I mentioned the FCC’s investment of $1.5 billion for broadband deployment in unserved areas. Notably, that money was awarded using a competitive auction that harnessed market forces to ensure that these resources were distributed efficiently. Later this month, the FCC will vote to apply auctions to another arena, the allocation of toll-free numbers. We’ll decide whether to establish the framework for an auction of certain numbers in the recently opened 833 toll-free code. Taking this step would help us determine how best to use competitive bidding to assign toll-free numbers in the future.
Rounding out our agenda, we’ll be voting on two matters from the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. For law enforcement reasons, I can’t tell you about these matters publicly before our September meeting. But stay tuned.
It’s going to be tough topping what I did this summer — and I left off the visits to the cattle ranch in Colorado, potato farm in Idaho, and pueblos in rural New Mexico, among other things! But I’m glad to be able to report that we’re getting off to such a productive start this fall.