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Delivering on Our Open Government Promise

Posted April 5th, 2011 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

Look across the landscape of government websites, and you see a common phenomenon: a dot gov site at rest, stays at rest.

Our own FCC.gov is proof enough. What was hailed in the late 1990’s as one of the leading federal web sites has sprawled out over time, moving with the organizational changes of the FCC, but largely resisting the outside forces of technical evolution and consumer expectations.
The FCC wasn’t alone; across the government, agencies faced similar challenges: long, cumbersome procurements; lack of focus on the importance of this work; or simply an unwillingness to devote the resources needed to keep up.
Thankfully for this community -- and for every American citizen -- a strong force has been quickening the pace of change. The principles of “open government,” which urge federal agencies to embrace the inertia created by engaged citizens -- the real dot gov shareholders -- are helping to move these vital issues forward.
The new FCC.gov comes from you: the citizens who commented on our blog posts, who submitted suggestions on our citizen engagement platforms, who answered our surveys, and who use the site day in and day out to make American technology work. In his State of the Union Address, President Obama called on government to be “open and competent,” building off new skills and driven by new ideas. Our reimagined FCC.gov answers the President’s call, and delivers on our open government promise.
With the launch of the new FCC.gov, we’re proving that Washington can keep up with the speed of the Web, implementing today's tools with an eye to tomorrow's innovations. Some of the highlights include:
  • One voice of the FCC: Intuitive design and layout optimized for the everyday citizen who isn’t familiar with the FCC’s own organizational chart.
  • Top tasks: Surveys, testing, and analytics showed us what FCC.gov users do on our site. Those tasks now follow visitors throughout their FCC.gov experience in the “Take Action” bar.
  • Great search: A powerful shortcut to help users get in and get what they need. For business users, powerful search filters make finding documents easy. 
  • Tech-forward: Built in the cloud, and developed with open source software, the new FCC.gov lowers barriers to future development as part of a long-term IT cost-cutting strategy.
  • Feedback everywhere: Putting citizen skin in the game to make FCC.gov work better for users, and holding us accountable to continual improvement.
  • This beta launch isn’t a beta in a traditional sense. FCC.gov will change again -- and quickly. It’s an approach that’s fairly foreign to the way most agencies work on the Web. But we’ll build this new experience on a solid, future-ready platform; we’re taking a page from the online entreprenuer’s playbook, releasingproducts  quickly and often,  and letting the many eyes of the Web drive the continuous improvement we hope FCC.gov will come to embody.
The scope of the changes to FCC.gov will also expand over time. The FCC new media team is continuing an aggressive campaign of applying innovative tech and techniques to the FCC's legacy databases and systems. Many of these systems facilitate billions of dollars in transactions that are vital to American prosperity in a global, connected economy. We can use the lessons we learn from the new FCC.gov to simplify data collections, improve time to market, and facilitate transactions at the speed of 21st century technology.
Welcome to the reimagined FCC.gov. Leave your comments below -- or participate in our online engagement platforms -- and tell us how we can continue improving FCC.gov together.


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What’s In a Name?

Posted March 29th, 2011 by Mary Bucher

I am happy to announce that the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau’s Spectrum Management, Resources and Technologies Division has a new name. (Sorry to disappoint those looking for a discussion of Shakespeare or roses.)  We are now the Technologies, Systems and Innovation Division (aptly known as the Tech Division).  We’ve changed our name to more clearly reflect our core mission and responsibilities.

The Tech Division is primarily responsible for developing and managing the Wireless Bureau’s information technology tools, systems and programs.  This includes managing multiple automated systems, developing innovative web-based tools and providing advanced mapping and data analysis capabilities.

As part of our rebranding, we plan to place even more emphasis on adding additional transparency to Bureau processes and access to underlying data through the Bureau’s online presence using latest web methodologies.

The Tech Division also promotes fast and efficient licensing of wireless services through our licensing support and outreach functions which include the Universal Licensing System (ULS) Technical Support Hotline and attending industry trade shows to promote key functions of the Bureau.

The name "Technologies, Systems & Innovation" more accurately reflects these goals and responsibilities than the former name.  With this change, we will be better positioned to succeed in our mission of developing and managing innovative tools and systems, enabling data driven policy decisions and equipping the public with timely, useful information about wireless services.  Besides, the Tech Division has a nice ring to it!

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New Market Opportunities and FCC Building Blocks

Posted March 23rd, 2011 by Michael Byrne - Geographic Information Officer

The National Broadband Map was developed to embody the spirit of the Internet.


Let me explain what I mean. The Internet is a two way street. At its most basic, the National Broadband Map shows how quickly Americans can give and take information over our national networks.


The Internet is also highly dynamic; it is constantly changing. The Map, too, was built to not only support but encourage change.


Since the product launched, we've seen some cool developments that use the Map's building blocks to make other projects better and more powerful. We think these developments lead to new opportunities -- new markets, new jobs, and new ways of tackling tough issues.


Here’s the first big example: The team at Broadband.com has integrated two of the FCC's APIs -- one for Census Block Conversion, the other to access the crowdsourced data points of the FCC Consumer Broadband Speed Test -- into their own mapping tool. This helps show the speed at businesses' locations -- a hugely important data point to surface as the speed of broadband to business and industry only climbs in importance in our connected market place.


On the government side, the excellent data team at the U.S. Department of Education just released a map product that visualizes one of the most vital aspects of broadband deployment in America: broadband availability for U.S. schools. Moving forward, the National Broadband Map will be collecting more information about Community Anchor Institutions – the places like schools and libraries that often are the central locations for public broadband access – that will help grow the functionality in products like the Broadband Availabilty map.


These integrations are a great example of government data products helping businesses build new markets. It’s exactly the spirit of integration we had in mind, and we’re excited to see other products -- in the private and public sectors -- continue down this path.


The second example is even more exciting. Since launch, we have received over 32,000 user-suggested inputs which are location based.  These 32,000 data points come in two varieties: some support the data that the map shows, and others point out discrepancies where user data doesn’t match the data in the map.


These user inputs are being fed back to the states -- the collectors of the National Broadband Map’s data -- to continuously improve the quality of the product. And user data input -- like our speed test -- continue to show the value that hybridized data collection techniques can pass on to users and innovators alike.

Posted in Developer Maps

Architectural Framework for Public Safety Broadband Network

Posted March 18th, 2011 by Behzad Ghaffari - Systems Engineering Chief, ERIC, PSHSB

Do we need one?

On Jan 25th, 2011, the Commission adopted Long Term Evolution (LTE) as the common air interface for the nationwide interoperable broadband network for public safety in the 700 MHz band.   This order also adopted a set of LTE interfaces to ensure interoperability and roaming.  To this end, this item set a minimum level of requirements to establish the technology and standards on which a nationwide interoperable broadband network is to be developed.  This was a significant step but certainly not the last one towards nationwide interoperability.  Considerable work remains in establishing and adopting rules to ensure nationwide interoperability for this network. 

In the same item, the FCC also issued a notice of proposed rulemaking that addresses a host of issues related to achieving nationwide interoperability.  This includes questions about an architectural framework for the network. When we talk about architecture, it may sound like we are building a house; but in our case, this architectural framework will provide a view of the final network build out, a roadmap to signify the evolution steps for network, and the capabilities offered to users.  

While this notice does not dictate network architecture, it does set the stage for ways to achieve an architectural framework by inquiring about guiding principles.  Using the same house building analogy, we may not want to mandate exactly what the house should look like, but we may want in principle to ensure that it is built on one acre of land, with a kitchen, a family room, a dining room, a living room, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and a basement.  There will be many different ways to design a house with these characteristics, but they are all principally built based on this given data. We proposed some guiding principles for the construction of this nationwide broadband network in the notice and sought comment on many open issues.   We look forward to reviewing the input on this very important issue, for what may be the very foundation of the public safety broadband network.

Posted in Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
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Reducing Barriers for Small and Minority-Owned Businesses

Posted March 17th, 2011 by Gilberto Dejesus

The business and technology landscapes can change quickly. Every three years, the FCC fulfills its Congressionally-mandated review that identifies and eliminates unnecessary rules that no longer benefit the businesses we work with.

This review also helps the commission promote policies that favor a diversity of media voices, vigorous economic competition, and technological advancement. 

Section 257 of the Communications Act of 1934 (Communications Act) requires that the FCC review and report to Congress every three years on the Commission’s (1) efforts to identify and eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers to entrepreneurs and small businesses and (2) and identify and provide proposals to eliminate unnecessary statutory barriers to market entry by those businesses.

In this 2009 Section 257 Report to Congress (2009 Report), the Commission examines regulatory actions taken to reduce market entry barriers by each rule-writing Bureau and Office within the Commission since the last triennial report.  Further, in the 2009 Report, we also make recommendations for legislative action to reduce statutory barriers to market entry. 

In addition, as our mandate requires, we also identify other barriers which, if not addressed, have the potential to limit market entry by entrepreneurs and other small businesses.  One such barrier is a general lack of data on minority participation, which could inform decisions and help the Commission gauge the effectiveness of its actions on an ongoing basis.  Another barrier is a lack of outreach to the very parties who could benefit from agency actions.  While the actions described in this report do not curtail these barriers, it is important to recognize them so that they may be addressed in the future. 

The Commission fully recognizes the role that small communications businesses play in a robust American economy.  Our efforts, as detailed in this 2009 Report, evidence the Commission’s commitment to identifying and reducing or eliminating barriers that would impede the growth of such a vital sector of the industry and the economy.  This 2009 Report contains information from each Bureau and Office that either conducts substantive rulemakings relevant to small businesses or that is directly engaged in advocating for regulatory policies, rules and regulations to support small businesses. 

However, as Chairman Genachowski noted in his statement accompanying the 2009 Report:

As important as the 257 Report is, encouraging a diversity of voices, promoting entrepreneurship and fostering the growth of small businesses aren’t just things we think about once every three years when it comes time to assemble a report. They are core principles shaping our strategic direction every day.

Posted in FCC Staff
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Continuing a Conversation About the FCC’s Merger Review Process

Posted March 17th, 2011 by Jonathan Baker - Chief Economist

Six weeks after the FCC completed its high profile review of the Comcast/NBCU transaction, Commissioner Meredith Baker (no relation) suggested that the agency’s transaction review process should be overhauled.  I have been involved in merger reviews on both sides of the table for most of my career – working with private parties advocating or questioning deals, and at the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice as well as the FCC – putting me in a unique position to address some of the issues that Commissioner Baker raised.

    To provide context, I want to begin with what the FCC accomplished in terms of process during its Comcast/NBCU review: 

  • Fact-based and data driven analysis.  As the Commission’s order shows, its conclusions were based upon a well-developed record about the industry, the applicants, and the potential implications of the transaction.
  • Development of a model legal and economic analysis.  The FCC set forth a roadmap for antitrust tribunals reviewing the exclusionary impacts of vertical integration in future cases.
  • Detailed findings and reasons.  The Commission provided a detailed opinion explaining the reasons for the order’s provisions. 
  • Close coordination with the Department of Justice.  The FCC and DOJ worked together to share insights and to assure an efficient process and consistent outcomes.  By most accounts, this was the most successful transaction-related collaboration ever between these agencies.
  • Avoided unnecessary burdens.  The FCC worked with the applicants and other parties to craft an order that protects the public interest without restricting the applicants’ ability to accomplish their legitimate business objectives.  Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen concurred, saying publicly after the FCC issued its order, “I don’t think any of the conditions is particularly restrictive.”

    The success of the FCC’s review process is particularly striking given that the transaction presented a wide range of important and complex issues, including novel and difficult competitive questions raised by the deal’s potential impact on nascent competition in online video distribution.

    Against this backdrop, let’s look at Commissioner Baker’s concerns.  The first is with the statutory mandate for the FCC and the antitrust enforcement agencies to review competition concurrently.  Comcast/NBCU highlights the advantages of Congress’ design.  Working together, the FCC and DOJ are often more effective in addressing competition issues than either would be working alone.  The FCC brings industry expertise and a greater practical ability to review and address concerns about a merger’s impact on potential competition.  Through collaboration, moreover, both agencies were able to conduct an extensive, careful, and cooperative review of that transaction without delaying the process.  Not surprisingly, the two agencies addressed competition problems by imposing similar conditions.

    In addition, Commissioner Baker raises concerns with the costs of a long merger review process.  Yet she also recognizes the need for careful review.  The FCC should not hold up the consummation of mergers that are in the public interest or allow merger reviews to languish, but, equally, it cannot cut corners when undertaking those reviews.  No responsible agency can simply assume that every communications merger proposed in the free market is in all respects beneficial to the public.  Nor can the FCC compromise on the procedural protections that administrative law confers on interested parties.  Based on my experience working at both antitrust agencies as well as the FCC, I would say that the length of a merger review is determined primarily by the complexity of the competitive issues, not whether the reviewing agency is the FCC, FTC or DOJ.  (Other major vertical mergers reviewed recently by DOJ, such as Ticketmaster/Live Nation, have taken as long as Comcast/NBCU to reach a consent settlement.)

    Commissioner Baker also questions whether the FCC at times goes too far afield when imposing conditions to assure that mergers serve the public interest, leading it to impose some conditions that may be unrelated to the transaction.  The wide range of conditions in the typical merger order is easy to explain:  it is the natural and foreseeable result of the statutory “public interest” charge to the agency.   In furtherance of that mandate, the FCC takes on competition concerns – in the Comcast/NBCU order, two-thirds of the pages on conditions sought to protect or foster competition – but it also addresses other public interest issues that Congress has put front and center in the Communications Act, such as diversity of viewpoints, localism, and deployment of advanced telecommunications services.  My sense is that most disputes over whether specific conditions are “transaction-related” are not mainly about the integrity of the merger review process but are really about a basic policy question – whether the Commission should continue to pursue the longstanding public interest goals identified by Congress in the Act.  If so, process reforms are unlikely to stop the criticism.

    Even a successful process can be improved.  It is possible, for example, that the FCC could do better in developing and testing evidence by introducing more adversarial elements into its administrative merger review process.  (A similar issue comes up in comparing the antitrust review of mergers in the US and Europe.)   The FCC experimented with one such procedural innovation in Comcast/NBCU:  the staff conducted an economic workshop, bringing together economists for the parties to the transaction and third parties for a structured discussion placed on the adjudicative record.  In future reviews, the FCC staff could also consider deposing merging firm executives as the antitrust agencies often do; this process may, for example, help the FCC staff evaluate merging firm documents.  

    In Comcast/NBCU, Chairman Genachowski was determined to ensure a model transaction review process – and through the dedicated effort of the transaction team led by John Flynn and staffed from throughout the agency, particularly the Media Bureau, the Office of General Counsel, and the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis, he succeeded.  I had little exposure to FCC merger review in the past.  But after working on Comcast/NBCU and other transactions during my time at the FCC, I think of the agency’s merger review process more as a source of pride than as a source of concern.

Posted in Media Bureau Office Of Chairman Office Of Strategic Planning And Policy Analysis

Aiding Japan Disaster Relief Fundraising Efforts

Posted March 16th, 2011 by William Lake - Chief of the Media Bureau

While there have been other disasters during our lifetime, few are of the magnitude Japan is experiencing.  Over the weeks and months to come, much help will be needed to rebuild the lives of those affected by the continuing devastation the earthquake and tsunami have caused.  To assist with Japan relief efforts, the Federal Communications Commission today announced procedures on how noncommercial educational (NCE) stations can request a waiver to conduct on-air fundraising in support of these efforts.

The Commission’s rules generally prohibit NCEs from on-air fundraising on behalf of any entity other than the station itself.  However, the Commission has previously granted waivers for limited fundraising programs or for station appeals for disasters such as Hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, the Haiti 2010 earthquake, and the September 11th terrorist attack, among others.  Stations are already requesting waivers and we look forward to granting as many as we can in support of this important cause.

More information can be found in the public notice issued today.

Posted in Public Notices Media Bureau
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Chairman Genachowski: The Clock is Ticking

Posted March 16th, 2011 by George Krebs

This morning Chairman Genachowski spoke on spectrum, consumers and America’s small businesses, delivering the keynote address as part of the Mobile Future Forum. He called attention to the growth of broadband in America, the looming spectrum crisis and our solution of voluntary, market-based incentive auctions to free up that spectrum. He emphasized that “we must act” to set the pace for 21st century technology and said, “there’s no other choice than for the U.S. to lead.”

Given the theme, the event was held at Voxiva, a mobile based information solutions firm recently named one of the most innovative companies in the world. Peter Rysavy of Rysavy Research released a report prior to the Chairman’s talk entitled The Spectrum Imperative: Mobile Broadband Spectrum and its impacts for U.S. Consumers and the Economy. Here's an excerpt from the Chairman's speech.

To some, it was a surprise that the Broadband Plan included major sections on mobile broadband.  At the time, many assumed that broadband was what you got when you connected your computer to the modem plugged into your wall.

…Mobile broadband is being adopted faster than any computing platform in history.  The number of smartphones and tablets being sold now exceeds the number of PCs.

The Mobile Future report released this morning puts a fine point on this.  According to their report, quote, “The clock is ticking, with rising demand rapidly closing the gap with existing supply.  The consequences of inaction are severe, widespread and wholly negative for consumers and the U.S. economy.”

The point deserves emphasis:  the clock is ticking on our mobile future. Demand for spectrum is rapidly outstripping supply.  The networks we have today won’t be able to handle consumer and business needs. 

Read the rest of the Chairman’s speech The Clock is Ticking.

Posted in Events Wireless Office Of Chairman Mobile Usf

Your Consumer Advisory Committee

Posted March 16th, 2011 by Scott Marshall - Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

The Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) is yet another means by which the consumers’ voice is heard at the FCC.

Originally established in November 2000, CAC advises the commission on consumer issues within its jurisdiction and facilitates the participation of consumers -- including people with disabilities and underserved populations such as American Indians and persons living in rural areas -- in proceedings before the FCC.

On December 30, 2008, the commission announced the rechartering of the Committee for a fifth two-year term thru November 2010. As a federal advisory committee, CAC membership is required by law to represent a balanced point of view.  Accordingly, of the committee’s 28 volunteer members, 12 represented interests of consumers, minorities and low-income communities, five represented the interests of people with disabilities, six represented the interests of Tribal, state and local governments and five represented the telecom industries.  Debra Berlyn, formerly of the Digital Television Transition Coalition and presently the National Consumers League, chaired the committee.  

Last November, the committee was rechartered for another two year term (PDF) through 2012. Applications for committee membership were solicited and are currently being reviewed.  It is expected that Chairman Genachowski will make appointments to the CAC in April.

A highlight of the CAC’s fifth term was two recommendations concerning the Consumer Information Disclosure Notice of Inquiry, CG 09-158 (PDF), which sought comment on whether there are opportunities to protect and empower consumers by ensuring sufficient access to relevant information about communications services.  These two recommendations , adopted by the committee in March and August of 2010, relate to the kinds of pre-sale disclosures consumers need when they are trying to make wise purchases of wireless, broadband, and other communication services.

For further information about the Consumer Advisory Committee, along with the recommendations referred to in this post, visit the Consumer Advisory Committee section of our website.  If you have any questions about the Committee please contact me, Scott Marshall, CAC's Designated Federal Officer, at scott.marshall [at] fcc [dot] gov.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Advisory Committee Consumers
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Making Universal Service and Intercarrier Compensation Reform Happen

Posted March 15th, 2011 by FCC Commissioners

By Julius Genachowski, Michael Copps, Robert McDowell, Mignon Clyburn, Meredith Baker – FCC Commissioners

When we voted unanimously to approve the USF/ICC Transformation NPRM last month, each of us made clear that we are committed to reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) system, and to doing so as soon as possible.   We must eliminate waste and inefficiency and modernize USF and ICC to bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans.  We can’t afford to delay.

As part of our process, today we’re announcing the first of a small number of open, public workshops to identify solutions to key issues in the USF/ICC proceeding.  This first workshop at the FCC on April 6th will focus on ICC issues.  At least one of the others will be held outside of Washington, DC, and all of them will be live-streamed on the Internet and will enable online participation.  More details on the workshops will be released soon.

At these workshops, we’re looking forward to robust discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders.  And we’re expecting participants to come prepared with responses to our reform proposals—and/or proposals of their own—that recognize that reform will entail compromise and shared sacrifice, as well as shared opportunity.

In addition to the workshops, we of course encourage parties to file comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).  As a reminder, the first comments on certain issues are due on April 1, and the last reply comments are due on May 23.  While the NPRM included many reform ideas, there may be others that merit consideration as well.  We remain open to considering all ideas put forth in the workshops and comments.

Once the record is complete in late May, we look forward to moving to an Order within a few months—it’s going to be a busy spring and summer.

The time is right to make reform happen, and to do so through an open, public, and participatory process.

(Cross posted on Blogband.)

Posted in From The Chairman Open Government Usf