Looking back on 2022, there is no question that it has been an eventful year at the Federal Communications Commission. For me what really sets this year apart from 2021 is that I was able get out of Washington and spend more time in more places across the country. To understand and appreciate why the agency’s work matters, there’s just no substitute for meeting people where they live and work.
From New Orleans to New Mexico and San Antonio to Charlotte, I met with people who have been able to get and stay connected thanks to the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program -- the largest broadband affordability effort in our nation’s history. Launched on New Year’s Eve, the ACP is currently helping more than 15 million households pay for high-speed internet service.
In Detroit, I visited Cass Tech High School to hear first-hand about how the Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund is helping to provide digital learning tools to close the Homework Gap. To date, the Commission has committed over $6.3 billion to support approximately 10,500 schools, 1,000 libraries, and 100 consortia, and providing over 12 million connected devices and over 7 million broadband connections.
We are also trying to narrow the Homework Gap by allowing E-Rate support to be used to connect school buses to Wi-Fi. Our new Wi-Fi on Wheels proposal could help turn ride time into connected time for schoolwork for the 25 million kids in this country who ride school buses, many of whom don't have reliable internet at home. We’re working to make that a reality for 2023.
In northern New Mexico, I recently got to see how changes to our E-Rate program are supporting broadband connectivity for the Navajo Nation and other Tribal communities. Not all Tribal Libraries have been able to take advantage of E-Rate because of jurisdictional quirks. We fixed those problems and launched a pilot program to make sure all Tribal Libraries are connected.
Perhaps my most memorable trip of the year was to a mobile crisis team dispatch center in Philadelphia. I joined Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenny and many mental health professionals to promote the official launch of 988 as the new number to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Thanks in part to the Commission’s work, if you text or dial 988, you will now be connected to professional, compassionate support for mental health emergencies. In the first full month that 988 was operational, we saw a 45 percent increase in people using the lifeline, compared to 2021 numbers. That’s over 100,000 more people seeking and receiving help in just one month. This is a really big deal that is going to save a lot of lives.
I also won’t soon forget my visits to the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland, either. Those may not seem like obvious trips for an FCC Chairwoman, but a new space age is here, and it demands new rules from the Commission. That’s why we launched our Space Innovation docket to promote United States leadership in the emerging space economy. That includes launching an inquiry on in-space servicing, assembly, and manufacturing—or ISAM. We also adopted a first-of-its-kind rule requiring that satellite operators in low-earth orbit dispose of their satellites within five years of the completing their missions. The new five-year rule replaces a decades-old 25-year standard and will mean more accountability and less risk of collisions that increase orbital debris and the likelihood of space communication failures.
To keep pace with the rapid development of the satellite sector and growing importance to space-based communications, I announced a plan to establish a new Space Bureau, as well as a standalone Office of International Affairs. This re-imagined bureau will promote long-term technical capacity to address satellite policies and improve our coordination with other agencies on these issues.
For the first time in years, I attended Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where I announced our plans to auction spectrum in 2.5 GHz band, bringing new broadband coverage and competition mostly to rural areas around the country. We successfully completed this auction in September, and we’ve already begun issuing licenses to the auction winners in this band, meaning many of these carriers can begin deploying immediately.
Looking to the future, we also began an inquiry into the 12.7 GHz band, asking about how we can expand use of this 550 megahertz swath of mid-band spectrum, including for new exclusively-licensed opportunities as well as possible sharing approaches. These are airwaves that can unlock a significant chunk of valuable mid-band frequencies that may play a key role in delivering on the promise of next-generation wireless services, including 5G, 6G, and beyond. And we’re not stopping there, the FCC is already looking to what a 6G future could look like including its impact on the digital divide, machine learning, how it could make life easier and more efficient for consumers, and new ways to connect industries, technology, and communities.
We also established a new Enhanced Competition Incentive Program to encourage wireless licensees to make underutilized spectrum available to small carriers, Tribal Nations, and entities serving rural areas. This is a way to make sure spectrum in rural areas actually goes to those most likely to use it.
We started a proceeding to consider the role of receiver performance in spectrum management. For too long our wireless policy has focused entirely on regulating transmitters. Improvements in reception technology could enable additional services in the same or adjacent airwaves.
And we laid the groundwork for better cooperation with our Federal partners in spectrum matters through the establishment with NTIA of the Spectrum Coordination Initiative, which involves actions by both agencies to strengthen the processes for decision making and information sharing and to work cooperatively to resolve spectrum policy issues.
While we’ve been busy building the foundation for the future of wireless technology, we’ve also remained focused on keeping the technology already in our networks secure. That’s why this year, we adopted new rules prohibiting communications equipment deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to national security from being authorized for importation or sale in the United States. We also prohibited the use of public funds to purchase covered equipment or services, launched the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program to remove insecure equipment that has already been installed in our networks, revoked operating authorities for Chinese state-owned carriers based on recommendations from national security agencies, and updated the process for approving submarine cable licenses to better address national security concerns.
This fall, I traveled to Florida and Puerto Rico where I met with Governor Pedro Pierlusi, to survey the recovery efforts after Hurricanes Ian and Fiona, which we followed up with a virtual field hearing about the impact of these hurricanes on communications. I also met with Governor John Bel Edwards and public safety officials to discuss network recovery at their Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparation in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Thanks to these initiatives, we’re not just learning lessons in 2022, we’re applying them. This year, we updated our rules to improve the reliability and resiliency of wireless networks during emergencies. The rules will help reduce wireless phone outages for the public and support faster service restoration after hurricanes, wildfires, and other disasters.
Building on this work to improve public safety, we launched a program that will for the first time share communications outage information in real time with state, federal territorial, and Tribal nation agencies. This can improve their situational awareness, enhance their ability to respond more quickly to outages affecting their communities, and help save lives.
We also modernized and streamlined our rules for programs that help first responders and other emergency personnel communicate during disasters. The updated rules will help ensure that these programs meet the needs of emergency personnel now and in the future, as technology advances.
I returned to Las Vegas for the largest annual gathering of the nation’s broadcasters, and we are also bringing new broadcast stations to the public. We completed an auction, which resulted in construction permits for 18 new television stations, and we have granted over 725 of the applications we received in last year’s window for new non-commercial FM stations.
We also proposed modifications in order to strengthen the process supporting our foreign sponsorship identification rules, and ultimately ensure greater transparency when foreign governments and their agents lease time to broadcast content on our public airwaves.
I went to Bucharest, Romania to see history made by my friend and colleague Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who became the first woman elected to lead the International Telecommunication Union’s Secretary General. The FCC worked tirelessly with our international peers to support her candidacy.
On top of all of these efforts, we have been pursuing an aggressive consumer protection agenda from Washington.
We are doubling down on efforts to stop scam robocalls. We have been attacking them from all angles—cutting off bad actors from our networks, requiring providers to block unwanted calls, and mandating technology to stop call spoofing. Some of our efforts are beginning to bear fruit. After we identified the companies behind the auto warranty robocall scam, we told the rest of the industry to cut them off and auto warranty calls fell by 80 percent. We’re also in the process of shutting down a student loan call campaign and looking for other scams to disrupt. Plus, we’re not doing this alone. We now have a memorandum of understanding with 43 state Attorneys Generals, the District of Columbia, and Guam to work together to go after illegal robocalls.
We released the preproduction draft of the nation’s new broadband maps, which provide the best picture to date of where broadband is and is not available across the country on a location-by-location basis. They represent a big improvement over the agency’s previous maps which only reported service by census blocks. The greater transparency offered by these new maps will create market pressures on internet providers to improve their coverage. The new maps will also help policymakers more accurately target investments to expand broadband to unserved and underserved areas and close the digital divide. And the maps will only get better from here thanks to an iterative challenge process required under the law.
One of the most effective ways to make broadband more affordable is by promoting competition. One-third of people in this country live in multi-tenant units like apartments, which often offer limited choices when it comes to internet service because landlords cut exclusive deals and shut out competition. To improve competition and consumer choice, the Commission adopted rules to ban these kickbacks that keep out competitors and to improve access to in-building wiring.
The Commission adopted and released the new Broadband Label that broadband providers will display at point-of-sale to enable consumers to easily shop for services among different providers and plans.
We are also working to make sure your sensitive data isn’t being mishandled. Geolocation data tells mobile carriers where we are at any given moment and where we’ve been. That’s why I sent letters to the 15 largest mobile carriers demanding information on how they handle this data, and why we are investigating whether the carriers are in compliance with FCC rules that require carriers to fully disclose to consumers how they are using and sharing geolocation data.
We took action to help protect America’s communications networks against cyberattacks by seeking public comment on vulnerabilities threatening the security and integrity of the Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP, which is central to the Internet’s global routing system.
We kicked off an investigation into digital discrimination, as directed by Congress in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. Your zip code shouldn’t determine your access to broadband, and as one of our last major actions of 2022, we initiated a rulemaking to tackle these important and complex issues.
Finishing where I began, it’s no exaggeration to say that the actions I’ve just outlined will directly impact millions of people across the country in a positive way. But what really keeps me pushing forward is not statistics. It’s more the stories from my travels. It’s the mother in San Antonio who was moved to tears when she explained to me how much easier schoolwork has been for her children since they got home broadband. It’s the employee at the mobile crisis center who survived a suicide attempt thanks to the Suicide Prevention Hotline and said 988 will make it so much easier for people like her to reach out and receive help. It’s my counterpart from the Ukrainian telecom commission who helped me see how United States support mattered and awed me with her strength and resilience.
There are so many others whose stories inspire me, just as there are many other FCC actions from 2022, which I have not mentioned. Thank you to all the FCC staff who made this progress possible. Here’s to an even more productive 2023.