COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL
FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION
IEEE GLOBECOM 2013
DECEMBER 11, 2013
Good morning. Thank you Professor Zajic for having me here today. It is a treat to be
able to join you because the IEEE Communications Society is an important force in the
innovation economy. You are working on some of the most cutting-edge issues in
communications—from the development of LTE and dynamic spectrum access to the coming
Internet of Things.
Plus, the work you do supports our work at the Federal Communications Commission.
But it has been too long since a Commissioner has visited with you for this conference. So I
decided it was time and made the trek to Atlanta today.
Of course, speaking before a group of engineers can intimidate. Your papers for this
conference are impressive. I will not tell you that I understand every detail. But I can clearly see
how your work today lays the foundation for the networks of tomorrow.
As we head into this brave new world, the work of the engineers at the FCC will only
grow more important. That is why we are so fortunate at the FCC to have Julie Knapp at the
helm of our Office of Engineering and Technology. He is a national treasure. And he is here
today. So I hope you get the opportunity to meet him.
As I look ahead to what the FCC will be working on in the future, I know that Julie and
all of our engineers will be an important part of everything we do. I also know that as
communications technologies evolve and grow more complex, so do our regulatory challenges.
We will need new ways of thinking and new ideas to help us navigate these challenges.
So I thought it would be useful to share a few new ideas—three, actually—about how to
address the communications challenges ahead. After all, standing before a group of engineers
sounds like a pretty good place to talk about thinking outside of the proverbial box.
So first idea: To get outside the box, government needs to do more work in the
Now just from the sound of it, my children might find that one intriguing, so let me
As many of you know, software developers often code “sandboxes” into their programs.
This code allows others access to a portion of a program without harming the host platform.
Think of third-party applets that display on a section of the webpage without touching the rest of
the site. Outside developers can experiment within the four corners of this virtual sandbox,
without risking damage at large scale.
The technology industry has been extending the sandbox concept to all sorts of
development. It means that innovators no longer have to perfect new concepts in obscurity only
to bet the farm on launches of large yet unproven ideas. Instead, they can set up small
experiments—sandboxes—to tinker with their projects and expose them to real world conditions.
This way they can apply the scientific method to creativity: develop a new idea, experiment,
examine the result. If the data looks promising . . . find a way to build on it.
Sandboxes encourage creative thinking—and they limit risk. No wonder this concept has
gained traction among innovators. It has been incorporated into the thinking of entrepreneurs in
high-tech centers from across the country in Silicon Valley to across town at the Advanced
Technology Development Center at Georgia Tech.
I think we need to build more sandboxes in Washington—and at the FCC. Because back
at home, our big policy initiatives follow the traditional approach to innovation. We toil in
isolation, generate ideas from deep within large federal buildings, and refine them with some
outside input, a series of summits, panels, and the occasional Blue Ribbon commission. Then,
without the benefit of having tested our thoughts in the real world, we unveil a finished product,
cross our fingers, hold our breath, and hope everything turns out for the best.
But what if instead of always relying on the big reveal, we set up small-scale policy
experiments? What if we examined the effects of new rules before unleashing them all at once?
Could our efforts in Washington improve if we made more space for policy sandboxes?
I think the answer is yes.
I think there are definitely places in communications policy where small sandboxes could
have big impact.
Here’s one example—our experimental spectrum licensing process.
At the FCC, we understand that new technologies do not arrive on the scene without
exhaustive study. Experimentation is important and necessary.
So just a few months ago we updated our rules to allow more flexible licensing for
wireless experimentation. We created a new program license that reduces regulatory burdens
and helps innovators test new ideas using our airwaves. These licenses mean more power to
explore at research laboratories and universities, more ability to play with power levels, and
more opportunity to dream big and create. In the past, experimental licenses have produced
systems to support rocket launches, patient monitoring equipment, and robotic technology for the
armed forces. Pretty neat. Going forward our new sandbox policies for experimental licensing
could lead to even more innovation.
Still, I believe we can do more to make these sandboxes more powerful. Because for the
first time in over a decade, the FCC is also taking a serious look at how new radio equipment is
approved. We are looking at ways to expedite the equipment authorization process. Right now,
new devices can sometimes take months to make it through our certification process. Because
the number of devices in this process is expanding, our systems deserve an update to meet this
demand. By moving new devices through our approval process more quickly we can move them
from sandbox to market much faster.
But ultimately our sandboxes do not need to be limited to wireless policy.
Right now, the FCC is considering steps to foster the nationwide transition to next-
generation Internet Protocol—or IP—networks.
To explain this effort, let me start with some FCC numbers. This is a time of
extraordinary change in communications networks. At the turn of the millennium, we had
roughly 200 million switched access lines—or traditional phone lines. By the start of this year,
we had only 96 million. On top of that, we had 42 million VoIP lines—an increase of nearly 80
percent since 2008. Add to this that according to the Centers for Disease Control right here in
Atlanta—more than one in three households has cut the cord entirely and uses only a wireless
What is clear from these numbers is that our networks are evolving—at breathtaking
speed. In Washington, the effort to think about these network changes is sometimes called the
“IP Transition.” Simply put, this is an effort to understand how FCC rules can be built for the
networks of the future—and not just the past.
For my part, I think the IP Transition must be informed by the four enduring values that
have always informed communications law—public safety, universal access, competition, and
So far, so good. But after you get past these principles, what is the best way to facilitate
the IP transition? How do you deal with the thorny technical issues? How do you navigate the
complexities of federal, state, and local authority? How do you simply make it all work?
Again, I think the answer starts with the sandbox. We can kick-start this policy initiative
with targeted experiments. We can test our ideas in a limited way before unleashing them at
large. After all, big issues are at stake—how to foster deployment, how to spur investment, and
how to best serve consumers. Trying them out on a small scale just makes sense. So I am
hopeful that the FCC can work with carriers and come up with location-specific and service-
specific IP trials to better understand the consequences of our policy choices. Actually, I am
more than hopeful—because tomorrow the team at the FCC working on these issues is sharing a
presentation on how they intend to proceed. It sets the stage for sandbox experimentation—and I
think that’s a good thing.
But enough about sandboxes.
I want to move from the ground to the sky and talk
about a second idea—the more efficient use of spectrum.
Again, the numbers are a good place to start. There are already more wireless phones in
this country than there are people. Roughly half of these are smartphones, which generate 35
times the traffic of traditional wireless phones. One in three adults now uses a tablet computer,
which generates 121 times the traffic of traditional wireless phones. But we are only getting
started. Worldwide, mobile data traffic is expected to increase by 13 times in the next five years.
Yikes. Spectrum is the consummate scarce resource. We are not making more. So we
have to use what we have more efficiently—to help manage this great escalating demand.
The good news is that at the FCC we already have efforts underway. We have on deck a
variety of spectrum auctions to support new mobile broadband use. And we are looking at new
topologies like small cells—especially in the 3.5 GHz band.
But to meet this escalating demand we need to do more. We need to create incentives for
all users to be more efficient with their spectrum. We need to support technologies—from
dynamic spectrum access to frequency agile radios to smart antenna systems—that make this
So I want to offer an idea building on the thoughts of a wireless legend—Marty Cooper.
Forty years ago Marty Cooper took to the street in New York City with a clunky, 10-inch brick
costing $4000—the first wireless phone. He spoke and he made history. Fast forward four
decades and consider the wireless world that his one call wrought.
This past Summer, the father of the cell phone himself visited the FCC and spoke about
the experience. He also threw around some ideas about making our airwaves more efficient. I
want to seize on one of them.
What if we issued a challenge? Think of it as Race to the Top, the Spectrum Edition.
Imagine that we decided that the first person who finds a way to make spectrum use below 5
GHz 50 times more efficient over the next decade will be rewarded with 10 megahertz of
spectrum suitable for mobile broadband. This is no small prize. Because if the winner can truly
use spectrum 50 times more efficiently, they can make their 10 megahertz do the work of 500
Think of the power of this kind of prize. We can all benefit from the winning idea when
it is introduced at scale. But for that one winner, there will be any number of near misses. And
we could see across the board, throughout the wireless economy, the multiplied benefits of all of
these efforts together.
This contest could generate some real interest. Maybe even a few of you here might
make a go of it.
I think it sounds cool. But I will admit it is not something that the FCC can do on its
own. Still, I think this is one of those think big, bold, and strange ideas that is worth a look.
Third and final idea. Sandboxes and spectrum efficiency have something in
common—they benefit from engineers.
Engineers are deployed throughout the FCC. All in all, we have more than 250 of them.
They are at work on the experimental licensing issues we just discussed.
They are an integral part of our deliberations on the IP transition.
They are also a formidable part of our upcoming work on spectrum auctions.
To get all of this work done we need lawyers, economists—and engineers. In fact, I
think the work ahead would really benefit from an increase in our FCC engineering ranks.
So here’s an idea. Over the past several years, the FCC has been able to recruit talented,
young legal professionals through an honors attorney program. In fact, one of the alumni of this
program is a young lawyer named David Goldman. He is on my staff and here with me today.
He is legal spectrum guru of the first order and just the kind of professional we want to recruit to
I think the program that brought David to the FCC needs an engineering counterpart. So
I think we should create an honors program for young engineers. It would bring new vigor to the
ranks of our technical experts. By mixing young men—and women—with experienced
engineers already on staff, the FCC could be better prepared to face the challenges of next-
generation communications networks.
So there you have it. Three ideas for the road ahead. Three ideas for making sure the
policies we develop in Washington keep pace with the technology you are developing around the
world. I think more sandboxes on the ground, more spectrum efficiency in the sky, and more
engineers all around are ideas worth pursuing. But here’s another one. I think going forward,
the FCC and the IEEE can work together more. Because I think with your technical expertise we
can bring better communications to more places and do more big things.