Archive for July, 2016

A Path for Mobility Fund Phase II? 888011000110888 Commission management recently indicated that we will problem final rules for a new mobile-only universal service subsidy program right at the end of this year. While I stay greatly skeptical about the timing and value of doing so, given our encounters and the changes that have occurred over the past five years, it seems reasonable that if we are going to have this fund it must be structured and operated far better than nowadays wireless universal service fund (USF) spending. We owe it to people Americans that could benefit from a functionally-sound program and, more importantly, to those customers and businesses that pay for our universal service programs. Since it appears that the purpose plus structure of the program are still on with discussion and debate, I am putting forth some key elements that will tutorial my review of any reform. With no addressing most, if not all, of those points, it is hard to see how the unanimous, bipartisan vote can be achieved. Background In the late 1990s, wi-fi carriers became eligible to receive federal government universal service high-cost support to provide voice services. Over the subsequent years, wireless carriers’ interest in FCC funding led to rampant and unexpected development in the program. This included multiple carriers receiving money for the same locations, as well as for areas that could be served without having subsidies. To restrain overall program spending until comprehensive high-cost USF reform was passed, the Commission implemented two changes in 2008. Specifically, the Commission payment proposed to suspend its identical support rule, which provided USF support to competitive eligible telecoms carriers (CETCs) based on the incumbent local telephone company’s cost rather than their own, and it enacted an interim cap (i. e., funding freeze) pertaining to existing support on a per state foundation. When the Commission passed comprehensive reform in 2011, it responded many, but not all, of the pending questions regarding wireless carrier involvement in the high-cost program. In particular, this established Mobility Fund Phase I actually, a one-time spend of up to $300 million awarded via reverse auction; adopted the general parameters for Mobility Fund Phase II, which would provide up to $500 million per year more than a longer-term; issued an FNPRM to deliver the granular details for the Flexibility Fund Phase II; and officially eliminated the identical support rule. Simultaneously, the Commission established a five-year phase down of existing wi-fi support, as a transition to Mobility Fund Phase II, contingent upon that fund being operational simply by June 30, 2014. Since the Commission did not complete final rules for Mobility Fund Stage II by the self-imposed deadline, the particular phase down of existing support was paused. By the best of the count, this means that, in 2015, 218 wireless carriers still received approximately $578 million, which is well over the Commission intended to devote to the wireless-only program. During this time, the requirements to receive the funding have not been adjusted, even as technology has advanced. More, the key flaws of the existing assistance (e. g., duplication, not targeting unserved areas, over-subsidization) have not been resolved. In fact , these flaws are actually magnified because wireless providers have got deployed 4G LTE service to 99 percent of Americans. Unsubsidized carriers are now overlapping and delivering broadband services to the very same people in which subsidized carriers are still receiving frozen funding tied to the supply of basic voice service. Fundamental Concerns Serious questions must be raised over whether there should be a separate subsidy program for wireless companies. Specifically, it seems illogical that we might have a technology-specific fund when the cellular and wired worlds are blending. Even the most objective person would see them as substitutes, instead of complements, which is backed up by user perspective and behavior. For example , Pew Research Center’s Home Broadband 2015 report states, “many ‘smartphone-only’ users say that the reason they do not have broadband at home is because their smartphone lets them do all they need to do online, underscoring the device’s tool for those without a home high-speed membership. ” To say otherwise would disregard the vast improvements made over the last couple of years regarding wireless broadband and voice capabilities. And it’s only going to get better as “5G” wireless efficiency is developed and deployed. Outside of just using wired and wireless systems for the same purposes, we are not far from the point when users can effortlessly jump back and forth between systems, including satellite, for all desired communications without having blinking an eye. Subsidizing a decade or more of construction and operating costs for a mobile provider in an area should also raise substantial budgetary concerns. At $500 mil, the new Mobility Fund would equal more than 10 percent of the total high-cost program budget. At a minimum, the budget should be re-evaluated in light of the widespread application of 4G LTE. This is particularly important because precious funding will be needed elsewhere. For instance, almost everyone realizes the strong likelihood that the Payment will run short of money to deal with today’s most difficult unserved portions associated with America, better known as remote locations, where consumers have no access to the Internet further than perhaps dial-up or legacy satellite television systems. A mobile-only fund can eat into our finite assets, which are appropriately limited given the impact on consumers and businesses that will pay extra fees on their expenses to support universal service. In hindsight, if we addressed extensive high-cost USF reform now, instead of in 2011, I suspect technology-specific funds for wireless networks would not can be found. We likely would have one standard fund, agnostic with regards to technology, with funds awarded via reverse auctions across the board. Thankfully, it’s not past too far to make a course correction without upsetting the progress made so far. I would respectfully suggest that as an alternative to a mobile-only fund, the Commission rate should combine this funding with all other undecided and unallocated high-cost programs and tackle the open funding needs holistically. This would simplify eligibility, reduce the overall cost with regard to serving an area, provide greater efficiency and avoid the technology-limiting or incumbent-biased mandates. In particular, it would seem to make more sense to complete the remaining Remote Places Fund (RAF) decisions in conjunction with Mobility Fund Phase II. First, several RAF-eligible citizens have no viable broadband option in their vicinity. It is not about having a wired but no wifi solution; it’s about not having any solution at all, which should probably be a higher priority than making sure some consumers have both. Also, addressing the RAF in light of the convergence of wired and wireless networks (including unlicensed Wi-Fi) would narrow the areas that need the Commission’s attention plus subsidies. To some degree, this is similar to how the Commission is approaching the CAF Phase II post right-of-first-refusal auction: all technologies can participate and then let the best provider win. Notwithstanding these views, proponents of the separate, new wireless fund seem to be carrying the day. To the extent they actually, below are reasonable principles that should be put on any new program for wireless carriers. Six Principles for Reform Prohibit Overlap & Target Support – It makes no sense in order to subsidize a wireless carrier in an area that has another unsubsidized competitor. If the market can support two carriers – especially one not receiving FCC money – why would we would like to subsidize anyone? A key goal should be to fund only those areas that do not already have wireless service of at least 4G capabilities. As such, this would limit any Mobility Fund to narrow areas of America not already overlapped by our nationwide companies. In particular, the Commission’s Eighteenth Cellular Wireless Competition Report indicates that 99. 6 percent of all Us citizens and 90. 7 percent from the country’s geographic area has at least one provider of LTE. Moreover, even in these limited areas, there nevertheless may be places that do not warrant subsidies because they are not high price. We need to exclude these areas rather than provide funding where the market will probably resolve the situation. Subsidize Only One Carrier – Assuming we are able to get funding targeted to where it really is needed, we should not fund several carriers to serve the same area. The main goal – especially along with limited resources – should be to offer subsidies where competition cannot create by itself and then only to one provider. Conducting a reverse auction can achieve this goal. Phase Out Current Support – Several existing recipients of funds underneath the current wireless program argue that without continued subsidies, they may have to turn off certain unprofitable towers. This has already been labelled the “Rusty Tower” problem. Much of this territory, however , has already been covered by multiple 4G carriers. For the most part, the Commission should design an extremely narrow phase-out of support just for existing recipients, perhaps two years. As stated above, it would be a waste to fund service, and towers, in areas where three or four other providers already provide alternatives. Populations, Not Roads – In determining places that remain unserved, the Payment has traditionally targeted population places. This makes complete sense as we are trying to serve where people in fact live, work and function. The alternative discussed of funding road places leads to huge outlays for tiny portions of mainly unused roads and represents an inefficient use of funds. In the end, this may mean that its not all single square inch of America receives wireless signals. Providers Should Offer Broadband – Currently, wireless carriers receiving existing support under the old program possess few real service obligations. This really is no longer tolerable. Every USF plan that has been reformed recently has installed requirements for subsidy recipients to provide broadband of certain capabilities. Wi-fi carriers under a Mobility Fund Stage II should be no different. Finish RAF – Since outlined above, I would prefer to address the RAF in conjunction with creating the Mobility Fund Phase II. In the event that that isn’t in the cards, the particular Commission needs to at least consider connection between RAF and Mobility Account Phase II when adopting Flexibility Fund Phase II rules. It might make no sense, for example , to fund a mobile provider in an region through the Mobility Fund Phase II only to end up funding another cellular provider through the RAF in the identical area. That would simply re-create the issue of subsidizing multiple providers in certain areas while other consumers are remaining completely unserved. Considering those varieties of issues now would also assist ensure that the RAF is not postponed.

Monday, July 25th, 2016

This summer 25, 2016 – 4: 45 pm

Erina O' Rielly | Commissioner

Commission payment leadership recently indicated that we may issue final rules for a brand new mobile-only…

Cutting off Robocalls

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

Robocalls and telemarketing calls are currently the number one source of consumer complaints at the FCC. The Commission is committed to protecting consumers from unwanted calls and giving them more control over the calls and texts they receive.  We will tackle robocalls on as many fronts as possible, whether by implementing new rules, issuing tailored declaratory judgments, encouraging new pro-consumer innovation or urging the private sector to step up and stop this scourge.

Today, consumers have protections from unwanted calls. For example, the FCC requires private robocallers to have prior consent to robocall or robotext your cell phone.  Further, consumers can register their numbers with the FTC’s Do Not Call list, which requires legitimate telemarketers to stop calling you.  In addition, the FCC expects that phone companies will respond to consumer requests to block robocalls.    

In regard to the Commission’s expectations that carriers respond to consumers’ blocking requests, I have sent letters to the CEOs of major wireless and wireline phone companies calling on them to offer call-blocking services to their customers now – at no cost to you. Consumers want and deserve more control over the calls they receive. I have also sent letters to intermediary carriers that connect robocallers to the consumer’s phone company, reminding them of their responsibility to help facilitate the offering of blocking technologies.  I am also calling on the carriers and standards groups to accelerate the development and deployment of technical standards that would prevent spoofing of caller ID and thus make blocking technologies more effective, as was done in the battle against spam years ago.  All of these companies have been asked to respond within 30 days with their concrete, actionable solutions to address these issues.

Congress directed the Commission to implement consumer protections empowering consumers to decide which robocalls and text messages they receive, and the Commission enforces those rules. We can and will investigate complaints; the Commission has brought 13 formal enforcement actions to combat unlawful robocalls since 2013. For example, last year the Commission fined a Florida company nearly $3 million for illegal calls promoting travel deals and shut down an extensive robocalling operation affecting wireless consumers in West Virginia. But consumers would rather not receive unwanted calls in the first place, making pro-active intervention preferable to after-the-fact enforcement. The Commission has done its part, making clear that phone companies face no legal barriers to helping consumers block unwanted calls with the use of robocall blocking technology. Today, we urge carriers to step up to take that responsibility.

In addition, the Commission will continue to pursue regulatory solutions to crack down on unwanted robocalls. Last year, the Commission closed loopholes in our robocall restrictions, including placing limits on calls to reassigned numbers. After Congress changed the law authorizing the FCC to limit the number and duration of robocalls to collect federal debts, last week I circulated rules to place limits on these robocalls. This new proposal would limit the number of debt-collection calls allowed per month, ensure the right person is called, and allow consumers to stop the calls. Such limitations are particularly important following a January Supreme Court ruling that federal government entities conducting official business are not subject to robocall limits unless Congress says otherwise.   We also continue to process a steady stream of questions about how the law should be interpreted, including an upcoming decision relating to certain robocalls that utility companies and schools can make.

Here’s the bottom line: Robocalls are currently the number one complaint the FCC receives from consumers. Whenever and wherever Congress and the courts give us the authority, the Commission will push hard for strong, pro-consumer limits to robocalls and other unwanted calls.

A Busy Summer Continues

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Just hours ago, the Commission approved our Spectrum Frontiers order, which will accelerate the development of next-generation 5G wireless technology and re-shape our communications infrastructure for the coming decade and beyond. But the Commission’s work never ends, and we are now moving forward with a package of items for consideration at our August open meeting. The focus of next month’s agenda will be one of the Commission’s most consistent priorities: ensuring and expanding communications opportunities for people with disabilities.

I couldn’t be prouder of the Commission’s record in expanding access to communications technology. We enhanced closed captioning and expanded captioning requirements for online video. We’ve accelerated the deployment of text-to-911 – a life-saver for some – and made emergency information on TV more accessible. We developed an open-source video access platform that will dramatically improve direct communications with federal agencies and businesses in American Sign Language (ASL).

For all our progress on accessibility issues, there’s more to be done. We’ll have an opportunity to build on this progress at our August meeting.

The Commission will consider a draft report and order to convert the pilot National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) into a permanent program. Known as “iCanConnect,” this program provides equipment needed to make telecommunications, advanced communications and the Internet accessible to Americans who have significant vision and hearing loss. The new NDBEDP would be able to spend up to $10 million annually to distribute equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The program would also provide training and other technical support, including individual assessments of each consumer’s specific accessibility needs, to help low-income people who are deaf-blind better utilize the communications equipment they need to fully participate in society.

Earlier today, I also circulated a proposed report and order that would further strengthen our hearing aid compatibility rules and increase the number of wireless handset models that must be hearing aid compatible.  The item builds off new rules and a further proposal that the Commission adopted unanimously last November. The new order would enshrine a consensus plan developed collaboratively by the wireless industry and groups representing people with hearing loss that puts us on the path to achieve hearing aid compatibility for 100 percent of new handsets within eight years. This evolution will greatly expand options for people with hearing loss, simplify the task of finding handsets that work with hearing aids and ensure that people with hearing loss have full access to innovative handsets.  At the same time, the implementation time line would ensure that manufacturers and service providers will include HAC features from the earliest stages of the design process.

In addition to these accessibility items, the Commission’s August meeting will also feature an item that will both ensure that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are just, reasonable, and fair for local and long-distance calls, and that the nation’s jails and prisons are compensated for reasonable costs associated with the provision of inmate calling services. The proposed item takes a careful look at the costs that facilities incur as a result of ICS and covers these ICS-related costs through modest increases in the inmate calling rate caps previously set by the FCC. As always, special thanks are due to Commissioner Clyburn for her leadership on this issue. 

An Update on Our Review of the Good Faith Retransmission Consent Negotiation Rules

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

Whether they’re tuning in to hear the local traffic and weather reports or settling in on the couch for an evening of entertainment, American television viewers have a simple expectation: when they turn on their TV, the channels they want will be waiting for them. A blank screen or a crawl notice announcing a contract dispute between a broadcast station and their pay-TV provider isn’t just an inconvenience, it’s a roadblock to the timely news, local sports, and other valuable content on which we all rely day in and day out.

Congress, in Section 325 of the Communications Act, sought to reduce the likelihood that TV viewers would face this roadblock. The law requires broadcasters and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to negotiate for retransmission consent in good faith. Congress gave the Commission the authority to keep an eye on these negotiations, and our rules include a two-part framework to determine whether broadcasters and MVPDs are negotiating in good faith.

  • First, the Commission has established a list of nine objective standards, the violation of which is considered a per se breach of the good faith negotiation obligation.
  • Second, even if the specific standards are met, the Commission may consider whether, based on the totality of the circumstances, a party failed to negotiate retransmission consent in good faith.

In the recent STELA Reauthorization Act of 2014 (STELAR), Congress expressed concern about the harm consumers suffer when negotiations fail and sought-after broadcast programming is blacked out on their pay TV service. STELAR directed the Commission to initiate a rulemaking to consider possible revisions to our “totality of the circumstances” test. 

In response to that directive the Commission issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which invited all stakeholders to give us their views about negotiating practices that should factor into a good faith determination. We received extensive comments and ex parte submissions.  Many commenters identified practices that occur during retransmission consent negotiations that were said to show bad faith; others disagreed or argued that our present rules suffice. 

Based on the staff’s careful review of the record, it is clear that more rules in this area are not what we need at this point.  It is hard to get more inclusive than to review the “totality of circumstances.”  To start picking and choosing, in part, could limit future inquiries.  So, today I announce that we will not proceed at this time to adopt additional rules governing good faith negotiations for retransmission consent.

Now let me be clear; this does not mean the FCC will turn a blind eye to disputes.  Nor does it mean that Congress couldn’t expand the scope of the Commission’s authority in this space.  What this decision does mean is that “totality of circumstances” is pretty broad and ought not to be constrained.

There is nothing in the record that suggests that our current totality of the circumstances test, which is intentionally broad, is inadequate to address the negotiating practices of broadcast stations or MVPDs in the marketplace today. Though commenters complained about a variety of negotiating practices, none showed that those practices are the causes of the blackouts that occur. Further, a number of the practices complained of were said to have been engaged in by a single negotiating party or in a small number of negotiations and do not appear to be gaining currency in the marketplace.

What we need is not more rules, but for both sides in retransmission consent negotiations to take seriously their responsibility to consumers, who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption and to receive the subscription TV service for which they pay.

This isn’t pie in the sky. Many broadcasters and MVPDs take that responsibility seriously and conclude hundreds of retransmission consent deals without interruption. And this process is entirely invisible to their viewers – as it should be.

That’s not to say, however, that impasses won’t happen. But when they do, I am prepared to use the authority Congress has conferred on the Commission to help to bring negotiations to a conclusion.

For example, in the recent – and ongoing — dispute between DISH Network and Tribune Media, when the parties failed to reach an agreement or to extend their prior deal pending further negotiations, consumers began to suffer what is becoming an extensive blackout. I summoned both parties to Washington to negotiate in coordination with Commission staff. When that step failed to produce an agreement or an extension, the Media Bureau issued comprehensive information requests to both parties to enable FCC staff to determine whether they were meeting their duty to negotiate in good faith; we are reviewing their responses as I write. If that review reveals a dereliction of duty on the part of one or both parties, I will not hesitate to recommend appropriate Commission action.

And we do not need one of the parties to a negotiation to cry foul before acting in the public interest. The Commission can investigate a potential good faith violation on its own and take enforcement action when a party fails to fulfill its statutory obligations.

Modernizing the FCC’s Geospatial Maps

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Maps and geospatial analysis have become increasingly important as they allow the FCC to display information to the public in an interactive visual format. The FCC’s maps have become useful tools for conveying data in conjunction with Commission reports and public notices.  The FCC’s maps site serves as a centralized hub for data visualizations and is one of the most highly trafficked parts of the Commission’s website.

Since the launch of the original FCC maps site, a total of 53 maps have been published – including 15 this year – on topics ranging from nationwide LTE coverage  to fixed broadband deployment data. To keep pace with the demand for more and improved data visualization tools, we’ve been working to update our maps site to streamline the publishing process and increase the public’s access to the maps published by the Commission. 

Updated Design & Hosting

The modernized look-and-feel of the new FCC’s maps site improves the user experience and provides better visual displays.  Creating more design consistency across the maps we publish is one area we identified for improvement. To ensure uniform formats are used in all of our materials, we developed geospatial visualization design standards to maintain a consistent user experience across our maps and geospatial applications.

These efforts directly align with the Commission’s goals of improving the usability and performance of our Information Technology systems while also making it easier for the public to access data.  Recently, we moved the back-end infrastructure off of the existing legacy hardware and into a cloud-hosted environment. As a result of moving the maps site to a cloud-based platform, we’re able to provide several key benefits, including increased system stability and improved security.

Key Features

The new cloud-based maps site expands on the existing features of the previous maps site with some significant improvements, including:

  1. Enhanced display – Simplified page layout improves the usability of the site and the responsive design allows the site to adapt to various devices and screen resolutions.
  2. Improved usability – New filter and search capabilities allow you to quickly find relevant content and identify related maps.
  3. Greater reliability – Cloud-based platform provides greater reliability and improved security.
  4. Streamlined publishing – Maps are now integrated with the FCC.gov Content Management System to maintain a common look-and-feel and support rapid deployment of visualizations.
  5. Flexible inputs – Use of Open Geospatial Consortium standards enables the site to embed externally hosted content and easily adapt to new technologies.

We’re excited about the modernization improvements we’ve made to FCC’s maps site, which is available for viewing here. We encourage you to submit any feedback and questions you have to maps@fcc.gov.

Snapshot of Process Reform Ideas

Friday, July 8th, 2016

In my two and a half years as an FCC Commissioner, I have tried to make productive suggestions to improve the internal workings of the Commission.  These efforts have never been an attempt to undermine the authority of the Chairman or the ability of the Commission majority, whoever they may be on a particular issue, to get items completed in a timely manner.  Instead, this entire effort is about improving the efficiency of the Commission and increasing fairness and transparency with regard to a process that is questionable in some instances and downright objectionable in others.  We owe nothing less to the American people, who trust us with the responsibility of being public servants.

The chart below outlines the 24 reform proposals that I have suggested, to date, in various blogs and Congressional testimony.  Those proposals that have been adopted in whole or in part – all three of them – are in yellow.  In all fairness, item number 17, pertaining to improving the circulation process, was only proposed a few weeks ago.  

To the extent that the public or practitioners before the Commission have additional suggestions to improve the Commission’s workings, I would be pleased to review and consider supporting them.  I plan to continue to call out for the need to improve the functionality of this Commission to ensure every sound idea is given due consideration, and will add to this list as the process issues pile up.  

7.8.16- O'Rielly Process Reform Proposals

Setting Sights on the Forward Auction

Friday, July 1st, 2016

Earlier this week we witnessed the end of bidding in the initial stage of the world’s first broadcast incentive auction. We have now established the clearing cost for repurposing 126 MHz of licensed and unlicensed spectrum for wireless data use. The next step in this stage is to prepare bidders for their chance to acquire the 100 MHz of licensed spectrum in the forward auction. Here’s what comes next.

Bidder Qualification: Upfront payments – the refundable down payments that applicants make in order to establish their bidding eligibility for the auction – are due today at 5pm ET. Once we’ve validated which applicants have made payments, we will release a list of qualified bidders in mid-July.

Bidder Education:  Shortly we will release a user guide for the forward auction bidding system and an online tutorial.  Qualified bidders will then be able to participate in an extensive bidder training program, which will include the first-ever FCC “practice auction” and a mock auction shortly before the bidding rounds begin.

Clock Bidding: After the mock auction concludes, clock bidding will begin. Like the reverse auction, each round will offer bidders an incremental change in price for the licenses on which they’re bidding. If forward auction proceeds are sufficient to satisfy the “final stage rule” then the auction can close at the current clearing target; if not, then the auction is designed to run additional stages to match supply and demand.

Forward auction bidders have the largest possible nationwide supply of low-band spectrum available to them, and this summer they will have the opportunity to bid on it.  The end result of the auction will be the repurposing of as much spectrum for wireless broadband use as the market demands. We look forward to working with the bidders as they prepare.