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Every month, I use this platform to tout the items on the FCC’s upcoming monthly meeting agenda and explain how they will help to address key challenges facing our country.  For our December 2020 meeting, it’s not just me saying that the Commission is dealing with some heady issues.  Last week, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien gave an interview in which he said the “number one concern” for democracy at home and abroad is the integrity of our communications networks.  In particular, he warned that installing equipment from Chinese firms in the backbone of our 5G networks could give the Communist Chinese government “backdoors to pull up every bit of data in the world.”

I agree wholeheartedly. Or, as I’m fond of quipping on Twitter, “you don’t say.”  The FCC recognizes this threat and has taken a series of actions to secure the integrity of the communications supply chain.  Specifically, the FCC voted to prohibit the use of money from our Universal Service Fund to purchase or obtain any equipment or services produced or provided by companies posing a national security threat, including the world’s largest global 5G supplier—Huawei.  We also started a process to identify and catalog insecure equipment used in USF-funded communications networks, with an eye to implementing a program to remove and replace it.  More recently, we hosted a forum on Open Radio Access Networks, or Open RANs, which could transform 5G network architecture, costs, and security.

This December, the Commission will have the opportunity to build on this progress and take critical next steps toward securing our communications networks.  We will be voting on an Order implementing the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019.  These new rules would establish the procedures and criteria for publishing a list of the communications equipment and services that pose an unacceptable risk to the national security of the United States.  They would then require eligible telecommunications carriers to remove and replace such equipment from their networks, and would establish the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program to subsidize smaller carriers to remove and replace such equipment.  Moreover, to ensure we are informed about the ongoing presence of insecure equipment in communications networks, the rules would also mandate strict reporting requirements.

Our December agenda will feature two additional national security matters, which I am unable to discuss in detail at this time.   

Just as the Commission wants to stop the deployment of technologies that could undermine the security of our communications networks, we want to accelerate the development of new technologies that could help grow our economy and improve our quality of life.  Every day, pretty much every American uses multiple devices or gadgets that were approved through the FCC’s equipment authorization program, whether it’s your cellphone, your laptop, or your Wi-Fi router.  This authorization process offers consumers assurance that their devices will work as intended and operate free from harmful interference.   

As the pace of innovation has increased in the Internet age and product development cycles have accelerated, our equipment authorization rules in some ways have failed to keep pace.  In particular, our rules limit the ability of device manufacturers to market and import radiofrequency devices in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible.  That’s why I’m proposing targeted enhancements to our equipment authorization rules to make sure the newest technologies and must-have devices reach consumers as quickly as possible while still meeting our substantive standards.  

Next up on our December agenda is a proposal to encourage the deployment of services using ATSC 3.0—the “next generation” broadcast television standard.  The rollout of ATSC 3.0 is well under way, with stations in a dozen markets licensed to transmit in this new standard, and twenty ATSC 3.0 compatible televisions set to be available for sale this year.  The new standard promises to finally realize the potential for broadcast spectrum capacity to support so-called “Broadcast Internet” services—digital services beyond traditional over-the-air video, integrated into the broadband ecosystem.  This December, the Commission will vote on a Report and Order that clarifies and updates the regulatory landscape in order to foster the efficient and robust use of broadcast spectrum capacity for the provision of such services.  Specifically, it clarifies the basis on which to calculate ancillary and supplementary service fees, which are an assessment on the revenues earned by television stations from such services that we are required by statute to collect.  It also retains the existing standard of derogation of broadcast service, while amending the rule to eliminate an outdated reference to analog television.  And although the Report and Order generally declines at this time to adjust the 5% fee imposed on ancillary and supplementary services, it does lower the fee to 2.5% for noncommercial educational stations, which are uniquely positioned to take full advantage of the possibilities of Broadcast Internet, for nonprofit, noncommercial, educational services.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, it’s only fitting that I conclude by thanking all the staff who have worked on these items.  More broadly, I will be forever grateful to all the members of the FCC family who have gone above and beyond to serve the American people in unprecedented conditions during an unforgettable year.  Here’s wishing my colleagues and all of you a Happy Thanksgiving.