Archive for September, 2016

Mobility Fund II: Improving the Data We Use to Identify & Close Mobile Coverage Gaps

Friday, September 30th, 2016

The USF/ICC Transformation Order set the course for the comprehensive modernization of universal service for the 21st century.  In so doing, the Commission set an ambitious goal of universal broadband and advanced mobile coverage.  As part of the Connect America Fund, the Commission created the Mobility Fund, a universal service support mechanism dedicated exclusively to mobile services.  Phase I of the Mobility Fund provided one-time support to accelerate our nation’s ongoing efforts to close gaps in mobile wireless service.

In order for the Mobility Fund to improve coverage in these areas for current-generation or better mobile voice and broadband services, the FCC needs detailed coverage data both to identify areas that lack mobile voice and broadband service and to avoid spending limited resources on support in areas where an unsubsidized provider is already offering service. 

Today, we are excited to announce improved analysis of coverage data, giving the FCC the ability to take the next steps toward closing the coverage gap in rural America through Mobility Fund Phase II.  This is due, in large part, to our access to more reliable data from provider-filed Forms 477.  Twice a year, mobile broadband and voice providers must submit shapefiles showing their network coverage areas and certify the accuracy of their submissions.  These shapefiles depict the areas where providers have reported that consumers should expect the minimum speeds associated with 4G LTE or other network technologies.  There is no better mobile coverage data available today.

This new and improved data is a major step forward over the data analyzed in the Mobility Fund Phase I auction, called the “centroid method.”  Let’s get technical. The “centroid method” uses the geometric center (expressed in latitude/longitude) of a census block.  If that point has service coverage, the entire census block is considered to be covered.  Thus, the centroid method has drawbacks.  As parties have pointed out, the centroid method may over-estimate coverage, particularly in rural areas with very large census blocks – or under-estimate it in census blocks with partial coverage that does not include the centroid location.  Because the U.S. has approximately 11 million census blocks, there is the potential that by using the centroid method, we may have missed a number of areas in the country that lacked 3G or better service in Mobility Fund Phase I.

Now, with the best available data we have today, FCC staff has finely honed our analytics to go beyond the centroid method and identify where unsubsidized mobile broadband service is available within each census block.  In other words, we can now utilize Form 477 data to produce “actual area coverage.”  Using the actual geographic area coverage based on the Form 477 data provides a significantly more detailed basis than the prior centroid method for reforming universal service support for mobile services to provide more targeted support where it is needed.

A quick look at some of the data reveals why this matters.  Our analysis shows that just under one and a half million people, approximately 470,000 square miles, and 550,000 miles of road in the U.S. do not have 4G LTE coverage.  In addition, we can overlay the actual area coverage data with publicly available data on universal service subsidies to determine at a sub-census block level where 4G LTE service is available only from a provider receiving support – an indication that continuing support for service in those areas is needed. 

Our analysis of this data demonstrates that altogether there are approximately 3 million people, 575,000 square miles of area, and 750,000 road miles in the U.S. that either have no 4G LTE coverage or only have 4G LTE available from a provider that is receiving universal service support.  These are the areas where our analysis shows there is a clear need for an ongoing subsidy to either expand 4G LTE coverage or continue coverage on a subsidized basis.

We believe that this significant need for ongoing support shows that the current aggregate funding levels for mobile broadband service are justified.

However, we can also see from the data that the bulk of current support under today’s legacy system is going to wireless providers in areas where unsubsidized 4G LTE service already exists – a result inconsistent with the principles underlying the Commission’s universal service reforms and a strong basis for taking a new approach in the Mobility Fund Phase II.  We estimate that approximately 75% of this legacy support is going to areas where at least one unsubsidized provider has 4G LTE coverage. 

Finally, we are well aware that widespread access to these data is critical to getting this right.  As a result, we’re releasing the Form 477 data that shows mobile coverage as of December 31, 2015 together with a description of our methodology to allow for robust public examination of the coverage data.  We are also releasing a report, Working Toward Mobility Fund II, that provides detailed analysis of the Form 477 data.  We are ready and willing to work with all interested parties on any anomalies or errors in the coverage data submitted by providers.  And we will establish a targeted challenge process to allow providers and other stakeholders to contest determinations of coverage.  We will provide details of this process in the coming months.  Stay tuned.

The Latest on Emergency Alerting

Monday, September 26th, 2016

On September 28, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the FCC, will conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System. The test, first officially announced in July, will be an opportunity to assess the readiness of America’s core public alert and warning infrastructure. It is critical that this infrastructure remains capable of providing timely and accurate information to the public in a range of emergencies – whether it’s extreme weather, a missing child, or a terrorist attack. In these and other crises, the rapid dissemination of authoritative information can save lives. In light of the upcoming test, now is a good time for a brief refresher on alerting – including how state and local public safety agencies can make the best use of this vital tool. 

Some Alerting Basics

Alerts are a key communications tool through which government entities can warn the public about various emergencies. Emergency alerts are created by authorized local government agencies, sent to a central system administered by FEMA, and then disseminated by communications providers to affected communities. The FCC prescribes technical and procedural rules for communications providers’ participation in this process.

The Nation’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), managed by FEMA, is the central gateway that is used to transmit the alerts from government agencies to the public. Agencies across the country use this gateway to send warnings through the Emergency Alert System, reaching the public on TV and radio. Agencies can also use the gateway to send short, geographically targeted warnings through Wireless Emergency Alerts, which reach Americans on their cell phones. As a result, Federal, state, local, Tribal, and territorial government agencies have ways to disseminate fast, relevant, and useful emergency information to communities through different technologies, thereby reaching more people. (The upcoming nationwide Emergency Alert System test will not include Wireless Emergency Alerts.)

Though the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts are used regularly to dispatch weather and AMBER alerts – for example, the vast majority of alerts are sent by the National Weather Service – they can also be used to warn of other imminent threats. In fact, 911 call centers and local Emergency Operations Centers are among the government agencies that can become alert originators. Indeed, alerting can be a valuable tool for local leaders to integrate into their emergency response plans. 

Empowering State and Local Public Safety Agencies

With that in mind, we encourage state and local emergency planners to consider the following:   

  1. Are your local government agencies familiar with America’s emergency alerting system?  If not, encourage local agencies to consider including alerting in their emergency response plans. Where agencies have already incorporated alerting, they may wish to develop multiple emergency training scenarios that can be used to increase employee confidence with these tools. 
  1. Are 911 call centers included in your alerting plans? You may want to consider not only authorizing emergency management and response agencies to send alerts but also 911 call centers. In many situations, the 911 call center is the first in government to learn about an emergency, and call center supervisors may have the best available situational awareness. As a result, they may be in a position to issue timely and useful warnings (such as a shelter-in-place alert) to their community. Of course as with any other government agency authorized to send alerts, 911 call centers will need clear organizational roles, responsibilities and controls regarding alert origination.  (Information on how 911 call centers can become alert originators is available here.)
  1. Do you know your state emergency alerting leaders? Each state has an emergency communications coordinator whose responsibility includes maintaining a statewide emergency alerting plan. We encourage communities to engage directly with their state coordinator to ensure that this resource best supports local needs.

The Future of Alerting

As we work to improve today’s alerting capabilities, we are also planning for the future. To that end, the FCC has proposed rules to strengthen Wireless Emergency Alerts and the Emergency Alert System as community-driven public safety tools.

America’s alerting systems rely on the participation of a broad range of stakeholders, including not only government agencies but also communications companies, technology vendors, and others in the community. We encourage all stakeholders to stay informed and involved in the future of alerting.

Tech Impacts on Robocalls and Spoofing

Monday, September 26th, 2016

When it comes to stopping robocalls, technological advances are a double-edged sword: while new technologies have created new ways to combat unwanted and fraudulent calls, they have also provided fraudsters new opportunities to work around existing consumer protections. In July, Chairman Wheeler called on telephone service providers to work collectively on multiple fronts to develop solutions to these problems, and the industry responded by forming a Robocall Strike Force.  With this industry effort underway, we thought it was timely to outline some of these challenges and the types of solutions the Strike Force is considering.

Spoofing and Authentication

The increased use of internet protocols within phone networks has many upsides for consumers.  For example, some VoIP systems may be capable of offering better voice quality or supporting robocall blocking services.  But that technology can allow scammers to camouflage their real identity and location when they send a call into the phone network.  This is often called “spoofing.”  Spoofed phone calls are those that appear to be from legitimate callers (like the government or a family member) but are not. Many of us are familiar with spoofed emails, and the industry has made strides in combatting these messages. For example, to combat email spam and phishing, some email senders now validate their identity, and many ISPs automatically filter suspect emails. We need these kinds of protections for phone calls.  Our phone system should be able to verify that callers are really who they say they are. A standardized authentication process will allow consumers to know which VoIP calls are camouflaged and those that are not, protecting them from malicious caller ID spoofing.

Robocall Blocking and Filtering

Currently, robust robocall blocking and filtering services are only available on some VoIP phone systems and as apps on smartphones.  These pro-consumer services allow subscribers to choose for themselves which calls they want to receive, which calls to block, and/or which calls to redirect or “filter” to voicemail. The FCC has made clear that all phone companies can legally offer consumers these choices.  The focus of both the Commission and industry is now on improving these offerings and increasing their availability.

Do Not Originate

Stopping unwanted calls is a simple idea but complex to accomplish.  Many unwanted calls originate in other countries where the Commission’s jurisdiction to stop these fraudulent communications at the source is limited.  If we cannot stop the calls from coming in, we can try to help networks identify which calls are not legitimate.  It seems logical that, for example, calls appearing to be from a U.S. government agency that originate overseas are not legitimate and should be stopped – or perhaps the caller ID can be authenticated to tell consumers who the real caller is.  One potential solution is to create a database of numbers that are often spoofed, including numbers used by/belonging to government, healthcare and financial institutions.  For calls that can’t be authenticated, this “Do Not Originate” list, originally suggested by Chairman Wheeler in his letters to the carriers, might enable providers to recognize and stop calls that have a suspicious origin. 

Data Releases

In addition to initiating the industry-led strike force, the FCC is taking steps to use technology and data to combat robocalls.  For instance, following an FCC workshop on robocalls and spoofing last year, the FCC began regularly and proactively posting our data showing which phone numbers consumers complained about.  These data have helped robocall blocking companies improve their systems.  In May, we upgraded our data center, and we now refresh our unwanted call data daily.  We continue to develop our data collection and data sharing abilities to empower consumers to help us uncover and go after fraudsters and to help carriers and apps block unwanted calls.

In cooperation with the industry-led strike force, the FCC is working hard to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls.  Consumers who receive unwanted calls can file a complaint with the FCC and provide us with the phone number and any other key details about the call.

Seattle’s Best 888011000110888 It’s continually invigorating to travel across the country and learn first-hand about the myriad ways U. H. innovators and entrepreneurs are shifting our nation forward. After spending earlier times three days in Seattle meeting with the heads of both leading companies and start-ups, I’m more bullish than ever about America’s future. If there were the central theme to the trip it had been unlocking the potential of the next-generation associated with wireless technology – 5G. At the annual meeting of the Competitive Service providers Association, I spoke with network operators – large and little – about the development and deployment of fiber-fast wireless connectivity. The convention floor was filled with shows of how high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency networks could drive economic growth, especially in rural America. In a individual visit to T-Mobile’s headquarters, I saw a demonstration of technology under development, including 5G technologies, and learned about the work they are pursuing to bring next-generation products to market. It isn’t really just wireless carriers that have begun thinking about our 5G future. Boeing welcomed me to their facilities, where they are already using number of advanced fabrication technologies that rely on unlicensed spectrum, and they have begun exploring the options of more robust 5G connectivity. You can’t talk about the potential of 5G without talking about the power of cloud computing, whose centralized processing will drive 5G applications like autonomous vehicles or smart-energy grids. On the visit to Microsoft’s campus, I discovered their movement into cloud processing and what lies ahead. That 5G pathway to the cloud must not just be low-latency and ultra-fast, it must be secure, and Microsoft is also groundbreaking new cybersecurity technologies and strategies. In addition to these discussions about how new technologies will press the envelope of what’s achievable tomorrow, I met with the commanders of a start-up using technology to improve the user experience today. Hiya is usually on the forefront of robocall blocking technology, using sophisticated algorithms as well as a large database to identify and obstruct unwanted calls at the network of end-user level. I had the opportunity to listen to directly from some of the innovators working to resolve the robocall problem domestically and internationally, and to talk about what the FCC can do to help meet this problem. Special thanks to everyone who took the time to meet with me recently. I’m grateful for their hospitality and more appreciative of all the work they are performing to invent the future.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

September 23, 2016 – 2: 00 pm

Tom Wheeler | FCC Chairman

It’s always invigorating traveling across the country and learn first-hand about the variety ways…

Sector Makes Progress on Unlicensed LTE Coexistence 888011000110888 The Office associated with Engineering and Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have been closely monitoring industry efforts to ensure that new versions of LTE technology can co-exist with Wi-Fi and other unlicensed gadgets operating at 5 GHz. The Commission’s rules for unlicensed devices are designed to prevent dangerous interference to authorized radio solutions through limits on transmitter energy and spurious emissions. Industry has evolved standards such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, plus Zigbee within the framework of these guidelines, generally with the intention of ensuring cooperative sharing of the spectrum by unlicensed devices while recognizing that such devices are not protected from disturbance. This past March the particular 3GPP, which is an international standards body, developed a LAA (Licensed Aided Access) standard that is designed to allow unlicensed devices using a version of LTE to operate under the provisions for unlicensed at 5 GHz. LAA contains features such as listen-before-talk to ensure fair sharing with other unlicensed devices. We are aware that equipment manufacturers have got since developed devices based on this standard and we will proceed to grant devices certification for LAA devices that will meet the Commission’s rules. LTE-U (LTE for unlicensed) is a specification that was developed and backed by a group of companies within the LTE-U Forum. The various stakeholders agreed to engage in a process established by the Wi-Fi Connections to evaluate the coexistence of LTE-U with Wi-Fi. This process culminated in a co-existence evaluation test plan that was released on September 21, 2016. The next step will be for industry to make use of the test plan to evaluate the co-existence associated with any LTE-U devices. Throughout this process we have strongly motivated industry to address and resolve expressing concerns while preserving the theory of permission-less access for unlicensed devices throughout the spectrum. Such gain access to has generated countless innovative products for consumers. We recognize that development of the co-existence test plan is a difficult process involving various compromises by all of the stakeholders. We are pleased with the progress that has been made. OET and WTB can continue to closely monitor the roll-out of unlicensed LTE technology to ensure there is no detrimental impact on consumers.

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

September 23, 2016 – 12: 30 pm

Julius Knapp | Chief, Office associated with Engineering & Technology

The Office of Engineering plus Technology and the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau have been…

Preserve Consumer Privacy Trades

Wednesday, September 21st, 2016

The Commission seems intent to push forward, in the coming weeks or months, with a specious plan imposing new broadband privacy mandates and burdens.  Reacting to this impending action, a number of broadband providers have sought to retain the ability to offer consumers incentives in exchange for consumers’ willingness to share a greater level of private information.  Seemingly in disagreement, FCC leadership is quoted as saying that they “hope privacy doesn’t become a luxury item.”  If data sharing enticements are prohibited, however, it would harm the overall operations of the Internet, increase companies’ costs for offering features and functions, and decrease consumer options.  Such an approach tramples on the notion of consumer choice. 

At the outset, it is critical to define what is meant by “luxury.”  Use of the term can falsely conjure up images of wealth and privilege.  Instead, it is better defined as something that is optional or non-essential, as opposed to a necessity.  In this formulation, privacy would be a luxury item because it is not critical to everyday life.  Consider the case of international celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian.  Almost every move and activity they undertake is seen and subject to scrutiny, but they continue to live their lives quite sufficiently with little to no personal privacy.  In fact, they often seek to bargain away even more of their privacy for increased public attention.  This same tradeoff can be seen repeatedly in reality shows where average Americans allow millions of viewers into their homes, businesses, hospital rooms, and their most personal relationships.  Alternatively, consider discount cards from grocery stores and pharmacies, which allow participating consumers to trade ongoing data about their personal shopping preferences and experiences for substantial pricing relief.  Clearly, people can and do thrive in instances where personal privacy preferences are traded away freely, thereby undercutting any argument that privacy amounts to a necessity.  

Indeed, arguing that, in the broadband context, privacy is a necessity, and not a luxury, would suggest that it is something that individuals could not bargain for or away in their dealings with commercial providers – notwithstanding the fact that they clearly can and do bargain it away in a variety of other instances.  In such a case, broadband companies alone would be required to include a fixed level of consumer privacy protections.  Commercial providers would be prohibited from seeking to differentiate their offerings through price discounts, service upgrades, etc., while consumers would be prohibited from seeking any type of product differential for their own benefit.  In this universe, the government would be dictating private contract terms that couldn’t be deviated from even if both parties found benefit in doing so. 

A fundamental problem with such a viewpoint is that it runs completely counter to the concept of consumer choice – the ability of consumers to take action for their own perceived benefit.  Eliminating the flexibility of consumers to exercise their freedom with regards to their own data would be the definition of anti-choice.  It’s an affirmation of the nanny-state government: consumers are not capable of making these decisions for themselves.  And, it runs counter to decades of experience with consumers making such choices and tradeoffs in other sectors of the economy.

Additionally, it would contradict the approach outlined in the Commission’s Fact Sheet for the NPRM that “[c]onsumers should have effective control over how their personal information is used and shared by their broadband service providers.”  How can the Commission both prohibit data from being transferred by consumers in exchange for some benefit, and yet still allow effective control over how the data is used?  In other words, what is the value of “Increased Choice, Transparency and Security Online” if the choice is made by the Commission and against some consumers’ wishes?  The simple answer is it can’t.

Moreover, the current Internet embodies a symbiotic relationship between the features and functions offered to consumers and the corresponding privacy of personal information offered in exchange.  A great portion of consumer-facing Internet sites and apps (i.e., edge providers) require the collection of certain private information that is effectively being traded by consumers for the benefit of using the product or service.  This collection of consumer data is a key financial component that helps fund many Internet companies, as it can be used to generate advertisements or shared with third parties.  Operationally, consumers always have the option not to accept such arrangements, but they risk not being able to use the product or service at all.  

Establishing a discriminatory prohibition on broadband companies for doing the same thing – even where competition for providers exists – will divert capital, resources and innovation to other investments.  Specifically, withholding the ability of broadband companies to make incentive offers – even on a voluntary basis with the full knowledge and acknowledgement of consumers – would disrupt how some broadband companies generate profits, which every private sector company must obtain, therefore directly impacting consumers.  If the option to make these offers is foreclosed, broadband companies will be forced to find revenues elsewhere, including raising consumer prices.  At the same time, this action may result in the reduction of consumer-friendly features and functions or stall the development of new ones.  Additionally, companies may have to curtail buildout of services to new areas or delay upgrades to counteract this limitation.       

Perhaps expressing “hope” that privacy does not become a “luxury” is intended to capture personal preferences on how the marketplace should develop.  This would center on the belief that consumers would realize the importance of their own privacy protections and generally agree not to take advantage of any exchange offered.  As such, data exchange offers by broadband providers would mostly fall on deaf ears, and those few that are willing to make such an exchange would not be sufficient to justify continuing the programs.  This is how the market generally disciplines unwelcome behavior.  This approach is the least caustic to the marketplace and is akin to trying to steer the policy discussion with sage advice rather than rash dictates.

In the coming weeks, the FCC will debate internally over whether and what consumer privacy protections to enact.  Arguably, the Commission should rethink its insistence to enact new broadband privacy rules, but assuming it moves forward, it should not prohibit private data exchanges that benefit consumers in the form of lower prices, greater service or more features and functions. 

Ending Cable Signal Leakage Rules for Fiber Builds

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Over the last number of years, I have had the opportunity to meet with small cable providers from throughout the U.S.  In one conversation, I focused on their particular circumstances serving rural parts of America and the costs of operating a broadband/telephone/video network in the current regulatory environment.  As I tend to do, I sought out ideas on how we could make their lives easier from a regulatory standpoint.  In other words, are there ways to reduce burdens without undermining the Commission’s overall mission and requirements under the statute?  I was particularly struck by the simplest of requests: look into eliminating or modifying the cable signal leakage rules for those companies that have deployed fiber in a service area.  While it is easy to conclude that our rules are obsolete as they pertain to fiber networks, the harder step is actually fixing the situation.    

When these rules were adopted, a traditional cable system used coaxial cable to transmit radio frequency (RF) signals carrying content to residential and business consumers.  If operated properly, such systems do not cause any interference to spectrum users, such as aeronautical and navigation users.  However, RF can “leak” from a cable coaxial system for various reasons, including loose connections, damaged plant or cracked cables.  As a way to prevent this from occurring, system operators are required under the Commission’s rules to conduct regular monitoring for signal leakage, maintain logs showing the date and location of any leak, and test annually to demonstrate that a systems cumulative signal leakage is below acceptable interference levels.   I learned during my meeting with the small cable providers a while back that, to comply with the annual testing requirement, they rent a small plane and circle their territory with appropriate RF sensors to determine if there any leakage.  In the grand scheme of things, this is not a huge expense ($5,000) but when you operate 15 small systems, it costs upwards of $100,000 adding in time and labor.  And that’s money that can be used to curtail rate increases or expand the network’s reach to unserved homes. 

Today, many cable operators are replacing coaxial cable with fiber, but our rules remain the same.  To be clear, the Commission has looked at this issue before as part of a larger proceeding, but some substantial and valid concerns were raised about other ideas in that item.  While I don’t want to reopen the many discussions in this proceeding, we can and should move forward to consider changes to our cable signal leakage rules for systems in which an extensive amount of fiber is used.  With fiber there are no radio frequencies being used, and therefore no RF interference, which the Commission stipulated back in 2004.[1]  Specifically, the thin strands of glass composing fiber effectively replace RF transmissions with pulses of light and color, meaning the technology produces no signal leakage at all.  Accordingly, it would seem to make sense that cable systems that are predominantly fiber should not be forced to comply with Commission rules that were adopted for a previous technology.  Doing so would reduce the cost of compliance for cable systems willing to make the huge investment in fiber-rich networks.  Dare I say, it could even become a very small enticement to deploy fiber?     

There are many ways we could go about fixing this – rule change, declaratory ruling, waiver, etc. – but with the emphasis placed on fiber by some at the Commission, the least we can do is remove rules that make no sense in a fiber-based world.  This very minor step seems like one we can make without much controversy.            

 

[1] Amendment of Part 76 of the Commission’s Rules to Extend Interference Protection to the Marine and Aeronautical Distress and Safety Frequency 406.025 MHz, MB Docket No. 03-50, Report and Order, 19 FCC Rcd 7244, 7246 ¶ 8 (2004).

Incentive Auction Second Stage: Same as the First? Not Exactly.

Monday, September 12th, 2016

Tomorrow at 10:00 AM ET bidding resumes in the Incentive Auction with the opening of Stage 2. We wanted to take a moment to preview what happens next and describe how this stage will be different from Stage 1.

For Stage 2, the Auction System set the clearing target at 114 megahertz, the next-highest target that meets the Commission’s standards for setting a clearing target in a stage (explained in the Bidding Procedures Public Notice). Compared to the 126 megahertz clearing target, the 114 megahertz clearing target generally clears nine blocks of spectrum in each partial economic area (PEA) instead of 10 blocks and adds two additional channels to the TV band.

Adding more channels to the TV band allows more stations to be repacked in their pre-auction band. Thus, some stations that were provisionally winning after Stage 1 will become “unfrozen” in Stage 2 and will be presented decreasing price offers during the bidding rounds. This process will result in lowering the overall costs of clearing spectrum for wireless use.

Bidders that had at least one station with the status of “Frozen – Provisionally Winning” at the end of Stage 1 could access the Reverse Auction Bidding System for Stage 2 beginning on September 7. As we explained in the Reverse Auction New Stage Tutorial, when those bidders log in to the auction system for Stage 2 some stations that were “Frozen – Provisionally Winning” will see a new bidding status for their stations: “Frozen – Pending Catch-Up.” Bidders with stations that begin Stage 2 with the status of “Frozen – Pending Catch-Up” must be on their toes, as this status can change from one round to the next and will change by the end of the new stage. Remember – if a station’s status changes to “Bidding,” and the bidder fails to submit a bid for that station, the system interprets this as a bid to drop out and could lead to the station exiting the auction.

When Stage 2 of the reverse auction concludes, we will announce the new clearing costs and move to forward auction bidding, where prices will pick up where they left off at the end of Stage 1. Operationally, bidding is the same as in Stage 1; the primary difference is the supply of blocks at the 114 megahertz clearing target. As we mention above, overall there are fewer blocks available in almost every PEA but more of the blocks being offered are completely unimpaired – 99.6%, to be precise. In some PEAs the supply actually remained the same or increased. On September 8th we opened up access to the Forward Auction Bidding System so that eligible bidders can begin to familiarize themselves with the Stage 2 data and prepare to bid.

As in Stage 1, the public will be able to monitor the auction on our Public Reporting System (PRS). During the reverse auction, the PRS will continue to display the final stage rule graphic with the status as of Stage 1. Once round 1 of the forward auction is complete in Stage 2 the graphic will once again begin displaying the round by round progress towards meeting the final stage rule.

Welcome to Stage 2 of the Broadcast Incentive Auction!

A Busy Fall Kick-Off

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

On Labor Day, we honor the hard-working Americans who make our economy go and make up the foundation of our communities with a well-deserved day off. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, this holiday also means summer’s over and work is about to get a lot busier for many of us. That’s certainly true at the Commission, where our September open meeting will feature a robust and diverse agenda.

Headlining this month’s meeting will be proposed rules to unlock the set-top box marketplace.

Although Congress has mandated that consumers should be able to choose their preferred device to access pay-TV programming, 99 percent of Americans pay an average of $231 a year to lease set-top boxes, because we have no meaningful alternative.

Over the past seven months, the Commission has conducted an open proceeding to explore the best ways to increase consumer choice and innovation in the video marketplace. Following constructive engagement from a wide-range of stakeholders, I’ve circulated a proposal that would require pay-TV providers to offer to consumers a free app to access all the programming and features. Consumers will be able to use this app on the device of their choosing, whether that’s a streaming device, gaming console, or even your current smartTV.  This proposal would also enable integrated search across platforms and services, while protecting content and privacy.

If adopted, these consumer-first rules would pave the way for a competitive marketplace for new devices that enhance the TV-watching experience. Bottom line: consumers will no longer have to rent a set-top box just to watch the programming they already pay for.

The Commission not only wants consumers to have options when it comes to how they access video programming, we also want to promote the availability of diverse and independent programming from which to choose. That’s why I’m proposing for consideration at this month’s meeting new rules that prohibit certain practices in program carriage agreements that could impede competition, diversity and innovation in the video marketplace. Specifically, my proposal would prohibit “unconditional” Most-Favored-Nation provisions and “unreasonable” Alternative Distribution Method provisions, which both limit the incentives and ability of independent programmers to experiment with innovative carriage terms and to license their content on alternative, innovative platforms.

In September, we also recognize National Preparedness Month. Appropriately, the Commission will be voting this month on an item to enhance Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the 4-year-old system that delivers critical warnings to our cell phones during tornados, hurricanes and other emergencies. The updated rules would enable the public to receive additional, vital information in wireless alerts, better target the alerts to affected communities, and help state and local authorities more effectively use the service. For example, our rules will enable WEA AMBER alert originators to include more information, including active links for pictures and phone numbers, to help locate missing children.

Rounding out this month’s meeting agenda will be an item to extend to broadcast licensees the same streamlined rules and procedures that common carrier wireless licensees use to seek approval of foreign ownership, with appropriate modifications. These process reforms will provide the broadcast sector with greater transparency and more predictability, while reducing regulatory burdens and costs for all sectors. To be clear, these rules would not relax the foreign ownership thresholds, and the Commission will continue to conduct case-by-case public interest reviews of petitions. Commissioner O’Rielly deserves special recognition for his leadership in highlighting this issue.

Here’s hoping everybody re-charged their batteries this holiday weekend, because things at the Commission are about to get even busier.

Enhancing Experimentation and Innovation for 5G and Beyond

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

Experimentation is the foundation of innovation. For decades, the Commission has fostered wireless experimentation through its Experimental Radio Service, resulting in the development of new technologies that are fundamental to today’s wireless networks, services, and devices. In 2013 the Commission took steps to enhance the ERS by further reducing barriers to access experimentation rights, specifically by creating a new program experimental license. The timing is fortuitous – the program experimental license is coming on line as innovators are embarking on the research that will enable the fifth generation of wireless technologies and services.

By all measures, the experimental radio service has been a huge success.  The Office of Engineering and Technology processes over 2000 requests for experimental licenses annually, to over 600 universities, researchers, OEMs and other innovators. This year alone we have over 35 experimental licenses that have a 5G focus or are in the bands raised in the Spectrum Frontiers proceeding. We have also granted experimental licenses to several entities who are conducting propagation and network tests for the 3.5 GHz band. These experiments will clearly help advance the introduction of these new wireless technologies and services.

To further improve the ERS, the Commission took three major steps in 2013. It created a new medical testing license, available to health care facilities to assess radio frequency-based medical devices. It created a new compliance testing license, which allows recognized labs to conduct radio frequency product compliance testing. And, perhaps most importantly, it created the program experimental license, which allows colleges, research laboratories, health care institutions, and manufacturers that have demonstrated experience in radio frequency technology to conduct ongoing series of research experiments and tests.

The program experimental license offers a new paradigm for the ERS, one that significantly reduces the barriers to experimentation for qualified entities. Under a program experimental license, a licensee is able to post a notification that it is experimenting in a particular band to a web portal. Other parties, specifically entities that hold licenses in bands that the experiment may use or affect (in a controlled manner) then have to proactively object if they have concerns about the interference potential from the experiment. The concept here is simple: allow entities with radio frequency expertise, that are able to manage radio frequency devices in a controlled environment without affecting other users, experiment more freely.

We have been working to stand up the IT system necessary to facilitate the program experimental license for several years, and we are near completion. Within a few weeks, we will release a Public Notice announcing that the program experimental license is open for business. This could have huge benefits in the development of new wireless technologies, including 5G. Under the ERS, all of the bands the Commission adopted and proposed in the Spectrum Frontiers R&O and FNPRM are open for experimentation now. Under the new program experimental license, qualifying entities will have even fewer administrative hurdles to jump through, easing the path toward experimentation, and ultimately, innovation.

I look forward to the new innovations that are sure to come.