Archive for June, 2016

Silicon Valley: My Journey off the Beaten Path

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Millions across the globe refer to Silicon Valley as the epicenter of innovation. Each and every day we depend on some of this region’s largest and most well-known companies to power our e-mail, support our social media accounts and supply us with video streaming services. This is the Silicon Valley most Washington policy wonks tout and these are the enterprises with which we are most familiar.  

Last week, however, as part of my #ConnectingCommunities tour, I had the opportunity to widen my perspective and gain expanded, more comprehensive insights by visiting several key innovators whose work and mission may not be as well known, but are certainly relevant and inspiring.  Thousands of entrepreneurs, startups and investors are using technology and resources to drive advancements in healthcare, broadband infrastructure, connectivity and viewpoint diversity. Allow me to introduce you to just a few:

Commissioner Clyburn at Lucile Packard Children’s HospitalWhen we announced my #ConnectingCommunities tour in April, our primary goal was to hear first-hand about the opportunities and challenges of bringing affordable, diverse and competitive communications services to all Americans. The concept of connecting communities can take many forms, so while on the surface, a Silicon Valley-based children’s hospital and a neighboring NFL team and stadium may appear worlds apart, they in fact share a common goal of using technology to connect their communities.

My visit on Monday morning began in Palo Alto with a stop to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, which just last year was honored as one of the nation’s most wired hospitals. I learned more about their use of telehealth in urology and toured the pediatric intensive care unit to see how they use electronic medical records and an electronic dashboard to improve patient care.

We then dashed over to Santa Clara and Diya TV, America’s first 24/7 free, digital, over-the-air South Asian network. Their efforts to support the South Asian community are not just limited to the Bay Area, but are nationwide. I was also interviewed about my policy priorities and spoke about inmate calling reform; Connect2Health; and expanding opportunities for independent and diverse programmers. The broadcast is now available at youtube.com/diyatvusa.

Next, I saw a demonstration of Mimosa Networks’ outdoor gigabit wireless platform and met with many of their employees. Mimosa and one of their ISP partners, Sail Internet, spoke about what they are doing to bring affordable connectivity to unserved and underserved communities with download speeds of at least 100Mbps.

Commissioner Clyburn at Mimosa Networks’

We returned to Palo Alto to join Congresswoman Anna Eshoo for a meeting with Tristan Walker, CEO of Walker & Company Brands to discuss diversity and entrepreneurship. Walker, who created Bevel, the first end-to-end shaving system designed for men with curly hair, cited “awareness” as a critical factor when it comes to increasing diversity among Valley companies.      

We finished up the day a few miles away with a visit to Ooma, a telecommunications company which has developed a gateway that once purchased, allows consumers and businesses to make VoIP-based phone calls.  

 I spent Tuesday in San Francisco, beginning with a meeting at CODE2040, a non-profit focused on increasing “access, awareness, and opportunities for top Black and Latino/a engineering talent.”  The visit reinforced how much of a wealth of diverse, highly-qualified talent there is in the region, yet it was acknowledged that there continues to be an extreme disconnect when it comes to placing this top talent in Silicon Valley’s top companies. The environment at CODE2040 is encouraging and supportive and the positive vibes are contagious.Commissioner Clyburn with CODE2040

At lunch, I was joined by an inspiring group of entrepreneurs for a roundtable discussion about health technology and on ways to increase diversity in the tech sector. Hosted by Engine, the conversation provided me a ground level picture of the barriers and opportunities to start-up success for women and minorities.   

Later at Twilio (cloud communications), I met with their team and representatives of Lyft and Remind. We had a meaningful discussion about how these companies utilize the Twilio platform to engage communities and the importance of the Commission’s Open Internet rules.

Commissioner Clyburn with Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA)I continued the #ConnectingCommunities conversation at my next stop, with the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA). From computer literacy training to an in-depth 12 week advanced technology training called the Mission Techies program, MEDA seeks to educate and prepare young adults for jobs in the tech sector. They aim to ensure students, families and all residents enjoy the opportunity and access that internet connectivity provides.

Then that evening, I participated in a fireside chat hosted by a talented group of leaders in technology and entrepreneurship. We discussed how the Commission is working to advance competition, consumer choice, and innovation, as well as what can be done to strengthen the relationship between government and Silicon Valley. In addition, we had a meaningful conversation about the importance of diversity in the technology industry and #ConnectingCommunities.Commissioner Clyburn at the Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers)

My last day in Silicon Valley began with a trip to Levi’s Stadium (San Francisco 49ers) to learn about their journey to become one of the most advanced Wi-Fi connected stadiums in the nation. To support this connectivity, it takes a remarkable 70 miles of cable. Not only does the stadium boast top tier infrastructure, it also serves as an education hub for students in grades K to 8, with a STEM museum located within its confines. Their programs highlight the importance of STEM education and technology, with a focus on how integral both are when it comes to the business of sports, powering game day, and connected learning.

Commissioner Clyburn at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit My trip wrapped up that afternoon at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit on Stanford University’s campus, where I served as a judge for one of the pitch competitions. I met entrepreneurs from around the world including Ana Maria from Venezuela who created Laboratoria as a way to empower young women from low-income backgrounds and provide them with access to education and work in the digital sector. I left the summit inspired by the remarkable talent of these young entrepreneurs who overcame myriad obstacles to develop their companies.

While my conversations during this three-day journey varied, the overarching theme of harnessing the benefits of emerging technologies and high-speed connectivity to improve lives was the common thread. By the end of the trip, I felt invigorated (despite being physically taxed) and even more ready to continue to do my part to ensure that broadband is both accessible and affordable, and that there is an open line of communication between Washington policymakers and all types of Silicon Valley innovators. 

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity these companies and individuals provided for me to listen and learn. We must never lose sight of the promise of a tech industry that includes the presence and talents of those from diverse backgrounds. These are the individuals who will find meaningful and sustainable ways to make a difference, invent solutions to everyday problems and create opportunities where they may be sorely lacking. This message was reinforced throughout my visits.

As I continue on my #ConnectedCommunities tour, I am ever mindful that our work is not done and its importance cannot be overstated. I look forward to keeping an open dialogue as we work together to close the digital divide and promote universal opportunities for all.

Debunking Anti-App Claims 888011000110888 Except if the path is altered soon, the particular FCC is on course to force adoption of a set-top-box (STB) technology mandate that will harm U. S. video distributors, content suppliers, local advertisers, and ultimately consumers – without any assurances of preserving one thin dime. Even if this plan is adopted by the Commission, it will be multiple years, if ever, before everything actually materializes. During this time, video delivery innovation will be slowed, if not stopped altogether, as the industry muddles through the Commission’s latest edict. In other words, it will eventually stunt the deployment of video programming Internet applications, or apps, as providers are obligated to cope with Commission mandates contained in its convoluted scheme. It doesn’t have to be this way. The common-sense, technology-friendly replacement for STBs is presently before the Payment in the form of downloadable apps used every day by millions of American consumers. The argument in support of apps has been increased further by new details provided by various video providers, including company commitments on timing and price,[1] offering further comfort to those worried about an app-centric option. However , given the substantive discussion and political winds shifting away from the Commission’s illogical regime, advocates have started to attack the apps solution as a counteroffensive tactic. It appears only appropriate to address some statements made, debunk inaccuracies, and see in case any legitimate objections remain. Claim: Apps usually are good enough and/or consumers don’t understand how to use apps To examine this claim, it seems suitable to review consumers’ experience with mobile apps. While mobile apps are just eight years old, there is little doubt regarding their availability. Today, there are over 2 . 2 million Google Perform apps, 2 . 0 million Apple Store apps, and another 1 . 3 million or so in the Amazon . com, Microsoft and Blackberry stores.[2]Even with overlap, that puts the overall apps marketplace at over 2 million. Further, consumers seem quite familiar with app operations. In fact , the typical consumer’s mobile phone contains over thirty apps,[3] with use of over 40 hours per month[4] and mobile smartphone transmission at nearly 70 percent with tablets at almost 50 percent.[5]Globally, apps have been downloaded countless billions of times in their short history. With regards to their importance to daily lives, consumers are using apps to obtain health information, navigate educational materials, manage their own financial accounts and conduct financial activities, interact with friends and family, provide entertainment through video and gaming features, and all sorts of other helpful purposes.[6] Apps are also working with a dramatic impact on the everyday lifestyles of those Americans with disabilities.[7]The importance of the app economy even has been recognized and touted by current Administration, which has launched efforts to further stimulate innovation and growth in this area.[8] Collectively, these data points – plus hundreds of others – assist demonstrate that consumers are familiar with applications, have a general knowledge of how to download them, and do in fact use them. Moreover, nothing in the move to an app-centric video distribution approach requires customer adoption; they would be free to preserve their current STB if desired. Claim: Apps won’t provide unified search It should be noted that nothing in the statute actually demands any search function, let alone a unified search capability between a current video provider and content outside of its system, such as edge company programming. Section 629 of the Marketing communications Act, on which the overall STB strategy is based, does not mention anything distantly close to some type of integrated, unified research requirement. It just isn’t there. Additionally , no one knows that consumers are really seeking such functionality. Specifically, consumers (e. g., the cord cutters and cord nevers) are moving away from traditional video providers, so why obsess over a feature that may or might not have little to no customer value? Setting aside individuals facts, making an app that allows integrated search is achievable. Indeed, cable providers are already working to create the precise code to make this functionality a reality, as demonstrated during my recent visit to the INTX Show in-may. And some devices like Roku, or TiVo already offer some edition of an integrated search function. Accordingly, video providers will be able to offer applications with unified, integrated search capabilities for most content in the near to immediate term. State: Apps won’t fix unreliable tools To the degree that consumers voluntarily move to the apps environment, equipment – dependable or not – would no longer be an issue. On point, there is never any physical equipment to acquire from movie providers; never any equipment to be serviced; never any reason for specialist visit; and never any equipment to be returned at service termination. Customers would just need to download an app via Internet access, which they may or may not obtain from their video service provider. Past consumer experiences of broken cable boxes, dealing with “customer service” to get an appointment, and questionable company tech visits during the generally difficult to rely on service window are completely eliminated with app usage. And like other apps today, video development apps can be updated at the consumers’ convenience – day or night. Claim: Applications won’t drive down monthly rental costs In an all-app world for video distribution, to become alarmed for a STB, meaning no monthly rental or separate purchase is necessary. This would result in consumers saving most or all of the money they invest today to rent or buy devices they generally loathe. To the level that estimates are accurate that consumers spend $231 per year plus a cumulative $20 billion annually regarding STB rentals (and there are genuine reasons to question these figures),[9] these funds would return into the pockets of consumers who chose the app route. Several have argued that video suppliers are likely to charge a monthly fee for any video app. That seems like a farfetched assumption given the shrinking demand for their overall product. However , this seems like a point on which to work with the industry as a whole to ensure that these types of apps are offered to consumers for free, just like Comcast’s XFINITY app will be today. * 2. * As a firm believer in the ability of Web apps to transform everyday connections, I find it hard to fathom that individuals would attack apps with such specious claims. More importantly, it is troubling to think that the Commission would deny this modern approach in favor of one which leads us down a regulating black hole. It’s time for that Commission to discard the effort defined in the NPRM and embrace an apps-based future for video submission. If that means that this approach becomes a resolution point for the entire issue, therefore be it. For me, getting it right is preferable to getting the credit.

Monday, June 27th, 2016

June 27, 2016 – 3 or more: 29 pm

Michael O' Rielly | Commissioner

Unless the path is altered shortly, the FCC is on training course to force adoption of a set-top-box (STB)…

Unleashing Next-Generation Networks

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

Communications technology is constantly evolving, and the FCC’s job is to facilitate this progress and maximize the benefits of these advancements for the American people. This governing principle animates much of the FCC’s policy agenda and will be the unifying theme of the Commission’s July open meeting.

Topping next month’s meeting agenda will be our Spectrum Frontiers Report and Order and FNPRM, which will accelerate the development and deployment of the next generation of wireless connectivity, a fifth generation – or 5G. As I outlined in recent remarks at the National Press Club, 5G connectivity will likely be more than an incremental evolutionary step forward in wireless technology. It promises quantum leaps forward in three key areas: speeds resembling fiber that are at least 10 times and maybe 100-times faster than today’s 4G LTE networks; responsiveness less than one-thousandth of a second, which enables real-time communication; and network capacity multiples of what is available today.

Coupling this ultra-fast, low-latency, high-capacity connectivity with the almost unlimited processing power of the cloud will enable autonomous vehicles, smart-city energy grids and water systems, immersive education and entertainment, and, most important, killer applications yet to be imagined.

The interconnected world of the future will be the result of decisions we must make today. That is why 5G is a national priority, and why I am circulating to my colleagues proposed new rules that will identify and open up vast amounts of spectrum for 5G applications.

If the Commission approves the Spectrum Frontiers item, the United States will be the first country in the world to open up high-band spectrum for 5G networks and applications. That’s a big deal because it means U.S. companies will be first out of the gate.

We will be repeating the proven formula that made the United States the world leader in 4G: one, make spectrum available quickly and in sufficient amounts; two, give great flexibility to companies that can use the spectrum in expansive ways; and three, stay out of the way of technological development. We will also: balance the needs of various different types of uses in these bands through effective sharing mechanisms; take steps to promote competitive access to this spectrum; and encourage the development of secure networks and technologies from the beginning.

Advances in technology require that the Commission not only act now to pave the way to the next generation of wireless networks, but we must also update our rules to facilitate the transition away from legacy wired networks.  Phone and Internet providers are increasingly replacing their legacy copper networks with next-generation networks that enable greater broadband speeds, efficiency, capacity, and a wealth of innovative features. In recent years, the Commission has acted on numerous occasions to facilitate this transition, while preserving enduring values that have long defined our networks: competition, consumer protection, universal service, and public safety.

Today, I am proposing to my fellow Commissioners a new set of actions to build on that progress. Recognizing the changing role of traditional, local land-line telephone service in a marketplace where consumers have a range of choices, I propose removing the outdated designation of incumbent carriers as the dominant providers in the long-distance voice market, freeing them from outdated regulations. To speed the transition to faster, better networks, this package recommends a streamlined framework for evaluating requests to discontinue legacy service. To ensure the public is aware of and prepared for requests by providers to discontinue traditional services, we would refine our Section 214 notice requirements.

When communications networks advance and evolve, new opportunities open up for the American people. That’s why I remain committed to continually reevaluating the Commission’s rules and policies to make sure they are facilitators – not impediments – to progress. And that’s why I am pleased the Commission is poised to take these significant steps to advance our broadband future.

Defining Auto Safety of Life in 5.9 GHz

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

The intention of Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) systems in the 5.9 GHz spectrum band is to promote the safety of life of automobile drivers, passengers and possibly even pedestrians.  If there are ubiquitous deployments of this equipment and everything works correctly, these systems could help prevent car crashes from happening. This is a noble and important purpose, but a number of key questions remain. In particular, one missing piece is a common understanding of what falls under the term “safety of life.”  

Given the Commission’s current proceeding on 5.9 GHz, this is a perfect time for the FCC to define what is and is not included within the safety-of-life category. Clarifying which DSRC functions are worthy of protection would provide certainty to automobile manufacturers and ensure the efficient use of the spectrum band.

Update on Commission’s Latest Efforts

The Commission is in the midst of determining the best mechanism to bring spectrum sharing to the 5.9 GHz band.  Specifically, the Commission is refreshing the record in order to obtain greater specificity regarding the two leading proposals for sharing the band, one submitted by Qualcomm and the other by Cisco. This process shouldn’t take long, and will allow the Commission to evaluate the science and engineering behind these sharing technologies and determine which best serves the American public. If all goes as intended, the Commission will receive prototypes for testing this year.  And, with good luck and timing, the FCC could permit unlicensed services in the band by late next year.

5.9 GHz & Safety of Life

Fundamentally, the benefits of allowing unlicensed services in the 5.9 GHz band could be considerable. The proximity to other unlicensed spectrum means the possibility of huge advancements in functionality, including gigabit Wi-Fi. Providing non-safety-of-life DSRC applications the same protection as safety-of-life uses, however, would unnecessarily restrict the use of unlicensed devices, if and when the Commission approves sharing in the band. In fact, the Commission’s 1999 DSRC item (1999 Order) contemplated, and reserved for later judgment, that non-safety functions could operate on an unlicensed basis separate from the safety-of-life DSRC.[1]  It seems fair to believe that if non-safety functions were appropriate for unlicensed treatment in 1999, they are even more so now.

Some may try to claim that the 1999 Order allocating the 75 MHz for DRSC and the 2004 order adopting licensing and service rules contemplated a number of uses beyond safety-of-life purposes.[2]  While partially true, that was more than 15 years ago and in the intervening time, the neighboring bands have become home to successful consumer use of unlicensed services and devices. A reasonable comparison may be a local city council reconsidering the placement of an industrial park if the surrounding area blossomed from urban blight to a residential hotbed.

As expected, the auto companies haven’t been shy in trying to preserve the DSRC allocation. But in doing so, they have made clear in their advocacy of this issue that their need for this band centers on the DSRC safety-of-life purposes, not the side applications.  For example, in their recent letter to President Obama, the auto company signatories state, “We support spectrum sharing in areas where it is technically feasible and will preserve both life-saving DSRC technology and ensure the protection of the existing Fixed Satellite Service operations in the 5.9 GHz band.” (emphasis added). This is also consistent with the fact that there would be little need to be so concerned over testing the potential disruption or timeliness of communications between vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure if not for the safety-of-life portion of DSRC. Hypothetical interference by an unlicensed device with a DSRC parking spot locator application should not generate similar angst because the information is not time critical, meaning there are no dire consequences if the information is delayed for a few moments.

Safety of Life vs. Non-Safety of Life Functions

At least three important principles should guide the Commission’s consideration of whether a function qualifies for safety-of-life status. Together, these limitations will prevent the inefficient use of spectrum.  First, the feature should not be already available or readily expected in the near future.  If the marketplace has already produced or is soon to introduce a feature, then using DSRC spectrum would be unnecessary, a waste of effort and/or potentially harmful (certainly to free market competitors).  Second, if the feature or function will or can be used for the purposes of monetizing or generating revenues for the automobile companies without any improvement in auto safety for drivers, riders or nearby pedestrians, then it is a non-safety-of-life matter.  Lastly, to the extent that the feature could result in distracted driving or undermine automobile safety in any way, it should not qualify as a safety-of-life function.

Based on the above principles, the following list of features and functions, which is not exhaustive, are not safety-of-life applications and thus should not be protected by the Commission.  

  • Parking spots: locating and paying
  • Electronic tolling
  • Mapping
  • Navigating or driving directions
  • Advertising
  • Social media
  • Entertainment
  • Driving notifications
  • Traffic updates

*             *             *

At the same time as the Commission considers the means to share the 5.9 GHz spectrum band, it should consider carefully defining DSRC safety-of-life features and applications.  This will ensure the protection of those DSRC functions that are truly critical to its safety operations, but nothing more.  The Commission’s quest for greater spectrum efficiency demands nothing less.  

[1] Amendment of Parts 2 and 90 of the Commission’s Rules to Allocate the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band to the Mobile Service for Dedicated Short Range Communications of Intelligent Transportation Systems, ET Docket No. 98-95, Report and Order, 14 FCC Rcd 18221, ¶¶ 28-30 (1999).

[2] Amendment of the Commission’s Rules Regarding Dedicated Short-Range Communication Services in the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band (5.9 GHz Band); Amendment of Parts 2 and 90 of the Commission’s Rules to Allocate the 5.850-5.925 GHz Band to the Mobile Service for Dedicated Short Range Communications of Intelligent Transportation Systems, ET Docket No. 98-95, WT Docket No. 01-90, ET Docket No. 98-95, Report and Order, FCC 03-324 (rel. Feb. 10, 2004).

A Texas State of Mind: Connected Health in Houston and the Rio Grande Valley

Monday, June 6th, 2016

“Texas is a state of mind,” said John Steinbeck referring to the unique combination of passion, cohesiveness and independence so common to the state.  The FCC’s Connect2HealthFCC Task Force experienced this first-hand during its recent “Beyond the Beltway” visit to Houston and the Rio Grande Valley. In celebration of Mental Health Awareness Month, the visit was anchored by a Broadband Prescriptions for Mental Health conference co-hosted by the renowned University of Houston Law Center’s Health Law and Policy Institute, with the Law Center’s esteemed Dean, Leonard M. Baynes.

Three notable themes that could inform our policymaking emerged from the conference: 

  • the need for a continuing and accelerated focus on broadband access and adoption in health, lest entire communities be left behind;
  • the critical role of telehealth and broadband connectivity in meeting acute mental health provider shortages in Texas and nationwide; and
  • the use of connectivity as an integral part of personalizing mental and behavioral health therapy itself, an idea that is spawning innovations that go far beyond simply virtualizing exist

Keep reading to hear more in the speakers’ own words:

“Texas has a lot on its plate when it comes to broadband access,” said Dr. Strover an eminent communications professor at the University of Texas at Austin, in her “State of the State” presentation discussing the kind of broadband connectivity needed to support connected mental health solutions.  A continuing rural/urban divide exists, with a 13 percent broadband adoption gap in the state.

 Texas Broadband Availability and AdoptionUp and download speeds for Non-hospitals

“Texas would have to recruit all the psychiatrists from every residency program in the country for a full year, plus a half of all child psychiatry residents as well,” added Brian Henry, director of telehealth at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, as he poignantly illustrated the shortage of mental health professionals in the state and the need for connected solutions.  Indeed, we learned that 1100 psychiatrists and 200 child psychiatrists would be required to address current needs in Texas.  (Texas has the highest proportion of counties designated as mental health provider shortage areas.) 

“We must bring as many strategies to bear as possible,” urged Dean Francisco Fernandez, founding dean and professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine.  And, true to type, we witnessed innovations spanning the connected health spectrum, from virtualized care delivery to using connectivity as an integral part of therapy. 

The passion of clinicians, academicians, and promotores de salud (community health workers) in the Rio Grande Valley who are leveraging mobile connectivity to bring unique integrated and collaborative care models to the colonias and some of the most underserved parts of the country was inspiring and instructive (and, potentially replicable).

6.6.16 C2HFCC blog Image 2

We heard how rural providers, Texas Tech’s school-based intervention programs (TWITR), and the East Texas Interactive Health Care Network (a Rural Health Care Program participant) have implemented successful tele-psychiatry programs (including bilingual initiatives) to increase access to timely care and address conditions in Texas HPSAs.

We observed how the ETHAN (Emergency Tele-Health and Navigation) Project is sharply reducing emergency department admissions for Houstonians with mental illness (by 82 percent) and increasing access to psychiatric care.  

We saw demonstrations of mental health management strategies that would not exist but for connectivity, including a connected, moderated platform for peer support targeting people struggling with depression, substance abuse and other mental illness.

6.6.16 C2HFCC blog Image 3.jpg

Culture of Innovation

Finally, we learned about the robust culture of broadband-enabled innovation that supports a growing startup economy for connected health in the state.  The Texas Medical Center, led by Dr. Robert C. Robbins who provided opening remarks, is the largest medical center in the world and has made innovation a critical part of its clinical environment.  C2H visited its state-of-the-art TCMx — an incubator and accelerator that addresses the most pressing gaps in health through connectivity and technology.  Add to this the planned AT&T Foundry for Connected Health (to open later this summer), and you can see why Houston – and Texas – are rising stars in connected health.

The two keynote speakers — Dr. Bernard Harris, astronaut, physician, and tech venture capitalist, and Dr. Lex Frieden, the chief architect of the Americans with Disabilities Act — also highlighted the need for innovation and meaningful change.  Dr. Harris described his trajectory from space flight to healthcare investing and his passion to bring health care to those who need it most.  Dr. Frieden stressed that among people with disabilities about two-thirds are indigent.  His personal experiences were a cautionary tale of designing institutions and technologies without considering the diverse needs of our communities.

In sum, the participants all agreed that broadband access is an irreducible minimum, but that it’s not only about the technology.  They urged us to work collaboratively to improve broadband adoption and usage in homes, at school and in anchor institutions.  They suggested that we all need to broaden the community of innovators to innovate with communities; not just for them.  

The entire conference — from the opening remarks (Baynes, Robbins, and FCC Commissioner Clyburn) to the closing policy panel — demonstrated again that connectivity is not just a pipe for carrying bytes, but a critical part of the health care prescription that’s changing lives.

Follow the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force at www.fcc.gov/health and #C2HFCC.

Enhancing Public Safety, Network Reliability, and Agency Operations

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

Hurricane season officially arrived this Wednesday. It’s important for people who live in potential hurricane zones to think ahead about what their plan is if a storm threatens. The Commission and our government partners also need to make sure we are doing all we can in advance to help the public the next time disaster strikes. That is why I am proposing that we update the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) codes.  

The EAS is a proven life-saver, sending alerts to people over radio, television, and cable systems to warn about severe thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes, and other weather events. But it could be better. At a press conference in Miami this Wednesday, the heads of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Hurricane Center came together to send a message to America: beware of storm surges. “What kills people is water,” said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate. “And the most preventable of those deaths is caused by storm surge.” High winds from hurricanes can also be devastating, yet there is currently no specific alert for either high winds or storm surges. We need to fix that.

In response to a request from the National Weather Service, I am circulating rules for consideration at our June meeting that would add three new event codes to the EAS – “Extreme Wind Warning,” “Storm Surge Watch,” and “Storm Surge Warning.” – so that the public can receive more specific and relevant alerts, particularly for hurricane-related weather.  If adopted, the updated rules would require EAS equipment manufacturers to integrate the codes into new equipment and enable EAS participants to update their existing equipment in advance of next year’s Atlantic hurricane season.

Another way the Commission promotes public safety in times of crisis is by collecting data on network outages. Our outage reporting rules have enabled us to detect adverse outage trends and work with industry on solutions, monitor and assist restoration efforts, and coordinate with public safety officials and other affected third parties during crises.

Last year, we identified submarine cables as a gap in our reporting rules. These cables are essential to America’s economic stability and national security, yet licensees currently only report outages on an ad hoc basis. The information we receive is too limited and inconsistent to be of much use. Today, I circulated to my fellow Commissioners new rules that would require submarine cable licensees to report major communications outages to the FCC.

Our June open meeting will feature a third item that seeks to improve Commission coordination with Executive Branch agencies concerning issues of national security, law enforcement, foreign policy, and trade policy raised by certain applications involving foreign ownership. Applicants seeking foreign ownership rulings from the Commission have raised concerns that this Executive Branch review process is too slow and needs greater transparency. The 2014 Staff Process Reform Report identified this coordination as needing reform, and since that time the Commission has been working with the Executive Branch and industry on ways to make improvements.

I am circulating a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks to make the process more predictable and transparent. Building on reform recommendations submitted to the Commission by the Executive Branch in early May, we propose, for example, asking applicants, at the outset, to submit the types of information they will need to provide for Executive Branch review. The Notice also proposes to establish expected time frames for processing, while ensuring we continue to consider Executive Branch concerns as part of our public interest review.  I appreciate especially the interest Commissioner O’Rielly has taken in streamlining this process, and I look forward to working with him, the other Commissioners and with the relevant agencies in the Executive Branch to advance the goal of a faster, more transparent process.   

Concepts for Media Ownership Reform 888011000110888 Last week, in its “third go-round” with the Commission’s media ownership rules, the U. S. Court associated with Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down the 2014 rule change needing ownership attribution for broadcast combined sales agreements (JSAs), while admonishing the Commission for its continued failing – for nearly a decade – to complete the statutorily-mandated Quadrennial Review of media ownership rules. The court’s endurance has clearly worn thin, given its not-so-veiled threat that it may be justified in wiping all the rules off the books if the Commission will not act quickly. Given the increased attention on this issue, it seems an appropriate time to outline some of my basic principles to guide our review and reform work. To be clear, my principles talked about below reflect the current make-up of the Commission, not an ultimate proposal when the power structure or participants were different. Since the illegitimate ban on JSAs two years ago, the Commission has ongoing flying in the face of clear Congressional directives and reality itself – specifically, that the overall media marketplace is more competitive and diverse than ever before and warrants less regulation, not more. Social media giants, like Twitter and Facebook, are shifting quite explicitly onto the turf of news providers, while articles proliferates with breathtaking speed across the Internet and moves over-the-top directly into American living rooms and mobile devices. In the mean time, traditional video providers are building more and more sophisticated systems for marketing local advertising and delivering local content. Broadcasters plus newspapers have much to contribute in terms of diverse, local content, most have been left fighting, some for their very survival, with an artificially-narrowed range of options. In general, they should be set free to compete on equal footing using of their fellow content providers, not really kept on an unnecessary and unjust regulatory leash. The Quadrennial Evaluation was created precisely to avoid this end result by freeing media ownership guidelines from the most powerful force in Wa, if not physics: inertia. In light of all the development in the dynamic media marketplace, it would be extremely hard to rationalize any effort to further restrict the media ownership rules final effectively amended in 1999, or even to leave them as-is. Many of them appear to be quaint relics when viewed via a 2016 lens. If a struggling newspapers needs an investor, why should we all consider it a greater danger for a nearby broadcaster to get involved than to have an Internet billionaire who lives a large number of miles away? The particular Commission can better promote localism, competition, and diversity – and become consistent with the public interest – by thoughtfully removing outdated restrictions to media combinations. Specifically, the following concepts should receive priority consideration within the media ownership reform effort in the future: Fairly Define Markets: As with almost all Commission issues, definitions matter, and accordingly, our definition of the markets by which newspapers, radio stations, and television channels operate is the source of much series drawing in the application of the mass media ownership rules. In the 2014 Quadrennial Review FNPRM, the Commission shockingly refused to acknowledge any non-broadcast or non-newspaper competitors since market participants. Think about how misdirected that is. As part of this year’s review, the Commission must take a reasonable market view and account for the significant role that competitors for example MVPDs, over-the-top video providers, sites, streaming music services, and satellite television radio play in the 2016 mass media marketplace. Eliminate cross-ownership bans: People are demanding 24/7 access to media content material on numerous platforms, but artificial silos created by the cross-ownership bans are keeping broadcasters and newspapers from innovating into multi-platform organizations that could better serve these needs. Evidence of synergies already exist by means of grandfathered combinations and giving the chance for more, with additional outlets plus platforms, could generate a boom in local content or perhaps prevent a further erosion from occurring in some markets. Eliminating the restrictions upon newspaper/radio and radio/television combinations, as the 2014 FNPRM suggested, would be a appropriate start to reform our ownership rules, while the newspaper/television limits should the actual same course rather than face some form of incremental relief. If the Commission can be serious about preserving localism and perhaps the newspaper industry, it should remove these types of artificial barriers keeping the most probably interested and qualified investors – local broadcasters – on the sidelines. Eliminate Duopoly Rule: Perhaps limiting common ownership of two tv stations in the same market may have made sense in 1964, whenever consumers only had a handful of programming options. Four decades later, encircled by thousands of new options, just how can the FCC justify maintaining this rule in its current form? In many markets, duopolies or even triopolies could strengthen the overall state of broadcasters and allow stations to concentrate more resources on bringing more and top quality local content to their viewers. At the very least, some of the conditions attached should be eliminated or relaxed. For example , the “Eight Voices Test” was previously struck lower by DC Circuit in 2004, and a previous Commission concluded that it might not be justified. It makes even less sense now. Why exactly eight in every case? This condition disproportionately impacts stations in small and mid-sized markets, more frequently preventing these channels, and their viewers, from being able to access the benefits and efficiencies a combination can provide. Provide More Waivers and Grandfathering: To the extent that any of the rules are left unchanged and my views are ignored, the Commission should, at a minimum, reform current waiver processes to make them clear and realistically obtainable, provide a lot more opportunities for waivers, and allow grandfathering of existing combinations. The market dimension waivers proposed by various parties could mitigate the constrictive effect of these outdated rules on tv producers in smaller markets. The Payment has properly grandfathered existing mixtures in many contexts, and this policy should continue and expand wherever possible, such as by allowing grandfathered combinations to be freely transferrable. Additionally , the Commission rate should follow through on its proposal in order to grandfather radio intra-market community of license changes. Resist Reinstating the JSA Prohibit: This rule has met its demise in the Third Circuit, and should not be resurrected for any reason. Congressional input both before, and much more so , after this ill-advised change continues to be crystal clear: JSAs have served the general public interest well in many circumstances, and the Commission’s rules should not be interpreted to prevent them. Deny Additional Restrictions: Open public advocacy groups have clamored for additional tightening of the ownership rules. Proposals such as eliminating the UHF discounted and limiting shared services contracts are completely illogical if the fundamental rules are not properly addressed and modernized at the same time. To add further restrictions would harm the media industry and those it serves, including underrepresented populations. The particular Commission’s recently released Annual Video Competition Report included a work of art of understatement: “[b]roadcast television stations face changing technology, ” and noted their decreasing share of viewers and advertising. There is no question that today’s extensive media marketplace has had a significant impact on television stations, radio stations, and newspapers. Fairness – and our conformity with the statute – demands an equally significant impact on our media ownership rules.

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

June 3, 2016 – two: 09 pm

Michael O' Rielly | Commissioner

Last week, in its “third go-round” using the Commission’s media ownership rules, the particular U. S. Court…

Real-Time Text: An IP-Based Solution for Accessible Communications

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

Over the past two decades, Americans have experienced a historic evolution in the way we communicate. The proliferation of mobile communications services and products has changed how we communicate by telephone in ways many never imagined possible—giving us instant access to our friends, family, and colleagues.  The same is true for Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing.  As phone networks migrate to IP-based environments, we once again are at a pivotal point in the evolution of accessible communications. 

The FCC recently adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) regarding a proposal to use real-time text as a replacement technology for TTY – teletypewriter technology.  Many people who are deaf or hard of hearing have relied on TTYs to communicate by text over phone lines for more than 50 years.  As described in the NPRM, however, what once was a life-changing technology for accessible communications is now limited and less reliable in today’s Internet-based environment.  Not surprisingly, TTY use has been declining steadily as the transition to IP networks accelerates and reliance on services that new networks enable grows.

Given the explosive use of text messaging by so many in today’s society, one might ask:  “Well, why not just use mobile text messaging services instead of TTYs?”  The short answer is that some choose to do so. The reason is that text message services don’t allow users to send messages in real time, with each letter of the message appearing for the recipient as it is being typed – allowing for overlapping, conversational communications.  As a consequence, without real-time text there would be no means for people who are deaf or hard of hearing to send text over distances in real time over IP networks – akin to the real-time communication that voice users will have over these networks.

Fortunately, the record described in the NPRM suggests that a solution – “real-time text” (RTT) – may be within reach, and can be brought to market and provide persons with disabilities an IP-based option for more conversational text messaging.  Using RTT, you would be able to send messages as they are being typed – without having to hit the send key – and your message could be read and received in real time.  One of the many advantages of RTT is that it provides a path for consumers to communicate their thoughts as they develop just as one would during telephone calls and in-person conversations.  While TTY services have this feature, real-time text no longer requires turn-taking, is faster, and has far more characters that even allow you to communicate in multiple languages. 

More good news: consumers would not need to purchase any special equipment. RTT is designed for IP networks. It’s compatible with and can be built into off-the-shelf devices such as smartphones, tablets and computers.

Also, it is a step forward for emergency communications. Public safety operators who use IP networks would be able to gather crucial information more quickly. Imagine, you’re unable to use your phone for voice communications, but could text details about your emergency situation to an E911 operator without having to hit the send button. They say seconds count. RTT would enable you to communicate during those precious seconds.

The recent NPRM is an outgrowth of input and feedback that we have received from industry, the deaf and hard of hearing community, and other consumer groups.  Our goal is to address the needs of people with disabilities who use text to communicate as we transition from circuit-switched to IP services.  And, we want to do so in a way that ensures disability access to 21st century communication technologies with the flexibility needed by industry to drive innovation and competition. 

As part of that process, we invite you to review the NPRM, which can be found here, and to follow its instructions for filing comments. We look forward to your input and to working with you and all stakeholders to ensure accessible communications services for all consumers.

The FCC’s Modernized Comment System Is Coming Soon

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016

As part of our efforts to upgrade the FCC’s major IT systems, we’ve been working to modernize the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) to improve the public’s ability to engage with the Commission on important issues.

Public comments play an essential role in the Commission’s work. Our goal is to provide a more efficient and reliable way for the public to submit and access input on Commission activities.  To reach that goal, we have spent months engaging with external stakeholders from law firms, industry and public interest groups, the press and FCC staff to solicit their feedback on the new system.  Thanks to this essential feedback, we are nearing the final stages of the modernization effort and we expect to fully transition to the new system in late June 2016. 

Then and Now

To understand the significance of this update, it helps to provide some context.   Almost 19 years ago, the original ECFS was designed to provide a simple way to log on and submit a formal comment in an FCC proceeding, usually through a multi-page PDF attachment. In 1996, when ECFS was first created, it simply replicated the process of filing comments on paper. Over time, ECFS was modified to allow for other types of filings.  Today, ECFS provides a public interface for several other purposes, including litigation of formal complaints, submission of petitions for rulemaking, submission of transfer-of-control applications, and other purposes that were not envisioned or supported by the original 1996 system. 

The ways in which the public interacts with the Commission also have changed dramatically in the last two decades. For most of ECFS’s lifetime, a typical proceeding received a small number of comments (ranging from 10 to 500), most filed by communications practitioners. In contrast, last year’s Open Internet proceeding received nearly 4 million comments from consumers and other interested parties.  Today, the public expects to be able to easily submit comments in digital form and to have convenient access to all the other input received by the Commission, and the Commission needs a robust system capable of meeting the public’s expectations.

The current ECFS system was not designed to meet these demands. That’s why it must be brought into the 21st century. We have been diligently working on a modernized version of ECFS to reside on a commercial cloud platform so it can automatically adjust to handle periods of heavy usage. The new ECFS will have a public Application Programming Interface (API), so that outside groups have an easy way to submit and pull comments in bulk. It will also have the ability to read out loud the text contained in ECFS filings, making filings more easily accessible.

The Modernization Process

Updating ECFS involves much more than moving files from a legacy system to a new one.  ECFS represents a set of detailed processes that have evolved over the 19 years that stakeholders of the Commission are accustomed to using. From the beginning, we realized that any new system needs to be familiar enough to enable regular users to utilize the new system without having to deal with a steep learning curve.  At the same time, the new system needs to update and enhance outmoded processes that no longer meet users’ needs.  

Over the last several months, the FCC has been testing a “beta” prototype of a modernized ECFS, as well as engaging with external and internal stakeholders to get input on how to improve the legacy ECFS system to meet today’s needs. These discussions helped us to understand which features should be continued in the new system and which should be improved or redesigned. We realize we may not have gotten everything exactly right. As we transition to the new system, we will continue to listen and incorporate user feedback.   

We are also focused on ensuring all the older postings seamlessly enter the new system. We know it is important that the new system allows access to all of the files stored in the legacy system. In addition, an improved search function will better enable all interested parties to find the filings they’re looking for.

The New ECFS

The new cloud-based system provides the same features as the current ECFS, combined with some significant improvements:

  1. Improved usability: Improved layout and functionality based on stakeholder feedback, making it easier to file comments, check filing status, conduct research, and complete tasks faster.
  2. Greater reliability: Built on a commercial cloud platform, providing the ability to automatically adjust during periods of heavy usage.
  3. Streamlined process: Because we are no longer trying to replicate a paper-filing process, the new system is not designed to convert filings to PDF before they can be publicly viewed.  Filings will be made available to the public in their native formats. 
  4. Documented API: Providing outside groups the ability to submit and pull comments in bulk, with details on this API available here.
  5. Greater efficiency: More efficient model for the cost to maintain the new system, compared to a legacy “on premise” model.
  6. Increased accessibility: Ability to “read out loud” the text contained in ECFS filings, so that filings are more easily accessible to everyone.

On the final point, FCC takes web accessibility seriously and strives to set the standard for Government agencies. The new ECFS includes a combination of embedded tools providing the latest in web accessibility technology, including text-to-speech functionality, fonts for dyslexia and color blindness, and a beta voice navigation experience. Users can access these features by clicking on the accessibility icon featured on each page:

ECFS Accessibility Icon

In the coming weeks, FCC staff will be conducting web-based tutorials of the new ECFS. The next tutorials are scheduled for June 7th and June 9th from 2:00-2:45 PM EST. To participate in a tutorial of the new ECFS, please email ECFSfeedback@fcc.gov. We strongly encourage everyone who uses ECFS to participate in one of these demos to become familiar the new system and its features. We will formally announce the final switch-over date two weeks before the transition.

A sincere thanks to all the external and internal stakeholders who provided feedback during beta testing of the new ECFS. Thanks to your help, we believe the new ECFS platform will enhance all stakeholders’ ability to engage with the Commission.