This month's Open Commission Meeting will be under way in just a few minutes. For some background on the agenda, click here. Today's meeting will not be as lengthy as some of the others we've had (there are no worries it will match the four hour marathon we witnessed in September to hear the midterm review) but will cover a fair amount of ground. In addition to an update on the Broadband plan, the Commission will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding prerecorded telemarketing calls and will review a program concerning the video distribution market. Given that this blog is focused on the National Broadband Plan, our coverage here will emphaize the brief Broadband Plan update the team will provide.
Appropriately, the current situation arising out of the devastating earthquake in Haiti is added to the agenda. The Chairman opens with a few words to describe the Commission's efforts to support the relief. The FCC has been supporting communications services in Haiti which benefits victims and supports emergency operations. He provides a number of stunning anecdotes involving the use of mobile devices where victims trapped in the rubble were able to text their location to rescue teams or used an iPhone app to fashion a makeshift tourniquet. The Chairman also notes that in the U.S. text message programs have been used to raise unprecedented amounts of money to aid the important work there (the FCC has lifted existing restrictions for fundraising to facilitate the flood of donations). FCC staff assure the Commissioners that we are working with our communications regulations counterpart in Haiti and supporting USAID. An update on the communications infrastructure is given. As our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau chief Retired Navy Rear Admiral said, "We'll continue to coordinate our activities with the Haitian authorities and will continue to help them in whatever way possible."
Our first item concerns prerecorded telemarketing calls or "robo calls." The Commission will vote on what is called a "notice of proposed rulemaking" -- a necessary step to alert the public to the proposal prior to the actual vote -- requiring that telemarketers receive the express written consent of consumers in order to make these calls. The rule would also allow consumers to easily opt out of receiving them. Joel Gurin, the newly announced Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, says that this rule will ensure that "the consumer, not the telemarketer, can decide which phone calls they receive." The Commissioners and the Chairman now get a chance to share their sentiments on the presented initiative. In his statement in support of the measure Commissioner Copps says, "This is a good day for consumers and a good day for the Commission." Commissioner McDowell also supports the proposed rules noting that "these calls seem to always come at the most inconvenient times." In her statement of support Commissioner Clyburn commends "increased control" for the consumer. Commissioner Baker offers her kudos saying, "It's good to harmonize rules where we can," noting that this proposal will harmonize rules with the Federal Trade Commission. The Chairman, speaking last, echoed the sentiment of the Commissioners and said that he's "looking forward to moving forward on this proceeding quickly." With all four Commissioners and the Chairman in favor and none opposed, the notice of proposed rulemaking is adopted.
The last item on the agenda this morning is our much anticipated update on the Broadband Plan. Giving the update in the team's stead is Broadband Plan Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor Phoebe Yang. Whereas there is usually a cadre of Broadband team members present she explains her individual visit by saying that the team is hard at work writing the plan upstairs. To give the Commission an idea of the status of the plan, Ms. Yang gives a topical overview. Team members are busy sorting through and reviewing comments made on the public record. She ticks off a number of mind boggling statistics on what, exactly, is in the public record. Thousands of comments, ex partes, and other forms of public input comprising tens of thousands of pages form the record now being reviewed. The team has also been briefing the Commission's legal advisors. Most importantly the authors are working to make sure the final product is an actionable plan. "The work does not end on March 17," Yang says, "we're well aware of that."
Ms. Yang gives a brief outline of what the plan will look like. There will be sections relating to digital inclusion, the Universal Service Fund and adoption. Other auxilary issues will also be included, such as connectivity in the tribal communities. The report will promote research and development, consumer protection and transparency. It will address how to leverage government and personal data for the benefit of the public. Sections of the report will also be dedicated to providing guidance for how government will undertake implementing the plan. "And with your permission," she says after giving her detailed overview, "I'll return to work."
We're now hearing a wrap up by the Chairman and Commissioners. The Chairman announces that the Commission has exceeded our goals for the Combined Federal Campaign and surpassed our stretch goal by $50,000. For those unfamiliar with CFC, the Combined Federal Campaign is the federal government's annual workplace philanthropic campaign. This year's total is the largest the FCC has ever raised. Secretary Marlene Dortch announces that the next Open Meeting will take place on Thursday, February 11th. For materials from today's presenters and video of today's proceeding, visit our Open Meetings page.