Federal Communications Commission

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Live Blogging the January Open Commission Meeting

January 20th, 2010 by George Krebs

10:25AM EDT
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.

10:42AM EDT
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."

11:11AM EDT
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.

12:12PM EDT
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."

12:21PM EDT
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.

Chairman Genachowski Meets With Mayor Bloomberg

November 19th, 2009 by George Krebs

Chairman Genachowski sat down with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg today as part of a concerted effort to listen and learn about communications challenges and opportunities from municipalities and states around the country.

The Chairman and Mayor Bloomberg discussed the value of broadband deployment and adoption, the importance of interoperable communications networks for the public safety community, and economic challenges in the media landscape.


“We appreciated the opportunity to talk about using broadband technology to advance innovation in government. We've tried to do it in New York, and were delighted to talk to Chairman Genachowski about his ambitious goals for the country,” said Mayor Bloomberg.

Chairman Genachowski said, “Mayor Bloomberg has shown tremendous leadership in promoting innovative technology solutions for New York City’s government and its citizens. It was a pleasure to speak with him today, and I look forward to working with him to ensure that New Yorkers benefit from broadband’s full potential.”  

Live Blogging the Open Commission Meeting

November 18th, 2009 by George Krebs

For more information and a host of resources pertaining to today's meeting click here.

10:03 AM EDT
Welcome to the November Open Commission meeting. Today the commissioners will review the state of the National Broadband Plan and consider a draft ruling on the wireless tower siting time frame petition (an explanation will follow). For a better sense of the gaps the team will be looking at in the Broadband Plan, Executive Director Blair Levin provides brilliant analysis here.

First, the commissioners will vote on the "draft declaratory ruling" on setting a timeframe for processing wireless tower siting applications. With little fanfare, Chairman Genachowski launches into the agenda. The stage is set for Ruth Milkman, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief, and she begins.

10:18 AM EDT
While the docket file with the draft of the rule seems quite dense and involved (at 44 pages in the pdf), the Wireless Bureau presentation is fairly straight forward. Angela Kroneberg, Special Counsel in the Wireless Bureau explains that "The act requires that state and local governments act on wireless facility siting applications within a reasonable period of time." The rule concerns a request for state and local jurisdictions to act on tower citing requests -- mostly made by wireless carriers.

Some applications have laid fallow for three years while providers have been anxious to build their network for consumers. This rule would require applications to be processed within 90 days for co-locations (sites where two or more providers are sharing a tower or sharing a zoned plot of land for more than one tower) and 150 days for all other tower siting applications (say, if a carrier wanted to build a new tower). This rule adopts a fair time frame for all parties involved. Without a fair timeframe for decision making, the providers cannot adequately assess their position in constructing their infrastructure.

10:37 AM EDT
Chairman Genachowski notes that is was an "Excellent and clear presentation." Commissioner Copps exlpains that this rule will provide easier access for broadband and mobile services and says, "This sounds like a win, win, win to me." Commissioner McDowell notes that this ruling adheres to his philosophy of helping businesses. Streamling this process for carriers will pass along cost savings to their consumers and will spur business. Commissioner Clyburn concurs, emphasizing that the ruling will facilitate infrastructure buildup for carriers and ultimately, and most importantly, will benefit consumers. Commissioner Baker says that the rule will provide certainty for wireless carriers. The Chairman takes a vote and with it says, "We have a unanimous approval of this item."

10:50 AM EDT
Chairman Genachowski describes the importance of universal broadband and gives the floor to Blair Levin, Executive Director of the National Broadband Plan. Mr. Levin lays out the agenda for today’s presentation which includes providing a description of the most important broadband gaps, ensuring public awareness of areas of inquiry, beginning a focused discussion of solutions, and setting the agenda for the next 91 days.
The plan is about an ecosystem involving devices, adoption and utilization, applications and content, and devices. These elements are interdependent. The success of one element can bolster the success of the others and in the same way a bottleneck facing one element, say in network services, affects the other spheres of the ecosystem.
11:02 AM EDT
Ruth Milkman, again from the Wireless Bureau, speaks to the need for spectrum. She explains that the demand for mobile data will grow dramatically. A chart on the PowerPoint presentation (which you will be able to find here following the meeting) shows that in 2009 mobile users are consuming 17 petabytes of data a month. A study from Cisco VNI predicts that users will consume 397 petabytes per month in 2013. This will require the commission to free up large swaths of spectrum that is currently unavailable. From our experience we know that it takes years to free up spectrum for use. Milkman says, “We know there’s a spectrum gap and we need to act quickly.”
11: 17 AM EDT
Brian David, Adoption and Usage Director for the Omnibus Broadband Initiative (the Broadband Team), sounds a clarion call. He warns that “the cost of digital exclusion is large and growing.” Education, health care, public safety, small business functionality, and job searches are increasingly dependant on the universality internet. FCC Managing Director Steve VanRoekel adds to Mr. David’s presentations and states that “increasingly job training is only online.”

Mr. VanRoekel continues the panel with a discussion on the importance of protecting the privacy of consumer information. He then transitions to the FCC’s own relationship to the issues the Broadband Team is reviewing. “Around the FCC we’re working on closing a significant gap,” he says, “the gap of data.” To be data driven agency it’s crucial that we utilize existing internal data.

11:38 AM EDT
Erik Garr, Managing Director of the Broadband Plan, wraps up the presentation. The way to do this right is to look at the whole ecosystem. He details the road ahead with a list that includes resolving workshop responses, accessibility for people with disabilities, spectrum for broadband, telework, and public safety and homeland security issues. He says, “The important thing for you [the Commissioners] and the public is if there’s anything not on this list, please let us know. It is important we get all the public input we can.” He concludes by saying that the “February date,” February 17 when the plan is due, “is the one that keeps us up at night.” The team has scheduled a handful of future hearings and workshops and set up a schedule for the next three months. In December the team will report on their policy framework, in January on opportunities to drive national purposes, and February will see the completed plan. With that the presentation concludes and the panel opens for questions.

11:59 AM EDT
Following brief questions from the Commissioners, Chairman Genachowski wraps up. The broadband plan will provide the country with infrastructure that it “needs and deserves,” he says. Speaking to Executive Director Blair Levin and the collected panelists, he says, “We deeply appreciate and acknowledge the ‘round-the-clock work and willingness to engage in spirited public dialogue. It all makes it a lot harder; we note it and appreciate it.” With that, the commission secretary announces the date of the next commission meeting and the November Open Commission Meeting is adjourned. Until next time.

12:15 PM EDT
The press conference, which always follows the meeting, has commenced and the Chairman is giving answers to the questions of the press corps. You can watch the livestream of the press conference here. Key commission staff members have remained in the Commission Meeting Room and will also answering questions on the topics that were discussed this morning.

Live Blogging the Open Commission Meeting

September 29th, 2009 by George Krebs

[Today we are live blogging the September Open Commission Meeting. Related documents & information on the Commission Meeting can be found here.]

12:55PM EDT Each month the FCC holds an Open Commission Meeting to discuss the agenda facing the Commission. Today's meeting is special in that it will be devoted entirely to the Broadband Plan, given the momentous task before us. The Broadband Team will present their midterm review in a four hour presentation, featuring 20 presenters, and over 150 slides. In addition to live blogging here, we are also live streaming and live tweeting the meeting.

1:20PM EDT Chairman Genachowski introduces the grand scope of the meeting, acknowledges the less formal setting (Commissioners are sitting at a table in front of the grand bench from which they usually preside over the agenda),  and makes his requisite sports reference in introducing a staffer.

Erik Garr, Managing Director of the Broadband Taskforce, notes that "our ambition for today is large," in setting the stage for this afternoon's marathon review. Chairman Genachowski clarifies that "Everything that's coming in today,  online and otherwise, will be part of the full record." Genachowski introduces  Executive Director Blair Levin and the presentation begins.

1:48PM EDT This Omnibus Broadband Taskforce is focused on delivering broadband to those without access and achieving universality of broadband from sea to shining sea. This is unlike inquiries at other junctions which have focused on the more broad issues facing the internet use.

Peter Bowen, Applications Director, explains that applications similar to email  require little download speed. Once you move towards streaming television shows and downloading video files, the speed demands increase dramatically.

Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners McDowell and Copps have interjected to ask clarifying questions on speed and adoption.

1:59PM EDT Shawn Hoy, Applications Business Analyst, says that actual speed varies significantly from advertised speed. We should concentrate on actual speed, as it's a more useful metric to tell the story of broadband.  Applications designers will design applications that will require the maximum available broadband speeds. "The internet creates value to the extent that applications are adopted. Utility of the internet is in its usage. ...Internet use today will not look tomorrow as it looks today," says Hoy. The network that we design will have to be every bit as viable ten years from now.

2:12PM EDT The data available is not ideal for conducting the desired analysis, since the census question pertaining to internet availability did not address distribution across a given area of housing units. An interpretation  of the best data we have probably underestimates the number of unserved houses. However, when we we triangulate with other sources, we get significantly better data.

2:33PM EDT Rob Curtis looks at the total cost and total investment numbers. The incremental cost to universal availability varies significantly depending on the speeds required.  His chart shows ranges between $20 - 350 billion, depending on desired speeds and the number of housing units that need to be upgraded. Cost also "depends on the applications basket that needs to be supported," he says. "Those decisions will have a dramatic effect on the costs of universality."

2:46PM EDT Rob Curtis says that up to 3/4 of total fiber costs can be eliminated by finding out where the gas lines are and having the trench dug already. For example, if a trench for telephone lines has been dug already, it is fairly easy to simply lay down fiber next to that line.  "The cost to make broadband universally available depends on the type and amount of broadband required, and probably falls within the --narrow-- $20-350 billion range," he says.

2:57PM EDT The Taskforce visited several countries and met with their respective internet regulatory agencies to take lessons from countries that have implemented broadband plans. Anurag Lal, International Director says, "We're trying to leverage the learnings from international examples. We certainly don't want to reinvent the wheel, so we're trying to use these learnings as best as possible." Most recently, they visited South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. "[In Korea] they believe that broadband adoption leads to their national competitiveness" and strengthens their human resources. In Korea, both PC and broadband adoption have risen enormously, and they lead the ranking on a global basis.

3:11PM EDT There is a significant need for more spectrum, with band-width hungry devices exploding on the market. All the major telecom players have expressed a need to allocate more spectrum, but it will take years for new spectrum to reach the market. We use 17 petabytes a month now on our mobile devices and will likely use 397 petabytes a month in 2013 (a petabyte is equivalent to 20,000 Libaries of Congresses). "AT&T has seen their network usage increase 5000% in the last three years, which is an incredible number." He explains, "In the best case it takes 6-7 years to bring spectrum to market. So we have to look 10, 15 years down the road" when deciding on marketing spectrum.

3:15PM EDT The Broadband Taskforce has completed the first half of their presentation. We'll break for ten minutes now. Just enough time to digest the first two hours of material. Click here to see all 168 slides being used by the Task Force.

3:38PM EDT We're back. Chairman Genachowski announces Brian David's marriage last Saturday and presents him with a piece of spectrum -- non-exclusive use of the white space on channel 13 in Devil's Lake, South Dakota. The Chairman congratulates the newly weds and remarks that he appreciates their spending their honey moon at today's Commission Meeting. "Nothing is more romantic than Broadband," notes Blair Levin.

3:45PM EDT Adoption and Usage Director (and newly married) Brian David provides data that shows approximately two thirds of Americans have adopted broadband. Consequently, one third has not. He explains that adoption will naturally grow over time, but by writing specific suggestions into the Broadband plan, we can greatly increase this number.

3:57PM EDT Jon Horrigan provides a plethora of fascinating statistics surrounding internet use. Sixty-one percent of adults have searched for health care online, 71% of teens have cited the internet as their primary source for information in completing a school project, numerous Fortune 500 companies now require candidates to pursue jobs online. The cost of digital exclusion is large and growing. To tackle this issue, we're going to focus on "non-adopters" of broadband.

4:06PM EDT Jessica Strott, Consumer Adoption Analyst, discusses the issues of non-adopters who are inclined to use the technology but skill challenged. She emphasizes the importance of programmatic efforts. A video, "Tech Goes Home," will show two Boston women facing these challenges. Ironically, there is momentary difficulty loading the video and the decision is made to make the video available later.

4:16PM EDT Elise Kohn, Adoption Director, highlights the currently fragmented nature of adoption program efforts. While many different programs exist and many different groups are involved, Elise discusses five key program elements that emerged at a Commission workshop.  She also highlights the early signs of success that one training program has had.

4:21PM EDT Having completed the Adoption section, our last policy area is National Purposes. Kristen Kane, National Purposes Director, talks about "unlocking a lot of value" for each of these national purposes: health care, energy / environment, education, government operations, economic opportunity, and public safety.

4:32PM EDT Health care: The benefits of telemedicine are tremendous. The aim is "understanding the value of connectivity to health care and the gaps in telehealth to analyze the measures that need to be taken."

4:41PM EDT Energy: Nick Sinai begins by asking the audience to recall the "Blackout of the Northeast in 2003. It cost us between $6 - 10 billion and plunged 55 million people into darkness." What is the smart grid? There are many definitions, but most include a "two-way flow of electricity and information to create an automated, widely distributed energy delivery network." The smart grid will ensure that the kind of blackout that occurred in 2003 never occurs again. Deployment of smart meters are accelerating rapidly in the home. Smart meters will realize your family's preferences and will adjust to them as you use your appliances, while simultaneously saving you money.  The smart meter, heavily reliant on networks and spectrum, will facilitate great efficiencies across the country.

4:58PM EDT Education: Broadband can support education in a variety of ways, particularly through digital content and learning, teacher capacity, data, infrastructure and standards, and 21st century innovations. As with other populations, the cost of digital exclusion for students is growing. Eighty percent of parents say the internet helps children with their school work, 78% of students regularly use the internet for classroom assignments, 41% of students use email and messaging to contact teachers or classmates about school work. In the interest of ending on an up note, data shows that individualized instruction benefits students greatly and their grades reflect this. Online instruction mixed with classroom learning yields significantly improved results.

5:03PM EDT Government and Civic Engagement: There are notable efficiencies to maximize in government, says Eugene Huang. The IRS spends 8 times as much money processing paper tax returns as they do those submitted online.  Citizen engagement trial projects have created a number of successes from Maine to DC.

5:15PM EDT Disabilities: Broadband has the opportunity to open up a whole new world for people with disabilities. Several ideas are raised, including closed captioning videos on the web, making menus accessible, and broadening the availability of telework to allow those with disabilities to work from a place that is convenient.

5:41PM EDT Over the last few hours the Commissioners and the interested public were given an exhaustive overview of the work the Taskforce has completed thus far. They have produced some impressive results, and they're only halfway there. As well as today's meeting went, Blair Levin cautioned, "We recognize, we're really only graded by our final." The final plan is due to congress February 17, 2010.

They raced against the clock to finish the review before 5:30 and came up a few minutes short. The last few presenters breezed through their slides and gave brief overviews of their assigned area. If you missed a slide, or would like to revisit any of the information presented, we have posted all the materials here. We have 141 days left and no doubt the latter half will be as productive as this first stretch. In his concluding words, Chairman Genachowski told the presenters, "You raised the bar for yourselves and for what happens next."

Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones