Federal Communications Commission

A Busy Summer Continues

For all our progress on accessibility issues, there’s more to be done. We’ll have an opportunity to build on this progress at our August meeting. The Federal Communications Commission will consider a draft report and order to convert the pilot National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) into a permanent program. Known as “iCanConnect,” this program provides equipment needed to make telecommunications, advanced communications and the Internet accessible to Americans who have significant vision and hearing loss. The new NDBEDP would be able to spend up to $10 million annually to distribute equipment to low-income individuals who are deaf-blind. The program would also provide training and other technical support, including individual assessments of each consumer’s specific accessibility needs, to help low-income people who are deaf-blind better utilize the communications equipment they need to fully participate in society.

I also circulated a proposed report and order that would further strengthen our hearing aid compatibility rules and increase the number of wireless handset models that must be hearing aid compatible. The item builds off new rules and a further proposal that the FCC adopted unanimously last November. The new order would enshrine a consensus plan developed collaboratively by the wireless industry and groups representing people with hearing loss that puts us on the path to achieve hearing aid compatibility for 100 percent of new handsets within eight years. This evolution will greatly expand options for people with hearing loss, simplify the task of finding handsets that work with hearing aids and ensure that people with hearing loss have full access to innovative handsets. At the same time, the implementation time line would ensure that manufacturers and service providers will include HAC features from the earliest stages of the design process.

In addition to these accessibility items, the FCC’s August meeting will also feature an item that will both ensure that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are just, reasonable, and fair for local and long-distance calls, and that the nation’s jails and prisons are compensated for reasonable costs associated with the provision of inmate calling services. The proposed item takes a careful look at the costs that facilities incur as a result of ICS and covers these ICS-related costs through modest increases in the inmate calling rate caps previously set by the FCC. As always, special thanks are due to Commissioner Clyburn for her leadership on this issue.

FCC Announces Tentative Agenda For August 2016 Open Meeting

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the following items are tentatively on the agenda for the August Open FCC Meeting scheduled for Thursday, August 4, 2016:

Implementation of the Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, Section 105, Relay Services for Deaf-Blind Individuals: The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would convert the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program from a pilot to a permanent program. (CG Docket No. 10-210)

Improvements to Benchmarks and Related Requirements Governing Hearing Aid-Compatible Mobile Handsets: The FCC will consider a Report and Order that would implement changes to the scope of the wireless hearing aid compatibility rules. (WT Docket No. 15-285)

Ensuring Just, Reasonable, and Fair Rates for Inmate Calling Services: The FCC will consider an Order on Reconsideration, responding to a petition filed by Michael S. Hamden, that would ensure that the rates for Inmate Calling Services (ICS) are just, reasonable, and fair and explicitly account for facilities’ ICS-related costs. (WC Docket No. 12-375)

Providing Affordable, Sustainable Inmate Calling Services

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn asked their fellow FCC commissioners to consider an item that will both ensure that the rates for inmate calling services (ICS) are just, reasonable, and fair for local and long-distance calls, and that the nation’s jails and prisons are compensated for reasonable costs of inmate calling services. The proposed item takes a careful look at the costs that facilities incur by providing ICS and covers these ICS-related costs through modest increases in the inmate calling rate caps previously set by the FCC. The FCC will vote on the item at its August 4 Open Meeting. The Order modifies the proposed rate caps to account for costs facilities incur in offering ICS, particularly the higher costs smaller institutions may face. These changes are as follows:

13 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls, in state or federal prisons (up from 11 cents/minute stayed Oct. 2015 rate)
19 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails with 1,000 or more inmates (up from 14 cents/minute stayed Oct. 2015 rate)
21 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails with 350-999 inmates (up from 16 cents/minute stayed Oct. 2015 rate)
31 cents/minute for debit/prepaid calls in jails of up to 349 inmates (up from 22 cents/minute stayed Oct. 2015 rate)

FCC Streamlines Approval Process For Network Technology Transitions

Landline phone network technology is changing rapidly; the Federal Communications Commission further updated its rules to help ensure that consumers, industry and the economy reap the benefits of this ongoing, innovative transformation. The action will eliminate outdated, unnecessary regulations and establish clear criteria that can expedite the review process required when providers update service from legacy to modern voice technologies. The new framework will give carriers the clarity they need to transition quickly to innovative services and at the same time ensure continued protections for consumers, competition, public safety and universal service, all important values that must endure even as technology changes. The test expedites transitions in which:
Network performance, reliability and coverage is substantially unchanged for customers
Access to 911, cybersecurity and access for people with disabilities meets current rules and standards
Compatibility with a defined list of legacy services still popular with consumers and small businesses, including home security systems, medical monitoring devices, credit card readers and fax machines, subject to sunset in 2025, is assured.

FCC Takes Steps To Facilitate Mobile Broadband And Next Generation/5G Wireless Technologies In Spectrum Above 24 GHz

The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules for wireless broadband operations in frequencies above 24 GHz, making the United States the first country in the world to make this spectrum available for next generation wireless services. Building on the successful, flexible approach to spectrum policy that enabled the explosion of 4G (LTE), these rules set a strong foundation for the rapid advancement to next-generation 5G networks and technologies in the United States. This high-frequency spectrum will support innovative new uses enabled by fiber-fast wireless speeds and extremely low latency.

While 5G technologies are still under development, today’s action by the FCC to put rules in place will provide vital clarity for business investment in this area. These new rules open up nearly 11 GHz of high-frequency spectrum for flexible, mobile and fixed use wireless broadband – 3.85 GHz of licensed spectrum and 7 GHz of unlicensed spectrum. The rules adopted today creates a new Upper Microwave Flexible Use service in the 28 GHz (27.5-28.35 GHz), 37 GHz (37-38.6 GHz), and 39 GHz (38.6-40 GHz) bands, and a new unlicensed band at 64- 71 GHz. The FCC also adopted a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which seeks comment on several issues. The FNPRM seeks to apply the flexible use service and technical rules to another 18 GHz of spectrum encompassing 8 additional high-frequency bands, and seeks comment on a variety of other issues, including refinements to the performance requirements and mobile spectrum holdings policies, and the sharing framework adopted for the 37-37.6 GHz band.

An Update on Our Review of the Good Faith Retransmission Consent Negotiation Rules

Today I announce that we will not proceed at this time to adopt additional rules governing good faith negotiations for retransmission consent. Now let me be clear; this does not mean the Federal Communications Commission will turn a blind eye to disputes. Nor does it mean that Congress couldn’t expand the scope of the Commission’s authority in this space. What this decision does mean is that “totality of circumstances” is pretty broad and ought not to be constrained. There is nothing in the record that suggests that our current totality of the circumstances test, which is intentionally broad, is inadequate to address the negotiating practices of broadcast stations or multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) in the marketplace today.

What we need is not more rules, but for both sides in retransmission consent negotiations to take seriously their responsibility to consumers, who expect to watch their preferred broadcast programming without interruption and to receive the subscription TV service for which they pay. The Commission can investigate a potential good faith violation on its own and take enforcement action when a party fails to fulfill its statutory obligations.

Remarks of Gigi Sohn, Counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at "Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan" Launch

This has been a big week for anchor institutions. How many of you are familiar with PokemonGO? A lot of you know where this is going … For the uninitiated, PokemonGO is a mobile game where you use your phone to find virtual creatures in the real world, and in one week the game already has as many active users as Twitter. In this game, libraries, schools and hospitals across America are what they call Pokestops, where you can collect items to play the game. Libraries across the country are using their Twitter accounts to tout their Pokestop status to attract patrons. I thought I’d open with this anecdote, not just because it’s amusing, but because it’s a useful metaphor. In the game, as in real life, anchor institutions are the heart of the community, and their utility extends beyond their core mission. They have become far more than places to borrow books, study and receive medical treatment. They have become essential to building community and improving the quality of people’s lives.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Announces Staff Changes

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the appointment of Holly Saurer as legal advisor, and the transition of Diane Cornell to a role in the FCC’s International Bureau. Starting July 13, Saurer will work primarily on international and consumer affairs issues.

Saurer served in various positions in the Media Bureau, including as associate bureau chief, senior legal advisor to the bureau chief and attorney-advisor with the bureau’s Policy Division. She has also served as an acting advisor for FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn. Prior to joining the Commission, Saurer worked at the Washington DC offices of Drinker Biddle & Reath and Miller & Van Eaton. Cornell will join the International Bureau where she will continue to advance the Commission’s international priorities, and will serve as special advisor to the Chairman. She has served as a key legal and policy advisor to the Chairman since he joined the Commission, with vital contributions made to process reform, international communications policy and consumer affairs.

Cornell has previously served as a legal advisor to three Commissioners; held leadership positions in the Wireless, International and Common Carrier Bureaus; and served as president of the Federal Communications Bar Association.

Modernizing the FCC's Geospatial Maps

Maps and geospatial analysis have become increasingly important as they allow the Federal Communications Commission to display information to the public in an interactive visual format. The FCC’s maps have become useful tools for conveying data in conjunction with Commission reports and public notices. The FCC’s maps site serves as a centralized hub for data visualizations and is one of the most highly trafficked parts of the Commission’s website.

The modernized look-and-feel of the new FCC’s maps site improves the user experience and provides better visual displays. Creating more design consistency across the maps we publish is one area we identified for improvement. To ensure uniform formats are used in all of our materials, we developed geospatial visualization design standards to maintain a consistent user experience across our maps and geospatial applications. These efforts directly align with the Commission’s goals of improving the usability and performance of our Information Technology systems while also making it easier for the public to access data. Recently, we moved the back-end infrastructure off of the existing legacy hardware and into a cloud-hosted environment. As a result of moving the maps site to a cloud-based platform, we’re able to provide several key benefits, including increased system stability and improved security.

The new cloud-based maps site expands on the existing features of the previous maps site with some significant improvements, including:

  • Enhanced display - Simplified page layout improves the usability of the site and the responsive design allows the site to adapt to various devices and screen resolutions.
  • Improved usability - New filter and search capabilities allow you to quickly find relevant content and identify related maps.
  • Greater reliability – Cloud-based platform provides greater reliability and improved security.
  • Streamlined publishing - Maps are now integrated with the FCC.gov Content Management System to maintain a common look-and-feel and support rapid deployment of visualizations.
  • Flexible inputs - Use of Open Geospatial Consortium standards enables the site to embed externally hosted content and easily adapt to new technologies.

Chairman Wheeler Responds to Letter from Lawmakers about Broadband Privacy NPRM

On May 25, seven Reps wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and the four other Commissioners to strongly urge the FCC to consider a "consistent Federal Trade Commission-type approach to protect consumer privacy that balances consumers' privacy expectations and avoids negative impacts on consumers."

On June 30, Chairman Wheeler responded by discussing the recent broadband privacy notice of proposed rulemaking. He wrote, "The Commission's NPRM proposes a path forward for broadband Internet access service towards final rules that will provide clear guidance to both internet service providers and their customers. The FTC's core privacy principles - transparency, choice, and security - are at the heart of the NPRM. And, with valuable input from concerned stakeholders like yourself, we will be able to provide consumers with protections that will consistently safeguard consumer data and bolster consumer confidence in their use of modem telecommunications networks."