June 18, 2019 - 2:35 pm
By Ajit Pai | FCC Chairman

Almost 50 years ago, on July 20, 1969, people around the world watched with fascination as the United States became the first country to land a manned spacecraft on the Moon and Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the lunar surface. It was an amazing sight: A man-made machine had “slipped the surly bonds of Earth” and had successfully carried humans to another celestial object. Even today, the video gives me chills.

At the FCC, we draw inspiration from the ambitious vision and persistent effort that led to this historic moment. Our primary focus may not be on moonshots (although we have been doing a lot of work to promote innovation in space), but we do share the same enthusiasm for American leadership in cutting-edge technologies. One area where we’ve been doing a lot of work involves 5G, the next generation in wireless connectivity.

Last year, I announced a comprehensive strategy for promoting U.S. leadership in 5G — a strategy for “Facilitating America’s Superiority in 5G Technology,” or the 5G FAST plan. This plan calls for freeing up spectrum, making it easier to install wireless infrastructure like “small cells,” and modernizing our regulations to encourage the deployment of fiber, which is necessary for carrying wireless traffic.

We’ve been successfully executing each part of this plan. In fact, just last week, we got some encouraging data on the infrastructure side of the equation. New figures show that investment in our nation’s broadband networks rose in 2018 for a second straight year, with an estimated increase of $3 billion. A previous study found that fiber was deployed to more new American homes in 2018 than any year in history. And small cell deployment more than quadrupled. This is concrete evidence that our efforts to cut the red tape that holds back infrastructure deployment are getting results for American consumers.

And we’re not done. The FCC’s next monthly meeting will take place on July 10. At that meeting, we will aim to take some important steps forward on the spectrum side of our 5G FAST plan. Mid-band spectrum, which offers an important combination of 5G coverage and capacity, is central to our strategy.

That’s why today, I’m circulating an order to open up the 2.5 GHz band for 5G. This is the single largest band of contiguous spectrum below 3 GHz. But much of this public resource has been unused for decades. That’s partly because the technology that policymakers conceived many years ago for this band hasn’t materialized as some thought, and partly because arcane rules hampered providers from putting the spectrum to its highest-valued use.

At long last, we’re going to put more of this critical mid-band spectrum to work for the American people. On July 10, the Commission will vote on an order that will modernize an outdated regulatory regime for the 2.5 GHz band, a regime developed in the days when educational TV was the only use envisioned for this spectrum. The new framework will not only give incumbent users more flexibility in how they use the spectrum, but also provide opportunities for Tribal Nations and others to obtain access to unused 2.5 GHz spectrum. Making this valuable mid-band spectrum available for new mobile services will allow for more efficient and effective use of these airwaves and will advance U.S. leadership in 5G. My colleagues have expressed a strong interest in bringing mid-band spectrum to market, and this order represents a prime opportunity to do just that.

Consistent with our longstanding walking-and-chewing-gum approach, we’ll also focus on unleashing high-band spectrum for 5G at our July meeting. Two months ago, I joined the President at the White House to announce that the Commission will hold an auction of the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands on December 10, 2019. This auction will be the largest in American history, releasing 3,400 megahertz of spectrum into the commercial marketplace. On July 10, the Commission will vote to finalize the procedures, terms, and conditions for this auction. Among the many key details outlined in this Public Notice, this will be an incentive auction. In addition, each of the bands available will be licensed on an unpaired basis in 100-megahertz channel blocks, and the winning bidder may provide any services permitted under a fixed or mobile allocation.

While 5G is certainly getting the most buzz in telecom circles these days, closing the digital divide — making sure all Americans can access high-speed Internet — remains my number one priority. In June 2017, the FCC began to explore the unique challenges to deploying broadband to apartment, condominium, and office buildings — what the FCC calls “multiple tenant environments,” or MTEs. Thanks to the work coming out of this review, the FCC will now consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Declaratory Ruling at our July meeting to enable the millions of Americans who live and work in MTEs to have greater choice when it comes to broadband. First, we would seek public input on actions we could take to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services within MTEs. Second, we would clarify that we welcome state and local efforts to promote access to and competition in MTEs, so long as those efforts are consistent with federal policy. Third, we would preempt an outlier San Francisco ordinance to the extent it requires the sharing of in-use wiring in MTEs, a policy which deters broadband deployment.

At our next meeting, we’ll also modernize other regulations that are holding back the deployment of next-generation networks and services. We’ll consider an item that will eliminate unnecessary pricing regulation of a subset of lower-speed “business data services” — middle-mile services known as “transport” services — offered by price-cap incumbent carriers. The increasingly competitive marketplace for transport obviates the need for these rules — and the market distortions and stifled investment that come with them. (This is a follow-up from a decision last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that repeatedly upheld the FCC’s light-touch policy judgments in this area as reasonable.) The item will also give price cap carriers partial forbearance relief after a reasonable transition period from decades-old requirements that they provide legacy transport — known as “DS1 and DS3 transport” — to their competitors on an unbundled basis at regulated rates. Importantly, we will grant this relief only where there is actual or potential competition that ensures reasonable prices. Removing these unnecessary regulatory burdens will spur more facilities-based competition and network deployment.

Speaking of closing the digital divide, broadband connectivity is the key to a wide range of telehealth and telemedicine services. That’s why I asked Commissioner Carr last year to lead the FCC’s effort on exploring ways that the Commission could promote connected care everywhere. And I’m pleased to report that in July, we will be taking the next step in our ongoing proceeding to create a Connected Care Pilot Program within the Universal Service Fund. I’ll let him flesh out the details of this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, but I can say this is a significant step forward in meeting our goal of ensuring that American families and veterans can access next-generation telehealth services outside brick-and-mortar healthcare facilities.

The Commission’s July meeting will also feature three media-related items. The headliner out of this trio will be an update to the FCC’s children’s television programming rules. In recent decades, we’ve seen a monumental shift in the way young viewers access video programming. I’ve seen it myself in comparing my own television viewing habits as a child to those of my kids today. So this update of our rules is long overdue. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has taken the lead on this project, so I’ll let him discuss how the FCC is going to modernize these regulations.

The children’s television item is another aspect of the Commission’s Modernization of Media Regulations Initiative (MMRI), which is focused on updating our rules to match the realities of the media marketplace. And it’s not the only MMRI item on our July agenda.

The Commission will also vote on two items that will replace wasteful and costly paper notifications with electronic notifications. The first is an order updating the triennial must-carry/retransmission consent election process for broadcasters and covered video providers, such as cable operators and satellite TV providers. Under these new rules, commercial broadcasters would no longer be required to send their elections via certified mail to each provider, but instead would upload their elections into their public files every three years and notify video providers by e-mail of any change.

Moreover, cable and satellite TV providers are required to notify local broadcast television stations when they take certain actions that would affect broadcasters. For example, cable providers must provide notice if they commence service in a market or delete or reposition a broadcast station, and satellite providers must give notice prior to retransmitting certain stations or launching new services into a market. FCC rules currently require that these notices be provided to television stations by paper delivery, such as mail, certified mail, or hand delivery. Consistent with our changes we are making to the must carry/retransmission consent election process, I’m proposing that we require these notices to be transmitted by e-mail as well. These two MMRI items are just common-sense measures to update our rules for the digital age.

Half a century ago, Neil Armstrong famously observed, after taking a step onto the Moon, that it was “one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” For our July meeting, our goal is to take giant leaps here on the ground, from closing the digital divide to advancing U.S. leadership in 5G to helping Americans get healthier to modernizing outdated regulations. As momentous as 1969? Perhaps not. But these are moonshots in our world, and we’re excited to see where these rockets take us.