Congress has given the FCC its marching orders, and we are not wasting time. There are significant tasks for the agency in last month’s new appropriations law. They include helping Americans afford broadband, expanding access to telehealth technologies, building better maps that reflect where high-speed service is and is not, and improving the safety and security of our nation’s communications. Our challenge now is to couple Congress’s vision with strategies for successful implementation, so we’re going to hit the ground running. It’s not time to think small—and we can’t afford to act slowly either. That’s why I have asked the FCC staff to prepare presentations for the Commission’s February Open Meeting on the plans for each of these tasks. So, here’s what’s on deck:
- First, we’ll hear about progress on the effort to create an Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. In a historic move, Congress charged the FCC with developing a new $3.2 billion program to help Americans who are struggling to pay for internet service during the pandemic. With this new benefit, Americans who have low incomes or who have lost their jobs will be eligible for a monthly discount on internet service. This means more than just expanding access to communications. It means more people can work online or seek jobs online, more students can take classes online, and more patients can consult with their healthcare providers online.
- Second, we’ll hear about the next steps for the agency’s COVID-19 Telehealth program. Congress breathed new life into this program by recently providing an additional $249.95 million in support. This will allow the FCC to continue its efforts to expand connected care throughout the country and help more patients seek healthcare safely.
- Third, we’ll hear about the work the agency is doing to improve its broadband maps. I’ve always said you cannot manage what you do not measure. But for too long, the FCC has lacked the data it needs about precisely where service is and is not throughout the country. The good news is that Congress just appropriated $65 million to help the agency develop better data for improved maps so we can get started on this in earnest.
- And lastly, our February agenda will feature two rulemakings seeking comment on security initiatives from Congress. The first involves 911 fee diversion and what we can do to stop it—because it’s not right when 911 fees on our phone bill do not wind up actually supporting 911. The second is an effort to square our rules with changes to the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act that were made in last month’s appropriations law, so we can remove insecure foreign equipment from our nation’s communications networks, making them more secure and more safe.
There’s lots to do—so let’s get to work!