Archive for the ‘FCC News’ Category

Consumer Protection Month at the FCC

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Americans are reaping the benefits of rapid and exciting changes in the ways we communicate.  But many of the problems that consumers confront stubbornly remain.

For too long, Americans have been plagued by unwanted and unlawful robocalls.  For too long, they’ve found unauthorized charges and changes to their phone service on their bills—practices commonly known as “slamming” and “cramming.”  And for too long, some phone calls that are placed to rural residents have been dropped.

Efforts to excommunicate this unholy triad of consumer scourges—unlawful robocalls, slamming/cramming, and rural call completion—headline the FCC’s agenda in July.  During Consumer Protection Month, we will take up several public interest initiatives to address problems that too many Americans face.

  1. Robocalls

Unlawful robocalls generate the most frequent source of consumer complaints to the FCC.  As agency-watchers know, we’re not starting from scratch in attacking the problem.  This past March, the Commission proposed to give voice providers greater leeway to block many “spoofed” calls—specifically, calls that purport to be from unassigned or invalid phone numbers.  This move will hopefully pave the way for Do-Not-Originate lists that will help stifle the efforts of illegitimate callers and scam artists.  And we’ve made robocalls our top enforcement priority.  Just today, the FCC took a major step, proposing to fine the alleged perpetrator of a vast spoofing operation $120 million for the 96 million robocalls he unleashed on American consumers in just three months—robocalls that bilked many vulnerable consumers out of their hard-earned money.

In July, we’re going to address two other issues that could help combat robocalls.  First, we’ll explore setting up a reliable system for authenticating phone calls.  Among other things, this system would verify that a phone call is really coming from the phone number that shows up on caller ID.  Right now, too many malicious robocallers hide their true originating phone number.  This lets them evade call-blocking or filtering tools and trick consumers about a call’s true source.  An authentication system would help to crack down on this behavior and strengthen call-blocking.  I’ve shared a proposal along these lines with my colleagues.

Next month, we’ll also begin to address the problem of calls that are made to reassigned phone numbers.  Here’s the scenario: a customer consents to receive calls from a particular business.  But later, he switches phone numbers.  Someone new is then assigned that customer’s old phone number.  She ends up receiving calls that she doesn’t want. 

This might seem like a highly specific problem, but an estimated 100,000 numbers are reassigned by wireless carriers every day, with errant phone calls following.  So this issue confronts millions of Americans.  To tackle this problem, the FCC will vote on considering how reassigned telephone number data could easily be made available to businesses, such as through a consolidated database.  Those businesses—restaurants, furniture stores, and the like—could use such a database to ensure that their calls reach the intended recipients.

2.  Slamming and Cramming

Too often, we learn about unscrupulous carriers that are targeting the vulnerable.  For example, the FCC recently heard from an elderly woman who received a call about a postal service package that supposedly hadn’t been delivered.  Her verbal responses were then used to unwittingly switch her phone carrier.  This case is a bread-and-butter case of deception to “slam” an older consumer.

To address cases like hers, I’m proposing a rule to that would expressly ban misrepresentations on sales calls that typically precede a slam.  I’m also urging changes to our regulations that would make it harder for fraudsters to “cram” consumers—that is, put unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills.

3.  Rural Call Completion

Protecting consumers goes beyond just fighting illicit schemes.  It also involves making sure that they get what they pay for.  Unfortunately, rural telephone customers aren’t always assured of that.  Calls to rural areas drop or never go through too often.  In fact, we know that call failure occurs at higher rates for rural consumers than it does for urban ones.

This isn’t right.  Whether you live in a big city or a small town, a call placed by a loved one, friend, or customer should go through. 

In 2013, the FCC took action to address this problem.  The number of rural call completion complaints we receive has dropped since then.  But we’re still not where we need to be.  That’s why I’m proposing new steps to make our rural call completion rules more effective and less burdensome.  In particular, I’m asking the FCC to adopt new, strong rural call completion requirements for certain telecommunications carriers.  At the same time, we want calls to rural America to remain affordable, so we’re looking at ways to reduce the burden of existing regulations, such as by eliminating some of the paperwork carriers must file with the Commission that hasn’t proven to be very useful.

4.  Helping Consumers with Disabilities

Another way the FCC protects consumers is by making sure communications services are accessible to Americans with disabilities.  At our meeting, the agency will consider rules to expand the availability of video-described programming on top-rated broadcast and non-broadcast networks.  Specifically, we’ll vote on increasing the number of hours of programming that covered broadcasters and video programmers must provide by 75%.  If we take this step, blind and visually-impaired Americans will be able to better understand and enjoy a wider range of popular programming.

5.  Other Initiatives

Our consumer protection agenda for July won’t stop there.  Harnessing the power of technology to promote innovation is another FCC priority that empowers consumers.  This is increasingly true when they’re on the road.  For instance, radars in vehicles can enable a variety of safety features such as collision avoidance.  To encourage this kind of innovation, the FCC will consider rules that would allocate a large block of high-band frequencies (76-81 GHz spectrum) for use by vehicular radars—if you will, the advanced sensors that are being placed in cars.  This spectrum, among other things, would support new short-range radar applications to enhance driver safety.

Rounding out the FCC’s July agenda is a proposal to bring our equipment authorization rules up to date, as well as a proposal to revise our rules governing wireless microphones.

After yesterday’s summer solstice, the days are getting shorter again.  But the list of items on the Commission’s July agenda remains long.  During Consumer Protection Month, we’ll extend our efforts to address the problems Americans confront in the communications marketplace and to crack down on those who prey upon the vulnerable for their own financial gain.

Heading Together Toward the Future

Friday, June 2nd, 2017

My post introducing the FCC’s infrastructure initiatives a few weeks ago mentioned Marty McFly’s misguided worries about running out of road in the 1985 film “Back to the Future.” As you might remember, Dr. Brown assured Marty that roads wouldn’t be needed in the future.

The wireless networks of the future too will look very different. Instead of just big towers that intermittently dot the landscape, the wireless networks of our future will rely on much smaller building blocks—things like “small cells” and “distributed antenna systems.” These new kinds of infrastructure take up much less space. They are generally much less noticeable. They impact the environment less. And because they operate at lower power, they will be deployed at many more locations than towers.

As we move from the networks of today to those of tomorrow, the FCC wants to work collaboratively with everyone affected—particularly Tribal partners. That’s why, later this month, I’ll hit the road to discuss this transition with Tribal Nations. Some FCC coworkers and I have been kindly invited to attend the Mid-Year Session of the National Conference of American Indians (NCAI), which is the “oldest, largest, and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization” serving Tribal interests. We’ll be participating in consultation sessions with a number of Tribes (and in addition to these NCAI sessions, dedicated FCC staff are already doing outreach to Tribes on both conference calls and visits to Indian Country).

The FCC has a long and successful history of working with Tribes on a wide range of issues affecting Indian Country. These relationships led us to create a groundbreaking system, the Tower Construction Notification System (TCNS). This is an online system that notifies federally recognized Tribes, Native Hawaiian Organizations, and State Historic Preservation Officers about proposed wireless construction projects. The TCNS is widely acknowledged by Tribal Nations, industry, and other government entities as an important, effective tool to help ensure that these projects respect historic properties of religious and cultural significance to Tribes.

The rules, protocols, and practices governing TCNS were crafted more than a decade ago, and as I mentioned earlier, advances in wireless networks are proceeding apace. It’s a challenge to match the two, but the FCC is aiming to do that in order to modernize our rules and close the digital divide. I’m excited to discuss this initiative with our Tribal partners. Going forward—just as in the past—we want to ensure that potential effects on culturally significant sites are identified and alternatives to avoid or minimize such effects are considered.

I believe that the FCC and Tribal Nations share the same goal—ensuring high-speed Internet access to anyone who wants it, while respecting and preserving sites with historic, religious, and cultural significance to Tribes. To achieve this goal, the FCC needs to and wants to exchange perspectives with Tribes on the full range of issues associated with the deployment of wireless broadband infrastructure. I’m personally committed to that.

I invite the leaders of the 567 federally-recognized Tribes and Native Hawaiian Organizations to join this important conversation. The FCC takes seriously its federal trust responsibilities and wants to have meaningful consultations. I look forward to listening, learning, and working together to sustain and improve our processes as our wireless networks go back to the future.

Supporting our Public Safety Heroes

Thursday, June 1st, 2017

You may never need them, but if you do, they’ll be there.

It’s that bedrock promise of protection that makes our public safety officials the unsung heroes that they are.  Whether it’s police officers, firefighters, first responders, or 911 dispatchers, many dedicated Americans work long hours, and often in difficult conditions, to make sure that when someone’s in need, they can help.

One of the reasons why Congress created the FCC—a reason it embedded in the very first section of the Communications Act of 1934—was “for the purpose of promoting safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications.”  At our next public meeting on June 22, the FCC will aim to meet this charge by considering three ways to help law enforcement and first responders do their jobs.  We will recognize and support these often-unsung heroes during Public Safety Month at the Commission.

I had the privilege of previewing one of these items, relating to “Blue Alerts,” at the U.S. Department of Justice a couple of weeks ago.  The Emergency Alert System (EAS) has saved countless lives by warning TV viewers or radio listeners about matters like a child who has been abducted (now-familiar “Amber Alerts”) or extreme weather.  I have proposed authorizing a new EAS code for imminent threats against law enforcement.  Blue Alerts can warn the public when there is actionable information related to a law enforcement officer who is missing, seriously injured, or killed in the line of duty, or when there is a credible, short-term threat to an officer.  If a violent suspect is in your immediate community, Blue Alerts could give you instructions on what to do.  These instructions could help you stay safe and help supply time-sensitive information to authorities if a suspect is sighted. 

If this item is approved, we’ll then seek public input on whether the EAS is the right way to deliver Blue Alerts.  We’ll also explore whether a dedicated EAS code can enable the uniform, nationwide delivery of Blue Alerts to the public.

Speaking of nationwide communications systems, the second public safety matter we’ll consider would get us closer to finally creating a nationwide, interoperable broadband network that public safety officials can use.  This initiative, which began several years ago, is known as the First Responder Network Authority, or FirstNet.  As directed by the Public Safety Spectrum Act of 2012, the FCC has already provided FirstNet a license for 20 MHz of wireless broadband spectrum.  We have already given FirstNet the basic technical requirements for the network.  And our spectrum auctions have produced billions of dollars that will be used to help fund construction of the public safety network.

Buildout of this nationwide network is now set to begin.  States have the option to “opt out” of this system and build their own public safety radio networks, but only if the FCC determines that the state’s proposed network will be interoperable with FirstNet.  At our June meeting, the FCC will vote on the procedures and standards we will use for reviewing a state’s alternative plan—that is, to ensure that these public safety networks remain interoperable.  We are committed to working with FirstNet and all state and local partners to make sure that first responders have the tools they need to communicate seamlessly with each other during emergencies.

The third public safety item responds to issues raised by a recent spike in threatening calls targeting schools and religious organizations.  The FCC’s current rules require voice providers not to reveal blocked Caller ID information or to use that information to allow the person getting a call to contact the caller.  These rules have an important purpose, but they can raise a particular public safety concern. 

Earlier this year, as you may remember, numerous Jewish Community Centers received a number of threatening phone calls.  I’m proud that the FCC swiftly issued a temporary waiver allowing JCCs to work with carriers and law enforcement to identify callers.  But this episode raised the question of whether we need to make permanent changes to our rules.  At our June meeting, the Commission will tackle that question.  Specifically, we’ll consider a proposal to change the rules to ensure that all threatened parties and associated law enforcement personnel have quick access to the information they need to identify and thwart threatening callers. 

Now, while the FCC’s June meeting will be headlined by these public safety items, that’s not all that’s on tap.

  • One of our top priorities remains promoting broadband competition and deployment. Accordingly, we will vote on an order paving the way for the company OneWeb to provide broadband services using satellite technology that holds unique promise to expand Internet access in remote and rural areas.
  • Additionally, the FCC will consider in June a Notice of Inquiry seeking public input on ways to facilitate greater competition and consumer choice for Internet service in apartment complexes, office building, and other so-called “multi-tenant environments.”
  • Consistent with our work to streamline outdated and unnecessary rules, we will consider a proposal to eliminate the annual audit and associated reporting requirement for payphone service providers. (We’re no longer living in the days of The Wire where payphone use was common.)
  • As part of our effort to modernize our rules for the digital age, we are also taking up a Declaratory Ruling that would make clear that the “annual notices” cable operators have to deliver to their subscribers via paper mail may be delivered electronically.
  • And finally, we will be voting on an item from the Commission’s Enforcement Bureau. For law enforcement reasons, we are unable to discuss it publicly before the June 22 meeting.

As we head into summer, millions of Americans will be watching their favorite heroes on the silver screen (paging Wonder Woman), the basketball court (my prediction: Golden State over Cleveland in 7), and elsewhere.  But let’s also remember those less-heralded heroes who make sacrifices every day on our behalf, especially the men and women in law enforcement who put on the uniform and put their lives on the line for us.  During Public Safety Month in June, I’m proud that the FCC will be honoring that commitment. 

Would Means-Testing Bring More Efficiencies to the High-Cost Program?

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

The American people rightfully expect that all federal programs operate as efficiently as humanly possible and are targeted to help those truly in need.  As FCC Commissioners, we have an obligation – as stewards of federal programs funded by monthly fees on American’s communications bills – to improve the functionality and effectiveness of the programs we oversee, including the Federal universal service fund (USF).  Failure to do so would waste consumers’ hard-earned income, diverting it from the intended purposes and undermining public confidence in the programs. 

While there is room for improvement in each of the USF programs, we firmly believe that it’s time to fix a fundamental structural defect within our high-cost program.  That is, we currently subsidize access to communications for people who don’t need or deserve governmental assistance.  In other words, we should end the practice of spending scarce USF high-cost support to illogically subsidize the cost of communications services for very rich people who happen to live in the more rural portions of our nation.  For example, if someone is earning one million dollars per year, why should the American ratepayer be subsidizing their telephone and broadband service?  And why are poor and middle-class Americans across the country asked to foot the phone and broadband bills of those in some of the wealthiest communities in America?  This is not about stoking a debate over societal inequalities, as we have no animosity towards successful individuals; instead, it’s about instilling some common sense in a government subsidy system where it is desperately needed.  Because of our budgetary constraints, each dollar spent subsidizing service unnecessarily is a dollar that is not being used to help bring broadband to unserved Americans, particularly those who cannot afford the full cost of service. 

The following language is meant to spark a conversation on how best to institute means-testing within USF’s high-cost program.  Given the importance of this issue, we seek public input on whether this proposal asks the right questions to enable the Commission to fully consider this issue, including the consequences of moving to a fully means-tested program and ways to minimize the administrative burdens for consumers, communications providers, and the Commission.  In any event, we hope to bring this issue before the full Commission in the very near future so as to properly engage the entire American public. 

*             *             *

Use of Means-Testing to Further Target High-Cost Universal Service Support

We seek comment on whether, and if so how, to implement means-testing within the high-cost universal service program. 

Means-testing is the concept that government subsidies should be targeted to recipients who qualify for assistance based on their lower income and asset levels.  It is commonly used in federal government programs to establish or scale eligibility for benefits, including in Medicare, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). 

In addition, the FCC’s Lifeline program uses means-testing to direct assistance to low-income consumers that might not otherwise subscribe to phone or broadband service.  Recipients qualify for discounted service based on participation in SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, and the Veterans Pension benefit program, as well as all current Tribal qualifying programs.[1]  Alternatively, consumers can qualify by demonstrating income of less than 135 percent of the federal poverty guidelines.[2]

While high-cost subsidies are not currently means-tested, the idea that they should be is not new.  A 2002 report by GAO noted that there was support for making high-cost a means-tested program.[3]  In 2006, former FCC Chief Economist Thomas Hazlett observed that while high-cost subsidies “may enable some operators to offer prices as low as those paid by urban and suburban residents for service that is much less costly to supply, the lower prices are offered to all residents, rich and poor alike.”[4]  And a 2013 paper by Thomas Hazlett and Scott Wallsten stated that “[t]he consensus among economists” is that the high-cost program is inefficient because “poor urban consumers pay significant telecommunications fees to subsidize affluent phone customers in Aspen, Colorado and Jackson Hole, Wyoming.”[5]

Since that time, the Commission has taken a number of steps to root out inefficiencies in high-cost subsides.  In particular, the Commission has begun using reverse auctions to produce more efficient funding levels, targeted support to unserved areas, established a policy of funding one provider per area, and limited funding to areas where there is no unsubsidized competitor.  Indeed, because the high-cost program is subject to an overall budget, the Commission has tried to ensure that spending is as efficient and cost-effective as possible.  Notwithstanding these reforms, high-cost funding has remained subject to criticism for having “perverse distributional effects, by subsidizing wealthy rural consumers, who are never subject to means-testing, but who can easily afford to pay the full cost of access.”[6] 

The Commission most recently sought comment on means-testing in the 2011 USF/ICC Transformation Order and FNPRM.  In particular, it sought comment on limiting Remote Areas Fund support—which, at the time, was expected to take the form of consumer vouchers—to income-eligible consumers.[7] 

We now invite comment on using means-testing more broadly within each of the high-cost programs.  What are the advantages and disadvantages of using means-testing?  Would it make the program more efficient as some commenters have suggested?  Given our limited budget, would it enable the Commission and/or providers to retarget funding to areas or consumers in greater need of support?  How can it be implemented without disruption to the current programs?  Should it apply on a going- forward basis as rules for additional parts of the high-cost program, such as the Remote Areas Fund, are adopted?  Could it eventually be implemented uniformly across all of the high-cost programs as they come up for renewal in the years to come, or would it need to be tailored to each program?  How can it be structured to be effective and with sufficient accountability while imposing the fewest costs on providers and consumers?  How should the Commission set income eligibility criteria?  How should the Commission structure means-testing in a way that is administrable for the Commission, companies, and consumers?  What data would the Commission need in order to effectively means-test the high-cost program?

We also seek comment on specific ways to implement means-testing.  For example, should the Commission require that consumers identified as having adjusted gross income (AGI) levels above a set threshold to pay the full cost of providing service to their locations?  If the Commission were to adopt this option, how should it set the income threshold?  Would it be reasonable to select an AGI of $1 million or $500,000?  How would consumers above the threshold be identified?  Should consumers above the threshold be required to notify their provider?  How can providers make consumers aware of such an obligation?  Could they do so through an annual notice to their customers?  How can the Commission ensure compliance with such requirements?

Another option is to utilize means-testing as a weighting factor in future reverse auctions or other distributions of universal service support.  We seek comment on this approach. For example, should the Commission adopt a weighting mechanism that would give preference to bids or builds that target low-income areas? What are the appropriate income cutoffs? What is the appropriate area to which a bidding weight or credit would attach? How strong of a preference should the Commission adopt for the lowest-income areas? What should the interplay be between these preferences and other weighting factors the Commission has adopted in the past?

Alternatively, an idea that was incorporated into prior legislative efforts to reform universal service would have excluded support to service for “consumers in households in high-cost areas where the Commission determines, based on publicly available information, that a service area has a substantially high percentage of households with income at or above the 95th percentile of national household income levels or develops an equivalent measurement.”[8]  What information could the Commission use to make such a determination?  How should the Commission define “substantially high percentage”?  Instead of service area, should the geographic area be a census block and, if so, how would that change the definition of “substantially high percentage”?

We seek comment on these and other ideas, including how they could be implemented in each part of the high-cost program, and the costs and benefits of doing so. 

[1] Lifeline and Link Up Reform and Modernization et al., WC Docket No. 11-42 et al., Third Report and Order, Further Report and Order, and Order on Reconsideration, 31 FCC Rcd 3962, 3964-65, para. 7 (2016) (2016 Lifeline Modernization Order).

[3] U.S. Government Accountability Office, Federal and State Universal Service Programs and Challenges to Funding, GAO-02-187, at 23 and note 35 (June 2002) (“[S]ome experts disagreed with aspects of the current High Cost Program. They felt it should be a means-tested program—that we should not subsidize everyone who chooses to live in a rural area irregardless of their ability to afford the higher cost of telephone service in such areas.”), http://www.gao.gov/assets/240/233640.pdf.

[7] Connect America Fund et al., WC Docket No. 10-90 et al., Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 26 FCC Rcd 17663, 18093, 18098-99, paras. 1225, 1249-50 (2011) (USF/ICC Transformation Order and FNPRM); aff’d sub nom., In re: FCC 11-161, 753 F.3d 1015 (10th Cir. 2014).

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.

Infrastructure Month at the FCC

Thursday, March 30th, 2017

I recently watched the 1985 classic “Back to the Future.” At the end of the movie, Marty McFly warns Dr. Emmett Brown as they prepare to head into the future, “Hey Doc, we better back up. We don’t have enough road to get up to 88.” Dr. Brown replies, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.”

It turns out that Dr. Brown was wrong; in 2017, we still need roads. But even more, what paves the way in the 21st century is high-speed Internet access, or broadband. That’s certainly what we believe here at the FCC. And that’s why our goal is to make sure that every American can get faster, cheaper, and better broadband.

Next-generation networks are hard to build. It takes a lot of money and effort to lay fiber, install wireless infrastructure, build satellite earth stations, and more. It also requires a reasonably certain business case for deployment, which is all too often hard to prove in parts of the country with sparse population and/or lower incomes.

But the benefits of doing so are tremendous. Infrastructure investment is critical to closing the digital divide in our country and bringing high-speed Internet access to more rural Americans. Broadband has also made many sectors of the economy more productive, from shipping to energy. And it’s has given birth to entirely new industries, like the mobile apps economy, telemedicine, online education, and the nascent Internet of Things.

To bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans, the FCC needs to make it easier for companies to build and expand broadband networks. We need to reduce the cost of broadband deployment, and we need to eliminate unnecessary rules that slow down or deter deployment. At next month’s Commission meeting on April 20, the FCC will be voting on a number of proposals to do just that. That’s why we are calling April “Infrastructure Month” at the FCC.

1. Wired Infrastructure. — In one set of proposals, I’m asking my colleagues to support rules that would facilitate the construction of wired networks. For example, attaching Internet-related equipment to utility poles is a major cost element for companies of all sizes. We’ll seek to both lower costs for and speed deployment of this equipment. I’m also proposing rules to allow companies to speed the retirement of legacy copper networks, some of which were installed many decades ago, and expedite the transition to newer, more resilient, higher-capacity fiber-based networks and services. After all, every dollar spent maintaining the fading networks of yesterday is a dollar that can’t be spent building the networks of tomorrow. Finally, I am teeing up questions about whether state and local regulations are stifling network deployment and whether the FCC should consider using its authority to preempt any unnecessary regulatory roadblocks.

2. Wireless Infrastructure. — Next, the Commission will focus on the wireless side of the equation. The wireless networks of the future will look very different. Instead of tall towers you can see from a mile away, there will be small cells — wireless access points you might not even see and/or could hold in your hands. With this “densification” of so-called 5G networks, we’ll need to deploy millions of small cells in order to realize the promise of multi-gigabit connectivity through millimeter-wave technology. That’s why I’m advancing proposals to make it easier for the private sector to build these “5G” networks. We’ll aim to expedite state and local approval of infrastructure deployment applications and streamline our own rules to account for these new networks. Regulations designed for big towers don’t necessarily make sense for small cells. So we need to modernize our rules to keep up with technology.

3. Business Data Services. — Speaking of modernizing our rules that affect infrastructure investment, next month we’ll also vote on new rules to update the rules for business data services (BDS), otherwise known as “special access.” BDS involves network connections used by businesses, non-profits, and government institutions to securely move large amounts of data. ATM withdrawals and credit card transactions are examples of how we rely on these services.

Twelve years ago, the Commission began to study the business data services market to see if changing market conditions warranted changes to our rules. At long last, the time for action has arrived. I’m proposing that we take a balanced approach to reforming the rules governing this marketplace. The extensive record compiled by the Commission’s excellent staff shows substantial and growing competition in many areas of the country, thanks to new market entrants like cable companies. Where this competition exists, we will relax unnecessary regulation, thereby creating greater incentives for the private sector to invest in next-generation networks. But where competition is still lacking, we’ll preserve regulations necessary to prevent anti-competitive price increases.

4. Facilitating Rural Deployment. — As I mentioned earlier, there are some parts of this country, primarily rural America, where the business case for broadband deployment is very difficult, and the private sector lacks the economic incentives to build out next-generation networks no matter how many regulatory barriers the Commission removes. For those areas that are the most expensive to serve, the Commission provides direct support to companies through the Universal Service Fund (USF). The USF’s high-cost program subsidizes broadband deployment for small carriers. I am proposing that we tweak one of the rules for that program to make sure that some rural households that could be served by these carriers are not left stranded without broadband service.

While infrastructure will be the focus of the Commission’s April meeting, it won’t be the only subject we’re addressing. If we’re majoring in infrastructure next month, you could say that we’re minoring in media, with three items on the agenda.

5. Easing Burdens on Noncommercial Stations. — Recently, the FCC adopted a rule requiring officers and members of boards of directors of noncommercial educational (NCE) broadcaster stations to provide personal information to the FCC. However, public television and radio stations have complained that this rule is discouraging volunteers from serving in these positions. In my view, we should be thanking people who want to serve their community in this way, not imposing unnecessary regulatory burdens upon them. So next month, we’ll be voting to eliminate this rule.

6. Allowing Broadcasters to Raise Funds for Charity. — We will also consider giving NCE broadcasters more flexibility to raise money for disaster relief groups, charities, and other non-profit organizations. In the past, the FCC has granted waivers to allow NCE television and radio stations to solicit donations for causes such as Hurricane Katrina and Haitian earthquake relief. I believe that we should make it easier for stations to engage in this type of activity so long as it doesn’t compromise their non-commercial nature. That’s why I’m proposing that stations be allowed to devote no more than 1% of their total annual airtime to fundraising for non-profit organizations. Moreover, because certain stations have indicated that they have no interest in engaging in such activity, this rule change would not apply to stations funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

7. UHF Discount. — Finally, we’ll consider whether to restore the so-called Ultra-High Frequency, or UHF discount, which is related to the Commission’s national television ownership cap. Last September, the FCC voted to eliminate the discount on a party-line vote. That decision has been challenged in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In my view, the FCC is likely to lose that litigation because it went about eliminating the UHF discount in the wrong way. So I’m proposing that we hit the reset button, returning the rule to the way it was up until last fall. And then we’ll launch a comprehensive review of the national ownership cap, including the UHF discount, later this year.

* * *

Keeping with recent trends, the FCC’s April meeting will be a busy one. But it’ll be an important one — Infrastructure Month will present several chances for the FCC to promote deployment and benefit consumers across America. Infrastructure might not be as flashy as a flux capacitor, but it’ll be a 1.21 gigawatt jolt for the digital economy.

Improved Staff Openness & New Priorities

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

One of the hallmarks of any successful organization is open, effective internal communication.  The FCC is no different, and the sharing of such information is critical in the decision-making process, whether it be simple facts and data points or more complicated analysis and expert opinion.  So in my past interactions with the wonderful professional staff during the prior Commission, it was disappointing to find that reticence sometimes seemed to be the order of the day, rather than a free-flowing exchange.  I have always strived to maintain open lines of communication throughout the agency, through regular meetings with the leadership of Bureaus and Offices, but in too many conversations, some of the most knowledgeable people in the building seemed to be under direction not to share certain information or answer certain questions.  Sometimes I would get a wry smile, other times it was a blank stare, and occasionally there was a more honest response that the information wouldn’t be forthcoming.  Frustrating indeed.

I certainly respect the need to prevent the release of sensitive information and prevent staff from wasting their time on endless requests.  At the same time, there is a difference between asking staff to share data points needed to make a decision and seeking internal deliberative work that could undermine the Chairman’s agenda, which is certainly a much smaller universe.  Commissioners can be informed if a project request is too time-consuming or staff intensive to see if modifications can be accommodated.

So, one of Chairman Pai’s most welcomed, yet least noted, process reforms has been his unequivocal direction that staff should be completely up front with all Commissioners, not just the Chairman.  The message from the Chairman was that all staff will not withhold information requested by Commissioners or fail to share information that is pertinent to the many matters before us.  This should be very liberating for staff as they don’t have to worry about being sent to the proverbial doghouse for helping Commissioners do their jobs.

While in some ways it might be easier for me as a member of the new majority to get my questions answered, I recognize that it places minority Commissioners in a terrible position, and I believe no one should ever be put in that position again.  Add this one to the list of reforms for which Chairman Pai should be congratulated.  It is also one that needs to be memorialized in a complete update of the Commission’s internal rulebook so the next Commission follows the same improvements.

New Priorities and Workload

At a time when Commission leadership has changed and is reconsidering and reconstructing its approach to many issues across the agency, there needs to be a realization from everyone that those priorities of the past Commission – not directly required by statute – should not necessarily be the focus of staff time.  With resources at such a relative premium, staff attention shouldn’t be spent pursuing outdated goals.  This concept should apply not only to our policy bureaus but the enforcement shop as well.  And it’s more than just deleting Brutus Buckeye from our memory banks.  For instance, it wouldn’t make sense to have staff still focus their valuable time on those cybersecurity and privacy issues over which the Commission lacks statutory authority.  Moreover, our enforcement staff should move away from headline grabbing and eye popping penalties that will never be collected.  Let’s refocus our attention on our statutory responsibilities and realize a new Chairman gets to set the Commission’s agenda.

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It is my hope that Commissioners and staff alike will embrace the new spirit of openness and take the step of getting on the same page.  This has the best chance of producing lasting and positive changes for Americans.     

On the Road in the Industrial Midwest

Monday, March 20th, 2017

Famed American writer Jack Kerouac’s masterpiece “On the Road” was published six decades ago this year. In the book, Kerouac conveyed a sense of the energy the main characters found away from home. As narrator Sal Paradise puts it, “all I wanted to do was . . . go and find out what everybody was doing all over the country.”

Inspired a bit by Kerouac, I hit the road last week. I visited Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Detroit. Some might not think of these as glamorous travel destinations — but that’s precisely why I went.

This proud region of the United States built our country. Our bridges were built with their steel and sweat. Our wars were won with their sons and daughters. Yet too many in these communities feel left behind. They are worried about the future. They are concerned that the good jobs that made these cities prosperous manufacturing hubs or steel towns in the 20th century are not coming back.

Many had written off these former industrial powerhouses as early as the 1970s. Some still don’t think of them as much more than fading tributes to the Rust Belt’s legacy. But I had a feeling there was a lot I could learn there — and I was right.

There’s a sense of hope in the places I visited, a sense driven by a determination to adjust to the changing economy and to pursue the opportunities presented by the digital age.

I started off my trip at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, where I gave my first major policy address since becoming Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. The gist of it was this: I believe that every American who wants to participate in our digital economy should be able to do so. Broadband Internet access shouldn’t depend on who you are or where you’re from. I also believe in the power of Internet-based technologies to create jobs, grow our economy, and improve people’s lives in countless ways. High-speed Internet access, or broadband, is giving entrepreneurs anywhere an unprecedented chance to disrupt entire industries and transform our country.

That’s why my primary focus at the FCC is ensuring that we use every tool in the toolbox to boost broadband deployment throughout our country. I know that consumers everywhere want better, faster, and cheaper broadband. And I know that there’s no limit to what Americans can achieve — from Detroit, Michigan to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Reno, Nevada — if they’re given the opportunity to take advantage of these next-generation networks.

I had a chance to see these principles in action during my trip through the Industrial Midwest. I heard firsthand about the promise and perils of broadband deployment; about the entrepreneurship that was sprouting up along the way; and about the established companies that are creating jobs and innovating in these cities.

(Oh, and I randomly ran into Calvin Johnson, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver, future Hall of Famer, and aptly-named Megatron.)

1. Broadband Deployment

With respect to broadband deployment, I saw how companies are building — or at least trying to build — next-generation networks. For instance, in Detroit, I visited competitive upstart Rocket Fiber. The company’s executive team started things off with a discussion about regulatory roadblocks. They had to get signoffs from multiple city agencies, none of which seemed to think that time was of the essence. And they had to get access to a large number of poles at a reasonable cost, which wasn’t easy; the city at first sought a very high price for pole access (using as a benchmark the high rate charged to another broadband provider for access to just three poles). Fortunately, Rocket Fiber did manage to have conduit installed while the city was building the QLine streetcar; this is a big aid to deployment, which illustrates why I’ve called for “dig once” to be part of our national transportation policy.

The challenge of deployment isn’t limited to urban areas. I drove to a very small town outside Pittsburgh to check out a rural cable headend owned by Armstrong, a family-owned and -operated business. The rows of servers and power supplies and other equipment were humming along smoothly, providing service to thousands of customers in Pennsylvania and neighboring states. But what really impressed me was a series of maps which detailed Armstrong’s service territory along with population density, average income, and more. Armstrong is offering 100 Mbps or greater Internet access service to customers in areas with relatively few people per square mile and with less than the national median income (each of which tends to limit returns on infrastructure investment). But thanks to initiatives like the FCC’s recent decision to devote $170 million to increase deployment in upstate New York — the first vote under my Chairmanship — they’re going to lay more fiber and connect more potential customers.

2. Entrepreneurs are Thriving

As I said at Carnegie Mellon, “High-speed Internet access, or broadband, is giving rise to what I have called the democratization of entrepreneurship. With a powerful plan and a digital connection, you can raise capital, start a business, immediately reach a worldwide customer base, and disrupt an entire industry.” More and more innovators in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Detroit are proving how true this is.

For instance, in Pittsburgh, I had the privilege of meeting Priya Narasimhan, a Carnegie Mellon professor. Several years ago, she was at a Pittsburgh Penguins game. Being somewhat shorter of stature, she couldn’t see the action on the ice. And she wondered why, with all the smartphones out there, she couldn’t access information easily on her mobile device. So she founded YinzCam. Among other things, the company creates apps for sports teams and sporting venues and sets up beacons that allow highly-localized information to be distributed to fans. Their clients now include many National Football League, National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association, and National Hockey League teams — including, yes, her beloved Penguins. (And on a personal note, it was gratifying to me as an Indian-American to hear her story: her family came to America via India and Zambia, and she is a great role model for Indian-Americans and women in STEM fields.)

I also had the chance to meet with the team at Duolingo, a Pittsburgh startup. Duolingo created a mobile app that allows people to learn new languages for free. It now has something like 80 million users around the world (about 20% of whom are in the United States). It was fascinating to learn about how they are developing revenue streams, how they essentially crowdsource lesson plans for new language courses, how they are trying to enter foreign markets, and how mobile connectivity is critical for the company and users alike.

But it wasn’t just Pittsburgh. One of my favorite events took place in Youngstown, where I had the honor of being hosted by the top-ranked Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI). YBI’s Jim Cossler, an entrepreneurial force of nature and a champion of northeastern Ohio’s potential, led a roundtable with innovative area startups and me. So many fascinating stories! There was Hudson Fasteners, a family-owned company going back to 1946. It once sold things like nuts, bolts, and screws in a bricks-and-mortar store and kept inventory on notecards until the 1990s. Today, third-generation owners Lisa Kleinhandler and Cris Young have created an online sales platform that they say “put[s] the FAST in fasteners.” There was Enyx Studios, a virtual reality gaming company that kindly allowed yours truly to demonstrate his (virtual, anyway) incompetence during a demo. There was FoodECrave, a company that specializes in delivering perishable foods, especially meats, to small businesses and gourmands. There was MedaSync, a health care startup which created software that combines clinical and cost data to secure better outcomes for nursing home patients. And there was Ving!, founded by serial entrepreneur and Youngstown native Tony DeAscentis. Way back when, Tony left the area for tech jobs in big cities faraway. But now he’s back, and with Ving!, he’s aiming to help companies and individuals share more easily, and better understand third-party engagement with, their digital information. Later on at YBI, I spent time at America Makes, a national accelerator for additive manufacturing and 3D printing.

In short, there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm in that room, not least from me (and I’m not just saying that because my in-laws, who live near Youngstown, were in attendance!).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Motor City, too, is motoring thanks to startups. There are a lot of smart, dedicated entrepreneurs helping to build a better Detroit as they build new businesses. Workit Health’s Lisa McLaughlin is taking addiction treatment mobile with an online platform that is private and personalized. Lunar’s Hunter Rosenblume has started a wireless company that provides talk, text, and data services without monthly fees. And CityInsight’s Abess Makki aims to connect municipal governments with constituents through mobile technology, starting with an app that enables residents to track water usage in real time and manage billing.

These entrepreneurs are helping the so-called Rust Belt shake off the rust. They exemplify the spirit of Kerouac’s lead character, who said “we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” And they illustrate the importance of high-speed Internet access anywhere — with broadband, they can grow and thrive in soil once considered hostile to tech-based entrepreneurship.

3. Established Entities are Innovating, Too.

One of the other insights I drew from the upper Midwest is that established entities, too, are innovating. For instance, I’ve long believed that better broadband access could dramatically improve health care accessibility and outcomes. While in Ohio, I witnessed that for myself. At the Cleveland Clinic, a group focused on clinical transformation told and showed me how it is developing telemedicine in innovative ways. It’s using the Internet to connect health care providers with patients at locations as far away as Florida. It’s set up a mobile stroke unit, cutting by an average of 38 minutes the time needed to assess and stabilize a stroke patient (precious minutes, indeed: such patients lose approximately 2 million brain cells each minute they’re untreated).

And it’s established a mobile platform on which patients can easily see which providers are available, schedule impromptu or later appointments, and even send pictures of problem areas, like a skin lesion. (Notably, I was told that the typical user of this service is a mother of two in her 30s; that made me think of all the time and money she would save by not having to take time off work, find alternative child care arrangements, drive to the Clinic, and the like.)

The Cleveland Clinic was an appropriate setting for the announcement that under my Chairmanship, the FCC will continue our work on our Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, the purpose of which is to “explor[e] the intersection of broadband, advanced technology and health and further charting the broadband future of health care.” I look forward to further collaboration with my colleague Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who is leading our efforts on this important issue.

Later in the trip, I visited General Motors, one of the country’s best-known automakers. I learned about the team’s efforts to develop safety-related technologies to cut down on crashes. And I was impressed by the OnStar team’s discussion of how over the past twenty-plus years, the service had morphed from a curious feature to a sometimes life-saving connection. I could see on a massive dashboard how OnStar users everywhere were pinging the service. That brought home to me the unintended, serendipitous consequences of technology: the OnStar team probably never dreamed in the 1990s that their technology would be used by an American driver to help get information on delivering a child in a GM, or by a Chinese driver to propose to his then-girlfriend, but that’s how it turned out.

Finally, and consistent with the theme of major technology companies setting up shop in Pittsburgh, I visited Amazon. Amazon recently opened an office in a revitalized neighborhood in Pittsburgh. I had the opportunity to meet with core members of the team working on “machine translation” — essentially, allowing speech recognition technologies like Alexa operate better. It was interesting to hear how they try to teach Alexa to factor in strong accents or focus on a particular voice. These aren’t easy problems to solve, but the Amazon team is hard at work solving them — and they’re doing it in what was once a run-down part of the Steel City.

* * *

Sal memorably conveys his sense of optimism in “On the Road” when he says “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” That’s how many people seemed to feel in Pittsburgh, Youngstown, Cleveland, and Detroit, and that’s how I feel too. Spending last week there has made me more hopeful about our nation’s future and the potential for high-speed Internet connectivity to help revitalize parts of our country facing economic challenges. And it’s renewed my determination to pursue policies that will promote broadband deployment. We must bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans, not just those living on the coasts. I look forward to continuing that work, both back here at the FCC and the next time I’m on the road.