Archive for April, 2017

But Wait, There’s More

Thursday, April 27th, 2017

Yesterday, I delivered remarks announcing my plans to repeal the Commission’s heavy-handed “Title II” regulation of the Internet and return the United States to the bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework that preserved a free and open Internet for almost 20 years.  To kick off this process, I’ve shared with my fellow Commissioners and the American public a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks public input on the best path forward.  This proposal will headline the Commission’s May open meeting, but it’s hardly the only piece of business we’ll be considering.  Having already detailed my proposal to free the Internet from Depression-era regulation, I’d like to highlight the other items on our May docket.

While they may not have received as much attention as my Title II rollback plan, I also previewed two items from our May agenda in a recent speech at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual gathering in Las Vegas.

The first is an item to initiate a comprehensive review of our media rules to identify which ones are still necessary and which should be relaxed or repealed.  We not only want to root out antiquated rules that have outlived their usefulness, we also want to explore whether certain rules should be modified to provide regulatory relief to small businesses.  If approved, this item would solicit public input on which rules to modify and why.

With close to 1,000 pages of rules on the books regulating broadcast, cable, and satellite television, many of them decades old, I’m confident this inquiry would uncover some candidates for reform.  (Note: this review will not cover the FCC’s media ownership regulations, which the Commission is already obligated by statute to review on a regular basis.)

A second media item on our May agenda would eliminate one such counterproductive rule, which we have already identified.  To enable and encourage community input, each AM, FM, and television broadcast station is currently required by FCC rule to maintain a “main studio” that is located in or near its community of license.  But thanks to technological innovations, notably the online “public file,” we can give broadcasters additional flexibility by repealing the “main studio” rule without sacrificing transparency or community engagement.  In three weeks, the Commission will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that tees up eliminating the Commission’s main studio rule for both radio and television broadcasters.  My thanks to Commissioner O’Rielly for championing this cause.

Next on the agenda will be a proposal to revise a rule that has directly harmed rural consumers.  In connection with the FCC’s 2011 reforms of the FCC’s subsidy program known as the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Commission required recipients of USF subsidies to impose minimum monthly rates for telephone service.  The thinking then was that the law calls for rates to be “reasonably comparable” and that customers needed to pay a certain minimum rate to make sure that subsidies weren’t being wasted.  The problem is this so-called “rate floor” now forces many rural customers to pay higher rates than some of their urban counterparts, including those in Washington, D.C.  It seems to me that the last thing the FCC should do is mandate price increases for rural consumers above rates paid by some of their urban counterparts, especially considering that average incomes in rural areas tend to be lower than those in cities.  Also, the law requires “just, reasonable, and affordable” rates, which the rate floor doesn’t seem to respect.  The FCC therefore will be voting on an NPRM to eliminate this rate floor and related reporting requirements.  We will also be voting to immediately freeze the rate floor to prevent rural telephone rates from rising in July. 

The Commission will also consider a Report and Order that would amend our rules regarding wireless devices such as walkie-talkies, CB radios and remote-control toys—what we call Personal Radio Services.  These devices generally use low-power transmitters, communicate over shared radio frequencies, and (with a few exceptions) do not require an individual FCC license for each user.  The Commission will be voting to complete a thorough review of our Personal Radio Services rules in order to modernize them, remove outdated regulatory requirements, and reorganize them to make it easier to find information. 

Finally, the Commission will be taking up a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to streamline our rules that govern the antennas (earth stations) used to provide satellite-based services to ships, airplanes and vehicles on the ground.  The regulation of these earth stations, collectively known as “earth stations in motion” (ESIMs), currently varies depending on the type of vehicle to which they are attached.  We will consider new rules for the operation of ESIMs that would eliminate redundancies, reduce the burden on our applicants, and allow FCC staff to process applications more quickly.

No question, my proposal to repeal Title II regulation and restore Internet freedom will garner most of the headlines on May 18.  But, make no mistake: the FCC will be taking up a diverse array of additional proposals to modernize our rules and deliver benefits to consumers.

International Efforts to Regulate the Internet Continue

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Over the last several years, we’ve been lectured by many that the U.S. position on Internet governance was no longer sustainable in the larger, global community.  So-called experts claimed that the U.S.’s minimal government involvement in Internet issues was no longer a prudent approach.  These “experts” added that if the U.S. just ceded on our sound principles a little bit, authoritarian governments of the world would end their continued effort to seek increased government regulation and control of the Internet.  In other words, they sought an appeasement strategy.  

We now have a recent case study of this exact approach, and it doesn’t seem to have worked.  Instead, some foreign governments have renewed their disturbing calls for government involvement in the Internet via a number of forums.  Accordingly, it’s time to reject appeasement, acknowledge the work ahead and redouble our efforts to quash these attempts using all appropriate means.

The ICANN Experiment

In October 2016, the US government officially terminated its last remaining contractual relationship with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  Supporters of the transition argued that it was the best means for the continued growth of the Internet, but many admitted, behind closed doors, that the whole process was meant to serve two purposes: to overcome the Edward Snowden controversy and to reduce the international pressure over Internet governance issues.  Those who challenged the initial decision and its subsequent transition – of which I was one – argued, in part, that it would never serve to halt the efforts by some countries seeking international regulation of the Internet.  Despite my overall support for multi-stakeholder Internet governance methods, I didn’t believe for a second that the transition would prove sufficient to deter world despots seeking more control over the Internet. 

As we pass the six-month anniversary of the reconstituted ICANN, it only seems appropriate to assess the current situation.  Not surprising, authoritarian governments continue to persist in their efforts to have multilateral organizations, such as the UN, regulate the Internet.   Case in point, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assistant recently stated in an interview that the ICANN transition did not change its overall stance and Russia will continue to pursue government involvement, perhaps through the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU), in the workings of the Internet.  Below are just three examples of government actions to pursue such a path. 

World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-16)

At the end of October, the international community convened at the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA-16) in Tunisia.  This conference, held by the ITU, considered how countries should regulate technologies through the standards process to promote worldwide Internet access.  Member States specifically discussed such topics as the Internet of Things (IoT), cybersecurity, privacy, and the possible regulation of Internet companies and applications. 

Specifically, the ITU Member States embarked on a discussion of the standards needed to facilitate such regulation and deployment.  ITU participation in the Internet standards process would be a marked departure from its stated mission of international telecommunications coordination.  Since we already have several multi-stakeholder standards setting bodies, such as IEEE, 3GPP and IETF, who formulate standards for Internet, mobile and IoT platforms, the ITU’s insertion here would seem to duplicate or interfere with the work of these established organizations. 

But that wasn’t the worst idea coming out of Tunisia.  During the conference, ITU Member States decided to promote a specific technology – Digital Object Architecture (DOA) – for IoT.  This proposal is troubling in many respects.  First, DOA is capable of assigning a unique identifier to each IoT and mobile device allowing for the tracking of such equipment and, more importantly, every individual user.  In fact, authoritarian regimes are proposing the registration of all devices and users in centralized databases for the very purpose of making surveillance that much easier.  Second, if these DOA “tools” are mandated for IoT devices, it will facilitate and expedite future regulation.  Each communication could be traced allowing fees and taxes to be levied on financial transactions, purchases, or even content streaming, among other communications.  Third, abandoning technological neutrality by forcing DOA likely will stymie future innovation from competing technologies. 

Going down this DOA path essentially places the ITU in the driver’s seat when it comes to the future of the Internet.  Moreover, all of the efforts at WTSA-16 should be seen through the lens of expanding the mission of the ITU, allowing it to regulate the Internet and provide Member States with an avenue for obtaining standards and Internet controls that they are unable to get through other means.

China’s New Position Paper

In early March, China detailed, in a document entitled “International Strategy of Cooperation on Cyberspace,” its plan to seek global, multilateral governance of the Internet.  Specifically, it asserts that “[t]he international community needs to … put in place a multilateral, democratic and transparent global governance system…,” and governments should “tak[e] the lead[] in internet governance particularly public policies and security.”  The policy statement explicitly states that, as part of its “Plan of Action,” China “supports formulating universally accepted international rules and norms of state behavior in cyberspace within the framework of the United Nations, which will establish basic principles for states and other actors to regulate their behavior….”  Further, “China supports discussion on privacy protection at the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and calls for establishing relevant principles for protecting individual privacy in cyberspace.”

Whether in the guise of cybersecurity, privacy, or promoting general Internet governance, one must ask: On whose fundamental governance principles would these rules be based?  The U.S., for instance, has First Amendment and other constitutional protections, whereas China states that although it “respects citizens’ rights and fundamental freedoms in cyberspace,” these claimed rights are clearly curtailed to ensure “national security and public interests.”  I must assume that these public interests align with China’s earlier statement that limits the rights of Chinese citizens on the Internet such that:

[N]o organization or individual may produce, duplicate, announce or disseminate information having the following contents: being against the cardinal principles set forth in the Constitution; endangering state security, divulging state secrets, subverting state power and jeopardizing national unification; damaging state honor and interests; . . . jeopardizing state religious policy, propagating heretical or superstitious ideas; spreading rumors, disrupting social order and stability; . . . and other contents forbidden by laws and administrative regulations.

And, as we know, this issue is not specific to China as many governments seek to restrict Internet use by their citizens to inoculate themselves from criticism.

ITU and Over-the-Top Content

Finally, in late February, an ITU study subgroup held a meeting to discuss the growth of over-the-top (OTT) content.  During this meeting, a recommendation was put forth by Russia and some African countries to define and potentially regulate OTT, which will be considered by the full study group later this month.  This appears to be an attempt to expand ITU jurisdiction well beyond international telecommunications networks to include the Internet, as well as edge providers, including those offering video and audio streaming.  Further, the ITU Member States are considering studies on such topics as the regulatory impact of OTT services on licensing frameworks, pricing and charging, security and data protection, taxation and consumer protection.  While these studies are pushed under the pretext of encouraging competition, innovation, and investment, this should be seen for what it is: the first steps toward the international regulation of, in many cases, Internet-based edge providers.

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These are three examples of certain governments’ efforts to advocate for the international regulation of the Internet since the ICANN transition.  In merely six months, there have been multiple plans and proposals to directly involve UN entities in Internet governance.  I think it is safe to say that we got the short end of the stick.  Hopefully, a lesson has been learned and we will no longer compromise the U.S. position in order to placate those who cannot be placated.  Now, we must do everything we can to stop these continuous and systemic assaults on the Internet.   

Open for business: FCC’s New Experimental Licensing System Accepting New Applications

Friday, April 14th, 2017

The Commission’s experimental licensing program has played a key role throughout the years in the process of developing innovative new products and services. This new type of experimental license allows greater flexibility for parties—including universities, research labs, health care facilities, and manufacturers of radio frequency equipment— to develop new technologies and services while protecting incumbent services against harmful interference.

Today, we are pleased to announce that our experimental licensing system can now accept applications for program licenses. Parties may apply for an experimental program license using the existing Form 442 application for experimental licenses at https://apps.fcc.gov/oetcf/els/forms/442Dashboard.cfm. Once approved, licensees may go on the new “Experiments Notification System” website and begin registering new program experiments. The website is available at https://apps2.fcc.gov/ELSExperiments/pages/login.htm. The program license registration system continues the FCC’s commitment to encouraging research and development.

Each year, the Office of Engineering and Technology typically grants more than 2,000 experimental licenses. Many of the services and technologies deployed today were first tested under the experimental licensing program. In fact, many experimental licenses are currently supporting work looking towards the introduction of next-generation 5G services.

The Commission previously revised the experimental licensing rules to provide greater flexibility to conduct experiments through new “program licenses.” The program licenses are designed to streamline the process for institutions that regularly file for experimental applications such as universities, R&D development companies, and medical institutions and also conduct a large portion of their experiments within geographic areas under their control. This new program licenses also provide for “Innovation Zones”, geographic areas that the Commission can define and make available for experiments.

Of course, we extend our gratitude to the New York University Tandon School of Engineering and the University of Colorado, Boulder which conducted beta trials of the system and made many helpful suggestions. We look forward to the submittal of applications for the new program experimental licenses and stand ready to answer any questions and assist parties to make this process flow smoothly.