Federal Communications Commission

The IP Transition: Great Expectations Or Bleak House?

The fact that the marketplace is embracing the IP Transition means we’re in the best of times. However, the government seems to be stuck in neutral when it comes to modernizing its regulatory framework to account for the IP Transition. What’s sidetracked us?

Our efforts have been plagued by three critical mistakes.

First, we are bogged down in brouhahas from the past. Second, we are failing to seize the present. When it comes to embracing the IP Transition, we can’t keep putting off until the unspecified future the things we can and should do today, starting with modernizing our rules. Third, we are becoming crippled by fear of the future. Embracing creative destruction means that something must be abandoned -- and that something is the PSTN.

Auction Of Advanced Wireless Services (AWS-3) Licenses Scheduled For November 13, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau establishes the procedures, reserve prices, and minimum opening bid amounts for the upcoming auction of 1,614 Advanced Wireless Services licenses in the 1695-1710 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, and 2155-2180 MHz bands (collectively, the “AWS-3” bands).

This auction is scheduled to start on November 13, 2014.

Open Internet Transparency Rule Enforcement Advisory

Providers of broadband Internet access services must disclose accurate information about their service offerings and make this information accessible to the public. This requirement, known as the Open Internet Transparency Rule, has been in full force and effect since 2011.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “Consumers deserve to get the broadband service they pay for. After today, no broadband provider can claim they didn’t know we were watching to see that they disclose accurate information about the services they provide. The FCC’s transparency rule requires that consumers get the information they need to make informed choices about the broadband services they purchase. We expect providers to be fully transparent about the details of their services, and we will hold them accountable if they fall down on this obligation to consumers.”

Nevada Carrier Will Pay $1.3 Million To Resolve Wireless Cramming Investigation

Assist 123, a Las Vegas (NV) telecommunications carrier, will pay $1.3 million to resolve a Federal Communications Commission investigation into allegations that the company billed wireless telephone consumers for a “Concierge/Directory Assistance” subscription text messaging service, a service that they did not want or authorize.

This practice is commonly known as “cramming.” This is the FCCs third enforcement action recently involving alleged cramming violations, following a proposed $7.62 million fine to Optic Internet Protocol and a proposed $1.6 million fine to Net One International Assist 123 and its affiliated companies billed consumers for unwanted Premium Short Messaging Service (PSMS) communications. These billing practices generated over 2,600 pages of complaints and inquiries from consumers.

FCC Plans $7.62 Million Fine Against Optic Internet Protocol for Illegally Billing and Switching Customers' Phone Companies

The Federal Communications Commission plans to fine Optic Internet Protocol, a Roswell (GA) telephone company, $7.62 million for allegedly switching consumers’ long distance telephone services without their authorization (“slamming”), billing customers for unauthorized charges (“cramming”), and submitting falsified evidence to government regulatory officials as “proof” of consumers’ authorizations.

“Cheating and lying to consumers are unacceptable, predatory business practices,” said Travis LeBlanc, Acting Chief of the Enforcement Bureau. “We will vigorously police companies that deceive consumers by billing them for services they did not authorize or desire.”

Optic allegedly switched complainants’ preferred long distance carriers and also billed the consumers for long distance service by placing charges for its set-up fee and recurring monthly fee on their local telephone bills.

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau reviewed more than 150 complaints against Optic that consumers filed with the Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, state regulatory agencies, and the Better Business Bureau.

Consumers who noticed the unauthorized charges had to expend significant time and effort to attempt to return to their preferred carriers, to get the charges removed from their bills, and file complaints with law enforcement agencies. Therefore, Commission charged Optic with willfully and repeatedly placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ local telephone bills, switching consumers’ preferred long distance carrier without verified authorization, and submitting fabricated audio “verification” recordings, all in apparent violation of the Communications Act.

FCC Chairman Wheeler Announces Universal Service Fund Strike Force

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the creation of a Universal Service Fund (USF) Strike Force -- housed in the agency’s Enforcement Bureau -- dedicated to combatting waste, fraud, and abuse in Commission funding programs.

The USF Strike Force will be led by Loyaan Egal, who joins the FCC after serving as a senior Assistant United States Attorney in the Fraud and Public Corruption Section of the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The USF Strike Force -- which boosts the Bureau’s existing enforcement operations -- will focus on safeguarding the Universal Service Fund and the other funding programs the FCC oversees. The Strike Force will investigate violations of the Communications Act, the Commission’s rules, and other laws bearing on USF programs and contributions. In addition to leading the FCC’s enforcement activities in these areas, the Strike Force will coordinate with the FCC’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the US Department of Justice, and other law enforcement agencies to prosecute unlawful conduct.

The Strike Force’s investigations and activities will promote future compliance, protect those who depend on the funds for access, and safeguard contributors to the funds from the unlawful acts of others.

Creating a “Model City” to test spectrum sharing technologies

The Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Engineering & Technology (OET) and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a Joint Public Notice that seeks input on the establishment of a “Model City” program to test advanced wireless spectrum sharing technologies.

The NTIA and the FCC have encouraged and supported the development of advanced spectrum sharing technologies and techniques. Notably, the FCC recently revised its experimental licensing rules to facilitate development of radio technologies by establishing provisions for program licenses and innovation zones.

The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommended the creation of an “urban Test City” to “support rapid experimentation” of advanced spectrum sharing technologies. The Joint Public Notice seeks to start the process of transforming this recommendation from an idea to reality. We have chosen to use the term “Model City” to better reflect the idea that systems or networks might be developed that could serve as a model for spectrum sharing techniques that can be deploy elsewhere.

[Knapp is Chief, Office of Engineering and Technology]

The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration: Model City for Demonstrating And Evaluating Advanced Sharing Technologies

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) issue this joint notice to seek public comment on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) recommendation that the Secretary of Commerce establish a public-private partnership to facilitate the creation of an urban test city, that would support rapid experimentation and development of policies, underlying technologies, and system capabilities for advanced, dynamic spectrum sharing.

The test services for demonstrating and evaluating advanced spectrum sharing technologies could include large-scale sustainable facilities for systems-level testing in real-world environments across multiple frequency bands, including public safety and selected federal bands. Through this Joint Public Notice, NTIA and OET seek to promote the Model City concept in conjunction with: (1) the new Center for Advanced Communications established by NTIA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and (2) the FCC’s existing experimental licensing program.

FCC Launches Rural Broadband Expansion Experiments

The Federal Communications Commission launched experiments to explore how robust broadband can be expanded at lower cost in rural America. The experiments will inform the agency’s broader effort to expand rural broadband through its Connect America Fund.

They will also inform the FCC’s efforts to ensure that consumers everywhere can benefit from the sweeping technological advances occurring now in the communications industry, while preserving consumer protection, competition, universal service and access to emergency services during these transitions. Up to $100 million will be available for the experiments, which will be divided into three groups as follows:

  • $75 million to test construction of networks offering service plans providing 25 Mpbs downloads and 5 Mbps uploads – far in excess of the current Connect America Fund standard of 4/1 – for the same or lower amounts of support than will be offered to carriers in Phase II of Connect America
  • $15 million to test interest in delivering service at 10/1 speeds in high cost areas
  • $10 million for 10/1 service in areas that are extremely costly to serve.

Applicants will compete nationwide for the funds, which will be awarded to projects that are most cost effective. A key goal of the experiments is to test this competitive bidding process before it is used to allocate funds more broadly from the Connect America Fund, anticipated to occur later in 2015. The experiments will also test service over diverse technologies, including fiber and wireless networks, and will be open to non-traditional providers, including electric utilities, wireless internet service providers, and others. To ensure diverse experiments, project sizes are capped, while entities serving Tribal lands are eligible for a 25% bidding credit

Policies on Mobile Spectrum Holdings and Expanding Economic and Innovation Opportunities of Spectrum Through Incentive Auctions

The Federal Communications Commission has updated its initial screen for review of spectrum acquisitions through secondary markets and makes determinations regarding whether to establish mobile spectrum holding limits for its upcoming auctions of high- and low-band spectrum, in light of the growing demand for spectrum, the differences between spectrum bands, and in accordance with its desire to preserve and promote competition.

The FCC has updated its spectrum screen for its competitive review of proposed secondary market transactions to reflect current suitability and availability of spectrum for mobile wireless services. It adds to its spectrum screen: 40 megahertz of AWS–4; 10 megahertz of H Block; 65 megahertz of AWS–3 (when it becomes available on a market-by- market basis); 12 megahertz of BRS; 89 megahertz of EBS; and the total amount of 600 MHz spectrum auctioned in the Incentive Auction.

It subtracts from its spectrum screen: 12.5 megahertz of SMR; and 10 megahertz that was the Upper 700 MHz D Block. The Commission establishes a market-based spectrum reserve of up to 30 megahertz in the Incentive Auction in each license area to ensure against excessive concentration in holdings of low-band spectrum and ensuring that all bidders bear a fair share of the cost of the Incentive Auction.

It adopts limits on secondary market transactions of 600 MHz spectrum licenses for six years post-auction. It declines to adopt auction-specific limits for AWS–3. It treats certain further concentrations of below-1-GHz spectrum as an enhanced factor in its case-by-case analysis of the potential competitive harms posed by individual transactions.