Federal Communications Commission

FCC To Hold Open Commission Meeting July 11, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission will hold an open meeting on July 11, 2014. The FCC will consider:

  • A Report and Order to modernize the E-Rate program and expand support for Wi-Fi connectivity for schools and libraries. The R&O seeks to close the Wi-Fi gap, make E-Rate dollars go farther, and deliver faster, simpler and more efficient applications and other processes;
  • A Report and Order establishing a budget and a methodology for selecting winning applications for the Connect America rural broadband experiments adopted by the Commission in the January Tech Transitions Order; and
  • A Second Order on Reconsideration and a Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that revisits the Commission’s determinations regarding the captioning of video clips when delivered using Internet protocol, ensuring that individuals with hearing disabilities are able to enjoy the full benefits of broadband technology.

The Commission is waiving the sunshine period prohibition until 11:59 pm on July 7, 2014, permitting presentations with respect to the aforementioned items until that time.

FCC Investigates Cramming Complaints Against T-Mobile

The Federal Communications Commission announced that it is investigating complaints that T-Mobile billed its customers for millions of dollars in unauthorized third-party subscriptions and premium text messaging services.

The FCC has coordinated its investigation with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which filed a lawsuit against T-Mobile concerning the company’s placement of unauthorized charges on customer’s mobile phone bills -- a practice known as “cramming.”

“Consumers should not be charged for services that they did not order,” said Travis LeBlanc, Acting Chief the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau. “We will coordinate our investigation with the FTC, and use our independent enforcement authority to ensure a thorough, swift, and just resolution of the numerous complaints against T-Mobile.”

Numerous T-Mobile subscribers have filed complaints with the FCC and the FTC alleging that unauthorized charges for unwanted third-party services were added to their T-Mobile wireless telephone bills. The unwanted charges included billing for ringtones, wallpapers, and text message subscriptions to services providing horoscopes, flirting tips, and celebrity gossip.

FCC Releases Report Showing State-By-State Impacts Of E-Rate Proposal To Close Wi-Fi Gap In Schools And Libraries

The Federal Communications Commission released a report of the potential impact of a pending proposal to modernize the federal E-Rate program to meet a pressing demand by the nation’s schools and libraries: robust connectivity to the Internet through Wi-Fi networks.

Three out of five schools in America lack the wireless high-speed Internet -- or Wi-Fi -- to carry data at today’s broadband speeds. The report provides a state-by-state breakdown of the estimated number of additional students, schools and libraries that would gain E-rate funding needed for Wi-Fi upgrades over the next five years under the proposal by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Nationwide, the proposal would increase funding for Wi-Fi 75 percent for rural schools and 60 percent for urban schools, allowing an additional 44 million students and 16,000 libraries to have access to Wi-Fi services by 2019, all within existing program funding. “Technology has changed.

The needs of schools and libraries have changed. The E-Rate program must reflect these changes.” said Chairman Wheeler. “Modernizing E-Rate to expand Wi-Fi connectivity in schools and libraries will empower students and library patrons to use the latest education technology to access new learning opportunities and infinite worlds of information.”

Wi-Fi is the most cost-effective way to connect to the Internet at today’s speeds for individualized online learning. Despite this incredible Wi-Fi connectivity gap, the E-rate program was unable to support any Wi-Fi in 2014. When funds have been available for Wi-Fi in prior years, they have only reached about 5% of schools and 1% of libraries. The proposal will help close the Wi-Fi gap by maximizing existing funds, and ensuring funding is available to the vast majority of schools and libraries, not just a few.

Answers to Common Questions about the E-Rate Modernization Proposal to Get Wi-Fi in ALL Schools and Libraries

Closing the Wi-Fi Gap by connecting all schools and libraries is a laudable goal, but how do the numbers add up over a five-year period? We are on track to free $2 billion in reserves that we are prepared to spend over the next two funding years.

Funds for the following three years would come from two significant changes. First, we would phase down support for non-broadband services, like pagers, email and, over a multi-year period, voice service. Those funds -- nearly $1.2 billion in the E-rate program -- would be repurposed to support Wi-Fi. Second, we would achieve significant cost savings in the program within the new “category two” Wi-Fi bucket (see recent announcement with GSA for example), and for the priority one (proposed to be called “category one”) services we continue to fund through improved pricing transparency and facilitating increased use of consortia-enabled bulk purchasing.

Is anything being done to address non-Wi-Fi connectivity needs in the Chairman’s proposal? Yes. In addition to closing the Wi-Fi gap, the proposal would make E-rate rules fairer so funding for internal connections is available to the vast majority of schools and libraries, rather than just a few. In addition, the proposal would streamline the program and institute reforms to ensure current funds are maximized.

What will this plan mean for rural schools and libraries? The Chairman’s modernization proposal, if adopted, would significantly expand access to Wi-Fi funding in rural areas. The proposal would close the Wi-Fi gap that currently exists in the program -- a change that would enable at least an additional 6 million children, disproportionately in rural areas, to access Wi-Fi and the 21st Century educational tools it enables during the 2015 funding year alone.

What will the effect of this plan be on urban districts? Urban schools will benefit significantly under the Chairman’s proposal.
Does the proposal make E-Rate funding more equitable? Yes. The Chairman’s proposal maintains the basic structure of the E-rate program -- discounts on the services each applicant actually needs, based on their circumstances. The difference is it would require a common sense budget for Wi-Fi spending, which would keep a few big spenders at the front of the line from using all the funding.

[Sohn is Special Counsel for FCC External Affairs, Office of the Chairman; Halley is Associate Chief, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau]

New Opportunities in New Mexico’s Indian Country

The Pueblo of Acoma is located in Cibola County (NM), where nearly half of residents (45%) don’t even have access to 3 Mbps broadband, which is less than what’s recommended to stream HD video without problems. Barely 10 % have access to 10 Mbps broadband. We must do better.

In communities like Acoma with low broadband access rates, the local library is often a digital lifeline for area residents. The Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program has supported basic Internet access for the Acoma Learning Center. But it could be doing more.

That’s why E-Rate modernization is so important. The Commission will consider a proposal to update and improve the program, making E-Rate dollars go farther, and streamlining the program to make it faster, simpler, and more efficient.

The proposal would also close the gap for Wi-Fi support that currently exists in the program -- a change that would enable an additional 6 million children, disproportionately in rural areas, to access Wi-Fi and the 21st Century educational tools it enables during the 2015 funding year.

One of the key benefits of the E-rate order under consideration is that it will significantly expand access to Wi-Fi funding available for rural areas like Cibola County. Historically urban areas have received nearly 60% of internal connections support despite serving under 30% of all students, while rural applicants are crowded out. With improved rules, over the next 5 years Wi-Fi funding for rural schools would be increased by 75 %. Urban schools will also do better, seeing an increase in support of 60%.

Our E-Rate modernization proposal also commits to enhance the Commission’s Tribal consultation, training, and outreach to better inform and empower Tribal schools to effectively access E-rate funding. Through this effort we seek to gain a better understanding of the current state of connectivity among Tribal schools and libraries to enable the Commission to take steps that will reduce the digital divide and promote high-speed broadband connectivity to Tribal lands.

FCC Commences Connect America Phase II Challenge Process

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau announces the commencement of the Connect America Phase II challenge process for price cap territories.

The Bureau also provides resources to assist parties in making challenges.

The Bureau encourages providers, state commissions, local governments, and any other interested parties to participate in the challenge process. The Bureau has released a list of census blocks that have been deemed initially eligible for Phase II support.

This list consists of census blocks that are: (1) shown as unserved by an unsubsidized competitor; (2) “high cost” according to the adopted Connect America Cost Model, which means that the census block has a calculated average cost per location above $52.50 and below $207.81; and (3) located in price cap territories.

Parties have until August 14, 2014, 45 days from the release of this Public Notice, to file before the FCC a challenge to the inclusion or exclusion of particular census blocks on the list. Challenges may only be based on the first criterion: whether the block is served by an unsubsidized competitor. Challengers may argue either that census blocks served by an unsubsidized competitor were improperly included on the list, or that census blocks unserved by an unsubsidized competitor that are otherwise eligible were improperly excluded from the list.

At the end of the 45-day challenge period, the Bureau will review the challenges received, then issue a public notice indicating which challenges have provided sufficient evidence to make a case that the Bureau’s initial determination regarding the status of a census block should be changed from served to unserved or vice versa.

After the close of the response period, the Bureau will make its final determination as to whether the challenged census blocks will be treated as served or unserved by an unsubsidized competitor for the purposes of Phase II and will issue the final list of census blocks eligible. That final list will be used for making an offer of Phase II model-based support to price cap carriers.

FCC Announces Posting Of Broadband Data From Urban Rate Survey And Seeks Comment On Calculation Of Reasonable Comparability Benchmark For Broadband Services

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau proposes a specific methodology for calculating the reasonable comparability benchmark for fixed broadband services.

In the USF/ICC Transformation Order, the Commission required that as a condition of receiving Connect America Fund support, recipients must offer voice and broadband services in supported areas at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates for similar services in urban areas.

The methodology proposed here would result in a broadband benchmark that ranges from $68.48 to $71.84 for services meeting the current broadband performance standard of 4 Mbps downstream/1 Mbps upstream, with the specific benchmark depending on the associated usage allowance. The Bureau also announces the posting of the fixed broadband services data collected in the 2013 urban rate survey.

The first approach calculates the average using a subsample of observations based solely on download speed, without regard to usage or upstream speeds.

The second approach calculates the average by identifying the subset of observations that meet or exceed a minimum service level, and then for each provider that is captured in that sub-sample, computing the average based on the lowest rate offered by that provider that meets or exceeds the specified service level.

The third approach uses a simple weighted linear regression model that takes into account the impact of three dimensions of service on rates: upload speed, download speed, and usage allowance, if any.

We seek comment on survey proposals applying the aforementioned approaches.

FCC Seeks Comment On Termination of Certain Proceedings as Dormant

The Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) seeks comment on whether certain docketed FCC proceedings should be terminated as dormant.

The Commission has revised portions of its practice and procedural rules and its organizational rules to increase the efficiency of Commission decision-making, modernize the agency’s processes in the digital age and enhance the openness and transparency of Commission proceedings for practitioners and the public.

The revised rules delegate authority to the Chief, CGB to periodically review all open dockets and, in consultation with the responsible Bureaus or Offices, to identify those dockets that appear to be candidates for termination.

FCC Sends Congress Report on Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010

In accordance with the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 (CVAA), this Report addresses the status, benefits, and costs of video description in television programming and IP-delivered programming, as informed by consumer and industry experiences since the video description rules became effective, and presents the following findings:

  • Video description provides significant benefits to individuals who are blind or visually impaired by making key visual components of video programming accessible to them, which allows them greater independence and the ability to follow and understand television programs.
  • Industry commenters report that they are working diligently to comply with the video description requirements for television programming, yet consumers who are blind or visually impaired perceive there to be a minimal amount of video-described programming available to them.
  • Overwhelmingly, consumers who are blind or visually impaired desire an increased amount of video description in television programming.
  • We believe that some of the concerns about the availability of program content with video description will be alleviated in the coming years. The obligation to provide 50 hours of video description expands to additional television markets in July 2015, which will lead to increased video description availability for a greater number of consumers. In addition, rules adopted in the Commission’s emergency information proceeding will result in more video programming providers and distributors having the technical capability to provide and pass through a secondary audio stream, which is used for both video description and aural emergency information. Further, if the Commission determines that the need for and benefits of providing video description for television programming outweigh the technical and economic costs, the Commission has authority two years after the completion of this Report to increase the 50 hours per quarter requirement by up to 75 percent (i.e., up to 87.5 hours per quarter, or roughly 7 hours per week).
  • Consumers identify concerns regarding the availability of information about which television programs are video-described. In this Report, we encourage industry to coordinate with program guide developers to ensure that consumers are provided with current and accurate information about video-described programming and to promote the availability of websites and other outlets that provide such information.
  • Consumers express frustration with the quality of customer support service for video description. In this Report, we urge covered entities to provide proper training and dedicated support so that their customer service representatives are able to answer consumer questions about accessing video description on the secondary audio stream.
  • Consumers also identify technical problems with accessing video description services on consumer electronics equipment. The Commission recently adopted rules requiring the accessibility of user interfaces on digital apparatus and navigation devices used to view video programming to enable individuals with disabilities to access such programming more easily, which will go into effect in 2016. In the interim, we expect that MVPDs and manufacturers of digital apparatus and navigation devices will train their customer service representatives to assist consumers in accessing the secondary audio stream.
  • The record reveals no significant issues with regard to the technical or creative aspects of creating, distributing, or viewing video description since the adoption of the rules, but we encourage industry to coordinate with consumer groups to address any technical and creative issues that may arise in the future.
  • The costs of video description are consistent with the expectations of industry at the time of rule adoption, and covered entities do not indicate that the costs of video description have impeded their ability to comply with the video description rules.
  • Video description for IP-delivered programming would provide significant benefits by making key visual components of such programming accessible to individuals with visual disabilities, which allows them greater independence and ability to follow and understand television programs.
  • Industry commenters argue that there are currently technical challenges to imposing video description requirements in the context of IP-delivered programming. However, the comments of consumer group National Federation of the Blind (“NFB”), as well as recent comments in the emergency information proceeding, reflect that some technologies have already been developed that could support a secondary audio stream for IP-delivered programming.
  • Given the lack of detailed comment on this issue, we are currently without sufficient information to assess accurately the costs for video programming providers, distributors, and owners to provide video description in IP-delivered programming.
  • Given the rapid growth in the number of Americans who consume video programming online and the benefits of video description for individuals who are blind or visually impaired, we will continue to monitor developments on this front, and we hope that industry will take the initiative to develop standards and work toward providing video description of IP-delivered programming.

Report On Ownership Of Commercial Broadcast Stations

The Federal Communications Commission biennial commercial broadcast ownership report, FCC Form 323, is designed to obtain comprehensive data on racial and ethnic minority and female broadcast ownership -- statistically valid broadcast ownership information data that can be compiled and aggregated and used as a source for further analysis.

The Commission requires full power commercial television and radio broadcast stations and low power and Class A television stations, including any of these stations owned by sole proprietorships and partnerships of natural persons, to file a biennial ownership report using the same “as of” date (October 1) for reported data during each filing cycle.

This report presents the results of the third data collection and reflecting attributable ownership interests as of October 1, 2013. These data represent three snapshots of broadcast ownership in a series of planned biennial data collections that, taken together, should provide a reliable basis for analyzing ownership trends in the industry, including ownership by racial and ethnic minorities and women.

Current Broadcast Ownership by Gender, Ethnicity, and Race.
The following summary uses only data from the 2013 FCC Form 323 biennial reports and thus represents information current as of October 1, 2013 (the most current biennial information available).

Broadcast ownership and gender.

  • Women collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 997 broadcast stations, comprised of 87 full power commercial television stations (6.3 percent) of 1,386 stations; 217 low power television stations, including Class A stations(13.1 percent) of 1,651 stations; 310 commercial AM radio stations (8.3 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 383 commercial FM radio stations (6.7 percent) of 5,714 stations.
  • Men collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 9,214 broadcast stations, comprised of 1,005 full power commercial television stations (72.5 percent) of 1,386 stations; 1,246 low power television stations, including Class A stations (75.5 percent) of 1,651 stations; 2,737 commercial AM radio stations (73.2 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 4,226 commercial FM radio stations (74.0 percent) of 5,714 stations.

Broadcast ownership and ethnicity.

  • Hispanic/Latino persons collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 571 broadcast stations, comprised of 42 full power commercial television stations (3.0 percent) of 1,386 stations; 155 low power television stations, including Class A stations (9.4 percent) of 1,651 stations; 194 commercial AM radio stations (5.2 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 180 commercial FM radio stations (3.2 percent) of 5,714 stations.
  • Non-Hispanic/Latino persons collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 9,879 broadcast stations, comprised of 1,052 full power commercial television stations (75.9 percent) of 1,386 stations; 1,271 low power television stations, including Class A stations (77.0 percent) of 1651 stations; 2,912 commercial AM radio stations (77.9 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 4,529 FM commercial radio stations (79.3 percent) of 5,714 stations.

Broadcast ownership and race.

  • Racial minorities collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 499 broadcast stations, 41 full power commercial television stations (3.0 percent) of 1,386 stations; 64 low power television stations, including Class A stations (3.9 percent) of 1,651 stations; 225 commercial AM radio stations (6.0 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 169 commercial FM radio stations (3.0 percent) of 5,714 stations. Ownership of majority interests by racial group was as follows:
    • American Indian/Alaska Natives owned 49 broadcast stations.
    • Asians owned 184 broadcast stations.
    • Black/African Americans owned 199 broadcast stations.
    • Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islanders owned 36 broadcast stations.
    • Persons of two or more races owned 31 broadcast stations.
  • Whites collectively or individually held a majority of the voting interests in 9,919 broadcast stations, comprised of 1,070 full power commercial television stations (77.2 percent) of 1,386 stations; 1,386 low power television stations, including Class A stations (83.9 percent) of 1,651 stations; 2,893 commercial AM radio stations (77.4 percent) of 3,737 stations; and 4,570 commercial FM radio stations (80.0 percent) of 5,714 stations.