A Preview of the FCC's July Open Meeting: Taking the "E" Out of EBS and TV

Benton Foundation

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Weekly Digest

A Preview of the FCC's July Open Meeting: Taking the "E" Out of EBS and TV

You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail (usually) each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of June 17-20, 2019

Robbie McBeath

Perhaps the biggest news of the week was the agenda for the Federal Communications Commission's July 10 Open Meeting, which FCC Chairman Ajit Pai laid out in a blog post on June 18, 2019. I'm traveling to New York this week; below is a shorter-than-usual weekly that takes a look at how Chairman Pai plans to take education out of the Educational Broadband Service -- and broadcast television.

The FreeWheelin' Robbie
Artist Rendering:
Robbie and His Dog (Penny) in NYC

1) Transforming the 2.5 GHz Band for 5G: Chairman Pai circulated an order to open up the 2.5 GHz band for 5G. This mid-band spectrum is currently reserved for Educational Broadband Services (EBS), but for a variety of reasons, "much of this public resource has been unused for decades," Pai said. The order will give incumbents more flexibility for use and for additional entities to access the spectrum. The order eliminates eligibility, use requirements and leasing restrictions on the band, creates a local priority filing window for tribal nations for early access to unfettered spectrum before any commercial entity gets access, and would establish a competitive bidding window and auction for commercial entities, with aggressive buildout requirements. 

Readers in this space know that Benton has published a series of op-eds to offer various perspectives on how best to modernize EBS. Please revisit the following:

On June 19, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition said the FCC's decision will be disastrous for students, 5G and rural America.

2) Procedures for 5G Incentive Auction: The FCC will finalize the procedures, terms, and conditions for an auction of the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz, and 47 GHz bands. Each of the bands available will be licensed on an unpaired basis in 100-megahertz channel blocks, and the winning bidder may provide any services permitted under a fixed or mobile allocation. This will be an incentive auction.

3) Promoting Access to Connected Care Services: FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr will be leading the FCC's efforts to advance a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program within the Universal Service Fund. Commissioner Carr announced that the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeks comment on:

  • Budgeting for $100 million in USF support for health care providers to defray the qualifying costs of connected care services for low-income patients, including people in medically underserved areas and veterans.
  • Targeting support for innovative pilot projects to respond to a variety of health challenges, including diabetes management, opioid dependency, high-risk pregnancies, pediatric heart disease, and cancer.
  • Providing an 85% discount on qualifying services for a three-year period with controls in place to measure and verify the benefits, costs, and savings associated with connected care technologies.
  • Collecting relevant data to enable stakeholders to better understand the impact of telehealth and consider broader reforms that can support the trend toward connected care.

4) Improving Competitive Broadband Access to Multiple Tenant Environments: The FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Declaratory Ruling to enable the millions of Americans who live and work in “multiple tenant environments" (MTEs) to have greater choice when it comes to broadband. The FCC will seek public input on actions it could take to accelerate the deployment of next-generation networks and services within MTEs. And the FCC will clarify that it welcomes state and local efforts to promote access to and competition in MTEs, so long as those efforts are consistent with federal policy. The FCC plans to preempt a San Francisco ordinance that requires the sharing of in-use wiring in MTEs, a policy which FCC Chairman Pai says deters broadband deployment.

5) Removing Unnecessary Regulation of Transport Services and Facilities: The FCC will eliminate pricing regulation of a subset of lower-speed “business data services” — middle-mile services known as “transport” services — offered by price-cap incumbent carriers. The order will give price cap carriers partial forbearance relief after a reasonable transition period from requirements that they provide legacy transport — known as “DS1 and DS3 transport” — to their competitors on an unbundled basis at regulated rates. The FCC will grant this relief only where there is actual or potential competition that ensures reasonable prices.

6) Modernizing Children’s Television Programming Rules: After enactment of the Children's Television Act, the FCC in 1991 first adopted rules requiring broadcasters to air programming specifically designed to serve the educational and informational needs of children. The FCC will vote on an NPRM that concludes that the media marketplace for children has undergone vast changes in the past twenty-plus years, and that there has been a "large increase in children's educational and information programming available from non-broadcast sources." The NPRM modifies many of the requirements placed on broadcasters and gives them greater flexibility in serving the information needs of children. FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly has been an advocate for revising the rules. He said:

It’s been a long and arduous process to get to this point, and I have spent many hours working with interested parties to find an acceptable outcome. To those concerned about kids losing access to existing programming, the item provides modest reforms. At the same time, we rightfully inject thoughtful and needed flexibility to allow America’s broadcasters to respond to the modern media marketplace. While there may a strong case for even further reforms, this item reflects sound and defensible policymaking.

When Commissioner O'Rielly first suggested reconsideration of the rules in January 2018, Benton's Adrianne Furniss said:

Then they came for the children. In the past year, the Federal Communications Commission has been dismantling its Congressionally-mandated role to protect the public interest. The Republican majority’s regulatory “weed wacker” has knocked down online privacy, net neutrality, and other consumer protections. Now Commissioner O’Rielly proposes to eliminate one of television broadcasters’ last public interest obligations – a commitment to serve children with some programming that is primarily educational instead of commercial.

Commissioner O’Rielly’s proposal should be dead on arrival. It is unthinkable that the FCC would turn its back on children – and the law.

7) Electronic Delivery of Carriage Election Notices: The FCC will eliminate a requirement that commercial TV broadcasters send their triennial must-carry/retransmission consent elections via certified mail to each provider, but instead would upload their elections into their public files every three years and notify video providers by e-mail of any change.

8) Electronic Delivery of Notices to Broadcast Television Stations: Finally, Chairman Pai is proposing that the FCC require cable and satellite TV providers to notify, by e-mail, local broadcast television stations when they take certain actions that would affect broadcasters.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

June 24 -- Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (FCC)

June 24-28 -- Midwest Rural Tour (FCC)

June 27 -- PrivacyCon 2019 (FTC)

July 2 -- Lifeline Program Consumer Support Training (FCC)

July 10 -- FCC Open Commission Meeting

Benton, a non-profit, operating foundation, believes that communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. Our goal is to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Foundation
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org

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By Robbie McBeath.