Yesterday, I delivered a speech where I announced that the Federal Communications Commission’s October meeting will feature my plan to restore net neutrality. While this proposal will certainly garner the most attention, the Commission’s October agenda features many other actions to promote digital equity and support broadband-powered innovation. Here’s everything to expect at next month’s open meeting.
- We’re making sure internet access is fast, open, and fair for all. The pandemic made it crystal clear that broadband is no longer nice-to-have; it’s need-to-have for everyone, everywhere. Net neutrality preserves internet openness by prohibiting internet providers from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing lawful content. The Commission will vote on a plan to begin the process of restoring the FCC’s overwhelmingly popular net neutrality rules that were repealed in 2017. This proposal would also classify broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act. Reclassifying broadband as a Title II service, which has been upheld in federal court, will reassert the FCC’s role as the country’s leading communications watchdog over national security and public safety on our broadband networks. It will set a uniform, national framework for internet standards without having a patchwork of state regulations.
- We’re supporting new tools to close the Homework Gap. The historic Emergency Connectivity Fund provided unprecedented resources to help students get and stay connected for online learning. Dozens of school districts used this support to equip school buses with Wi-Fi connections. To sustain this proven policy after ECF funds expire, the Commission will consider a Declaratory Ruling to allow E-Rate funding to be used for Wi-Fi on school buses. We’ve allowed E-Rate to support wireless phone services on buses in the past and have sure footing to take this next step. By turning ride time into connected time for homework, this proposal could make a big difference in rural areas and help enable students to learn without limits.
- We’re harnessing technology to improve maternal health. The United States is the only developed country with increasing maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity rates, and research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that many of these deaths and complications are preventable with access to broadband and the connection to healthcare that internet service enables. Telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and other connected care devices and services all have the potential to improve health outcomes. The Commission will vote on an inquiry to explore ways the Commission’s mapping platform might be enhanced to help us better leverage digital health tools to improve maternal care.
- We’re unleashing wireless innovation. Wi-Fi connectivity over unlicensed spectrum is the oxygen that sustains much of our everyday lives. In 2020, the Commission took a major step toward meeting the growing demand for next-generation Wi-Fi when it opened up 1,200 gigahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band for expanded unlicensed use. To enable new applications and services using these airwaves, the Commission will consider a proposal to allow Very Low Power devices to operate in two portions of the 6 GHz band. Permitting this added flexibility in the 6 GHz band could empower enhanced learning opportunities, advance healthcare opportunities, and bring new entertainment experiences.
- We’re making life-saving emergency alerts more accessible. Since they became operational in 2012, Wireless Emergency Alerts have been used more than 70,000 times to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, or other critical situations. Unfortunately, these alerts have only been available in English and Spanish. The Commission will vote on rules to improve Wireless Emergency Alerts, including enhanced support for multi-lingual alerting and other changes to provide alerting authorities with a better understanding of where and how these alerts will be delivered in their communities.
- We’re addressing the unique connectivity challenges of Alaska and fine-tuning our high-cost rules. Connecting everyone, everywhere in our most sparsely populated state demands an innovative funding approach. The Commission’s current 10-year plan to support connectivity in Alaska was established in 2016. As high-cost support for Alaska is set to wind down in a few years, we will vote to kick off a rulemaking to explore how to best continue supporting fixed and mobile broadband in some of the hardest to serve areas in the country. The Commission will also vote on changes to streamline the high-cost program rules.
- We’re making video programming more accessible for blind and visually impaired individuals. Audio description involves the insertion of narrated descriptions of a program’s key visual elements into natural pauses in dialogue help individuals who are blind and visually impaired enjoy video programming. The Commission’s current rules require video programmers to offer audio description in the 100 largest TV markets by the end of this year. We will vote on a proposal to phase in audio description requirements for an additional 10 markets each year until all markets are covered.
- We will also consider two items from our Enforcement Bureau.