Federal Communications Commission

Archive for September 2009

Virtually There? The Telework Public Notice

September 4th, 2009 by Matt Warner

Telework isn't just about providing a benefit to employees.  Rather, telework seems to benefit workers, employers, and society as a whole.  Case studies from the Government Accountability Office and the Patent and Trademark Office suggest that telework provides needed flexibility for an organization and its staff in emergencies while being greener for the environment.  Despite these and other potential advantages of telework and broadband's ever-expanding ability to make work geographically irrelevant, not being physically "there" may not yet be societally "there."

A Public Notice (PN) we are releasing today explores the potentially transformative aspect of broadband and telework for the purposes of the National Broadband Plan.  Before we carve out national policy, however, we need more information:  What empirical evidence exists to suggest that going from dial-up to broadband fundamentally changes the nature of telework?  What are the advantages of telework based on the data?  What are the barriers impeding telework programs from more ubiquitous acceptance and success?  Going forward, how could broadband change telework?  Answers to these questions and others raised in the PN are important to guide our focus and plan for telework in the overarching broadband plan.  Please read the PN and file comments using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file.  Please note that your comments are responding to Public Notice #3.

It Takes a Worried Man… Sharing His Worries

September 3rd, 2009 by Blair Levin - Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Blair LevinA useful framework for approaching the goal of providing universal access to affordable, robust broadband is straightforward, and looks something like this:

Broadband provides lots of benefits to the economy and society, and the more widely available broadband is, the greater the benefits.

But there are costs to universal deployment that may not be immediately recouped, such as the expense of laying fiber in rural areas, acquiring rights-of-way, or clearing spectrum for wireless broadband.  And once a network is in place, low rates of adoption could delay enjoyment of the economic and societal gains.

As government policies inherently affect both the revenues and the costs of broadband, part of our job, in thinking about a national broadband plan, is to explore whether those policies should be adjusted to increase the revenues and decrease the costs of inputs associated with broadband. Simple.

Well, not exactly. While press questions following my recent speech at the Udwin Breakfast Group focused on my worries about one particular input - sufficient spectrum to accommodate our hunger for fast smart phones and 4G mobile networks - my worries are as universal as broadband should be.

I'm worried that low adoption doesn't provide sufficient incentives to build out and upgrade the wireline, cable and wireless networks that our country will need for sustainable economic growth.

I'm worried that we need funds to achieve universal broadband but that one potential source of funding - the Universal Service fund - is already stretched thin.

I'm worried that there is no way the government's existing broadband grant program can possibly meet the enthusiastic response it has received, with seven dollars of demand for every available dollar in the first round.

We are looking for creative solutions from everyone - government, think tanks, spectrum license holders, wireline providers, cable systems - that will help deliver the synergies of broadband to the entire nation. The record is clear:  there are lots of opportunities.  But to take advantage of them, we need everyone to be, shall we say, "constructively worried".  So let's be creative and find a solution together so that five years from now we don't have to worry about the ramifications of our failure to plan ahead.

The Apps and Devices Workshop

September 3rd, 2009 by Peter Bowen - Applications Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Co-written by Peter Bowen, Applications Director, and Shawn Hoy, Program Analyst, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Peter Bowen BBLast Thursday, August 27th the FCC helped moderate two workshops on technology, applications and devices, which provoked some fascinating discussions around the current and future state of broadband in America.

The first workshop focused on the current state of the network, applications, and devices.  The panelists represented a cross-section of network, applications, and devices backgrounds and covered a number of critical points.

The first point from the panel was that defining broadband in a way that is sustainable and measurable is a non-trivial task.  The simplest way of defining broadband seems to be measuring basic network speed (e.g., Mbps), selecting a threshold for speed, and classifying broadband as any product above the threshold.  However, the panelists raised the issue of whether network speed is really the appropriate measure or if a more user-facing measure (e.g., number of seconds to load a page) would be more appropriate and comprehensive given the impact of applications and devices on performance.  One panelist, Anoop Gupta from Microsoft, suggested a two-tiered approach to defining broadband.  The first tier would focus on a network performance that enables consumers to participate meaningfully and productively in the economy and in civic engagement - he described it as a "civic baseline" for speed.  The second tier would be focused on a network performance that enables strategic assets (hospitals, schools, etc...) to use the internet to its fullest capability, along with "power users" who conduct significant download and upload activities online.

The second point the panel discussed was that the US is lagging far behind best-in-class countries (South Korea was mentioned most frequently) in terms of performance of and access to the internet.  The panel noted that the OECD ranks the US 19th in terms of broadband adoption and connection speed, and that the average connection speed in South Korea is 11 Mbps as compared to 1.5 Mbps in the US.  This is important because the panelists agreed that applications will evolve to use up all available bandwidth.  For example, video consumption will evolve from standard definition to high definition.  At the same time, less consumer-focused applications (e.g., computational research and health care applications) will roll out, requiring significant network bandwidth. Therefore, the productive use of the internet, both consumer and non-consumer, is really only constrained by the applications that it enables.  Several panelists strongly suggested visiting South Korea to get a sense for what consumer and business applications are possible when you have access to such a powerful network.

Finally, the panel also discussed the impact of US policy on innovation.  The panelists agreed that policy (ranging from spectrum policy to telco consolidation) has had and will continue to have a significant impact on innovation, both in the telecom and network spaces.  The panel noted that most net      work, equipment and device innovation is taking place overseas and that the US should have a goal of becoming once again the center for innovation in this space. Other answers to the question "What role should the FCC and the government play?" touched on open devices, unlicensed spectrum, network neutrality, universal service being re-oriented from voice toward broadband, R&D investment and the role of state and local governments in pushing innovative new approaches to network deployment and broadband adoption.

The day's second workshop included a group more heavily representing equipment and network providers. The group focused on several topics, including the debate of "What is broadband 'success' for the US?" An interesting segment of this debate centered on the question of what was more important to our 'success' - is it more important to increase adoption among those who are served but don't buy broadband, or is it more important to increase the quality of current users' experience. The panel posed an open question to the community: Is there more value in driving higher adoption (programs that increase uptake of broadband) or in creating a better user experience (more bandwidth and quality of service)?

A similarly interesting discussion revolved around the importance of basic broadband as a gateway to better broadband for the user - the premise is that once a user experiences even a modest broadband connection (and one that doesn't incur per-use charges or tie up the phone line) they will trade up to a higher speed. Then, as their usage naturally evolves, what we see is a progression toward more and more engagement and more bandwidth-intensive applications over time. There was agreement that there is no uniform evolution in utilization for users, but that re-framing the conversation by comparing this evolution to the evolution on other adoption patterns may be fruitful for the FCC as it thinks about how to value increased utilization of broadband.

A final discussion for the second panel was around the short-term and long-term path of innovation and utilization, and implicitly around the "social value" of certain activities. A point of agreement was that while our broadband initiative will lead to many enhancements in business and consumer productivity, civic engagement, our national energy grid, our healthcare system, our educational system and other priorities, these will take time. In fact, the panel agreed that US policymakers and the public have to be prepared for the reality of what one panelist called "frivolous" activities. His point was that while much of the initial innovation and usage will be in games and entertainment, in the long run games and entertainment open the door to investment that will enable US strategic goals. His point of view was that online applications, in almost all cases, result from consumers looking to replicate their offline behavior online. For example, people listen to music and play video games offline and migrating that behavior online is a logical step.  So, as you think about the future of applications, simply look to the current "analog" behavior that could move online.

Simply having more people online and using the internet with faster connections will drive innovation. Ingenious American users and the companies hoping to serve them will find a way to maximize this new broadband capability, and that "frivolous" activities (however one defines them.we did not discuss that) are a necessary step toward the enablement of longer-term national priorities.

Thoughts? Comments on any of these viewpoints? Let us know!

A Look Ahead – and a Look Back – at our Staff Workshops

September 2nd, 2009 by Erik Garr

erik garr head shotI was happy to sit across from the FCC Commissioners last week and provide a progress update on the National Broadband Plan.  While I have given progress updates to senior executives countless times, there is something different when doing so in a public meeting.  It puts the broadband plan in context, and highlights how important this plan is to all Americans, not just the FCC.

As I mentioned last week, we have had over 1,100 direct participants attend our broadband workshops and nearly 5,000 on line attendees, with more in the works.  More importantly, we have reached out to small businesses, consumer groups, other government agencies, and talented academics, in addition to the traditional industry participants that have been part of the broadband debate for some time.

I'd like to highlight a few workshops this week that continue to broaden the debate, as well as announce a few more topics which will be added to ensure that the broadband record is complete.  In fact, in addition to the workshops already posted on, we've added six more workshops, which will take us into mid-October.

This week, we looked at state and local government efforts to deploy broadband on Tuesday, followed by a workshop on Wednesday on Benchmarks, or how to measure deployment in a way that helps policymakers who are trying to attain universal coverage.  We close the week out on Thursday with a panel on Big Ideas, featuring a diverse roster of panelists from the research, public interest and technology communities.

After Labor Day, on Sept. 9, we will focus in on the consumer, looking at the kinds of benefits broadband provides - along with the risks posed by sharing information online.  On Sept. 15, we'll take a look about the benefits broadband can provide to health care in a workshop coordinated by Tom Buckley, who oversees the FCC's Rural Health Care Pilot Project.

We'll conduct two workshops on Sept. 17, one of which will look at the issues surrounding online content, including the tradeoffs between content protection and innovation.  That same day, we'll take a look at the need for robust wireless broadband connections and the supply and demand for spectrum.

The next workshop will be on Sept. 30, when we'll look at cyber security.  Two days later, on Oct. 2, we'll focus on diversity and civil rights issues in broadband policy.  Topics include whether there is a digital divide, and if it is one based on race and ethnicity, or class, or geography.

On Oct. 9, we'll explore the economics of broadband competition.  And finally, on Oct. 20, we will return to the topic of broadband accessibility for people with disabilities, which is our second workshop on the topic.

I know that the coming workshops will continue to broaden our understanding, so that the next time I sit across from the Commissioners, I'll continue to be able to satisfy their questions, as well as the questions that all Americans will have about the plan.

Broadband Plan Shaking Up Communications at FCC

September 2nd, 2009 by Julius Genachowski - Chairman, Federal Communications Commission.

Julius GenachowskiI had always intended for the FCC's work on the National Broadband Plan to be transparent and open to a wide variety of stakeholders including providers, public interest groups and citizens alike. This effort is too important to leave anyone out.


I am pleased to see that the Commission's work on the plan is already transforming the way we at the agency communicate with the public.  Fittingly, we are using the power of the Internet to boost public participation in the plan through our blog, "Blogband," which is dedicated to the National Broadband Plan. The posts have given us an informal way to keep people up-to-date and engaged in the process. Importantly, the comments back have also been a catalyst for new thinking and creative solutions.


We're also using the Internet to give more people greater access to our workshops here at the Commission. In addition to the over 1,100 people who've so far attended the workshops in person, over 5,000 people have registered to view and participate in the workshops online.  The workshops represent an unparalleled level of openness and participation in the Commission's work.


Inside the agency, we are hard at work processing the public input we are getting from our many workshops. The hours of discussion by workshop participants, along with comments that have already been filed at the FCC, have prompted us to draft new Public Notices about the plan. Over the coming weeks, you will see several of them issued. The new comments we receive will be filed in the official record for the plan. And of course, the transcripts that are being made of each workshop will also be part of the record.


So, thank you for your comments to date and please keep them coming in the weeks ahead!

Public Asked to Respond to Staff Workshops

September 1st, 2009 by Krista Witanowski - Workshop Coordinator

Krista W - 2The staff workshops exploring issues that are key in the development of a National Broadband Plan have provided a lot of information -- and pointed to the need for a lot more information.  Now, the public is being asked to respond to the workshops by filing comments on the record with the FCC.  A Public Notice issued today tells how to do that - but the easiest way is to use the FCC's form to file brief comments, noting the name of the workshop with your comments.  You can file more extensive comments by entering docket number 09-51 the first field of this form and including your comments in an attachment. You should also state the name of the workshop in your comments - and fill in other required fields in the form as well.  More extensive instructions are in the Public Notice.

There are deadlines. Responses to workshops held from August 6 to August 20 should be filed by September 15.  Reponses to workshops held from Aug. 25-Sept. 15 should be filed by Oct. 2.  And responses for workshops being held from Sept. 16 to Oct. 20 should be filed by Oct. 30.

Filing comments is a key way to be heard at the FCC.  So take some time now to submit your thoughts about the workshops, for the record.

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