Federal Communications Commission

Wireline Competition Bureau Category

Successfully Piloting Telehealth In California

August 20th, 2010 by Sharon Gillett

Three years ago, the FCC launched its Rural Health Care Pilot Program to learn how best to fill an important need: providing broadband connections to isolated rural health clinics.   The need is very real. Broadband can provide rural health clinics with real-time consultation, diagnostics, training and other services from big-city teaching hospitals and specialists over high-capacity Internet lines.  That can save lives, time, & money while improving health care in remote areas.  But the robust networks needed to support these services are often lacking.  So the Pilot Program set out to learn how to make these networks available, using hands-on experience from 62 pilot projects.

This week, I had the pleasure of joining California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra at the launch of the second-largest of the 62 projects, the California Telehealth Network.  With funding from the FCC and a 15% match from the California Emerging Technology Fund, the project will initially build a network backbone and connect 50 health care facilities in the state. Ultimately, the project will around 800 facilities in remote and Tribal areas.

This project is a model of what the FCC is trying to foster across the country.  Comprised of a consortium led by the University of California Office of the President and the U.C. Davis Health System, the California Telehealth Network worked with small, regional telehealth operations around the state to forge a unified project.  In the end, organizers almost doubled the number of providers on the network, and effectively demonstrated how the FCC can play a positive role in advancing state health networks.  

We have learned a lot from this project and from leaders like Dr. Thomas Nesbitt from U.C. Davis,  and CTN Director Eric Brown.  We will be applying these lessons as we develop a new Rural Health Care Program to replace the Pilot, and hope to do an even better job of supporting this increasingly important component of health care at remote hospitals and clinics across the country. 

USF Reform: We’re All In This Together

August 10th, 2010 by Carol Mattey - Deputy Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau

We are busy at the FCC developing proposals to reform key aspects of the universal service fund.  I’ve been fortunate in recent weeks to be able to travel outside of D.C. with several FCC colleagues to listen and learn from a broad cross section of stakeholders that share a common goal of promoting innovation and investment in broadband across America.  I attended the NARUC Summer Meetings in Sacramento, where I participated in several panels, including a discussion of the National Broadband Plan and its USF recommendations and a discussion of the regulatory framework for broadband services. Our colleagues at state public utility commissions have a keen interest in what’s going on in Washington, DC and how the FCC’s actions might impact citizens in their states.  

We also spoke with rural telephone companies at the OPASTCO summer meeting.  Several of the companies we talked to have deployed all fiber networks throughout their service areas offering, while others are in the process of building out their networks.  The companies we spoke with typically offer three to five tiers of service, with overall take rates ranging from 20% to 70% and many customers purchasing the lower priced, lower speed packages offering 1.5 Mbps to 3 Mbps downstream. 

The Washington Department of Information Services hosted a jam packed day of meetings with Tribal government leaders and local officials (including representatives from school districts, the City of Seattle, the Washington State Library, the Department of Social and Health Services, the Department of Commerce, Noanet, Public Utility Districts, and many others), who are working hard to maximize the availability and use of broadband in their communities to advance health care, education, and economic development. State and local officials were eager to discuss the challenges of extending broadband to particular isolated communities in the Washington State. 

We learned about a not-for-profit health center that has raised matching funding to establish a critical access health care facility on the San Juan Islands that would enable health care professionals to treat patients through live imaging delivered via broadband, rather than transporting people to the mainland via helicopter or ferry.   The Colville Tribe talked about how they are hoping to receive stimulus funding to extend broadband on their reservation so that their people can find new ways to learn a living in the wake of high unemployment after the closure of timber mills that sustained the community for so many years.  Noanet – which has received $85 million in round one of stimulus funding and has another $55 million in projects in due diligence – highlighted for us on a map where they will be extending middle mile facilities in the state.  We heard about how broadband enables areas of the state that historically have survived on tourism to develop a cottage industry of software developers and others who remotely provide digital efforts for the movie industry.  We also spoke with the Gates Foundation about their ongoing commitment to improving public access to broadband in libraries across the country.

We recognize the magnitude of the task and know that it’s too great for the FCC to accomplish on its own.  I’m convinced that we have to work closely with our state, local and Tribal government partners, as well as the private sector and non-profits, in discussing how to reform USF to advance broadband for local communities. They know what’s on the ground.  We’re all in this together.

Keeping Tabs on Broadband Availability

August 6th, 2010 by Sharon Gillett

Just over two weeks after the Commission released its report to Congress finding that broadband is not being deployed on a reasonable and timely manner to ALL Americans, we’re already starting work on the next report. The FCC is required to produce this broadband deployment report annually, and today is the statutory deadline for releasing a Notice of Inquiry seeking input for next year’s version. 

Commonly called the 706 Report after the section of the statute that mandated it, the Sixth Broadband Deployment Report reached its conclusions after taking a hard look at the wealth of new data available gathered during development of the National Broadband Plan and from ongoing FCC data collection, as improved by policies adopted in 2008.  The report also updated the FCC’s decade-old speed threshold for broadband, from 200 Kbps to 4 Mbps, and relied on a more realistic methodology for determining how many of the areas are unserved. 

But as you’ll see in the Notice of Inquiry for the Seventh Broadband Deployment Report, we’re committed to staying abreast of the fast pace of technological change by asking for public comment on whether our new speed standard continues to be reasonable or if  it should be adjusted. We also seek comment on how we can sharpen our analysis and make the best use possible of our data.

So while next year’s 706 Report may be different from this year's, one thing that is sure to stay the same: our commitment to assessing whether all Americans have access to the robust broadband service they need to find jobs, get educated, and stay connected to their communities.

Getting It: the FCC's Role in Bringing Broadband to Health Care

June 28th, 2010 by Thomas Buckley - Manager, Rural Health Care Pilot Program

It's nice to hear from someone in the public that the FCC "gets it."

I heard just such a remark in California last month, when I had the opportunity to travel to the California Emergency Technology Fund's Rural Connection Workshop in Redding, California.  CETF, if you are not aware, is a non-profit organization established by the California Public Utilities Commission, which provides leadership throughout the state to accelerate the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

The Workshop provided a forum for community, state, local, and federal leaders to discuss broadband deployment progress made in California as well as obstacles still faced.  I was honored to provide an update on initiatives in the FCC's Rural Health Care Universal Service Program, including the Rural Health Care Pilot Program, and to hear the many helpful ideas and comments from attendees.

In case you haven't heard of the FCC's Pilot program, here's what it does in a nutshell: it helps build high-speed broadband connections that connect public and non-profit rural health clinics with medical centers in larger communities.  The Pilot is funding projects that will be able to provide rural America with real-time consultations with medical experts at research hospitals, using telemedicine to save lives and money, and bring other benefits that only robust broadband connections can bring in the information-intense world of health care.

I updated the attendees on the progress of the California Telehealth Network Pilot Project, which is eligible for $22 million under the Pilot Program to deploy a new state-wide network that plans to connect over 900 health care providers to facilitate mental illness counseling and improve patient-physician interaction for rural Californians.  Isolation makes treatment and preventive services a challenge.  The new network will address real problems for rural Californians who suffer disproportionately from depression, hypertension, asthma and cardiovascular disease. 

For this audience of rural health technologists, I held up the California project an excellent model of state-wide collaboration of healthcare, technology, government, and other stakeholders to bring the benefits of health IT throughout the state.  Example: some of the key groups of this project are the University of California Office of the President, and the UC Davis Health System, which serves as the legally and financially responsible partner for the project.  The project has also received a $3.3M pledge from the California Emerging Technology Fund and has been granted partial reimbursement for monthly network connection costs by the California Teleconnect Fund program of the California Public Utility Commission.  In April, AT&T won the bidding to deploy the network, and the project is now finalizing its funding commitment request.  Bottom line: the California Telehealth Network shows what states can accomplish when they combine resources to reach as many rural health care providers as possible so that health IT can improve health care delivery in rural areas.

It was when my presentation focused on the longer term goals for the Rural Health Care Program that the audience member chimed in.  I explained the lessons learned from the Pilot Program and the recommendations of the National Broadband Plan to create a permanent infrastructure program, transform our Internet Access Fund into a Broadband Access Fund, and fund data centers and administrative offices because they  are critical to delivering health IT.  It was this vision that prompted the audience member to say the FCC "gets it." 

We want to keep getting it.  So the Commission at its July 15 meeting will be voting on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which asks for public input on how best to improve, reform and expand the Rural Health Care program based on recommendations in the National Broadband Plan and on what we've learned from the Pilot. Meanwhile, you can post any ideas you have on using broadband to save lives and deliver health care efficiently on this blog.

Cross-posted to The Official FCC Blog.

Transitioning Lifeline to Broadband: A Roundtable

June 22nd, 2010 by Elise Kohn

Since they were established in 1980s, the FCC’s Lifeline and Link Up programs have made telephone service more affordable for low-income consumers.  (Lifeline reduces the monthly bill and Link Up reduces the cost of the initial connection.) They have helped the nation achieve its goal of connecting nearly all Americans to telephone service.  So with the next big goal facing us – connecting all Americans to broadband – it seemed logical to update these two programs for the broadband era, and the National Broadband Plan recommended doing just that.  Recommendation 9.1 says the FCC “should expand Lifeline Assistance and Link-Up America to make broadband more affordable for low-income households.”  The Plan also recommends that the evolution start with pilot programs to make sure that the changes will increase broadband adoption in low-income communities.  Well, that process begins now with a June 23 roundtable convening to discuss the design of pilot programs.  It’s open to the public at FCC headquarters, but if you can’t join us, watch online at, either live or in the archive. And we welcome your comments here.

Broadening Development of Universal Service Policy for Broadband

June 14th, 2010 by Sharon Gillett

It’s an axiom that broadband breaks down barriers, an axiom that is true at the FCC as well.  Take Universal Service, the program meant to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable telecommunications services.  The program has long focused on telephone service, and its policies have been developed by the Wireline Competition Bureau.

But the National Broadband Plan recognized that Universal Service needs to be updated to provide all Americans with access to the communications technology of the 21st Century: broadband. The Plan also recognized that broadband may be delivered by a variety of technologies, including wireline, cable, wireless and satellite.  So it only makes sense to involve multiple bureaus – not just the Wireline Bureau – in the process of overhauling the program. 

That’s why Chairman Genachowski has launched the Universal Service Working Group, which will facilitate collaboration between the bureaus on the FCC’s broadband universal service agenda.  I will lead the group, which will include representatives from the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, the Office of General Counsel, the Office of Managing Director, the Office of Strategic Planning, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, the International Bureau (satellite) and my bureau, the Wireline Competition Bureau. 

I look forward to collaborating with this group to develop a truly comprehensive approach to Universal Service reform for the broadband age.  You can  a meeting with Universal Service Working Group staff regarding Universal Service issues related to the broadband action agenda using this online form.

Lessons for Cities from the National Broadband Plan

June 8th, 2010 by Mark Wigfield - Spokesman, Omnibus Broadband Initiative.

Director of Consumer Research John Horrigan prepared this speech last week for delivery at the event "High Speed Fiber and Baltimore's Future" in Baltimore. 

Today, I would like to give you a brief “Broadband Plan 101” lesson – and do so in a way that leaves you with a sense of how Baltimore can put broadband to work for economic and community development. The grand vision, as laid out in the National Broadband Plan (NBP), is to have 90% of America connected to 100 Mbps home broadband by 2020. It is heartening to see Baltimore – the place I call home – be one of the first cities since the Plan’s release to convene an event focused on how best to use high-speed connectivity for economic and community development.

[Read the full speech here.]

Telephone Poles

May 21st, 2010 by Marcus Maher

Whoops.  The title of this blog post is wrong. It should be “utility poles,” which points to one of the many ironies in the hidden life of the ubiquitous utility pole.  Most of what are commonly known as telephone poles are actually owned by the electric utility –70% of them, in fact.  But whether a telephone company or other utility owns the poles, every other kind of company that hangs anything on these poles pays the utility company for the privilege, and under current federal rules a cable company and a telephone company pay different rates for attaching their lines to a pole.  But now that broadband and IP communications are merging voice, data and video, charging different rates for different types of communications services seems to make less and less sense.

Make no mistake about it: the humble telephone, er, utility pole, is hot real estate.  Companies pay, on average, anywhere between $7 per foot and $20 per foot for a pole attachment.  Multiplied by hundreds of thousand of poles, that can have an impact on whether services are delivered to a community or not.  Utility poles are essential infrastructure, and infrastructure costs can affect the price or availability of service, the National Broadband Plan found.  In rural areas, where there may be more poles per mile than people, the cost of pole attachments could deter broadband deployment.  Or in other instances, a cable company planning to bundle voice, data and video in the coaxial cable might be deterred if the voice service would subject the company to a higher pole attachment rate.

Also, it can take new companies many months or even years to get their facilities on the poles.  Adding a new attacher often means that existing attachers must all move their wires, which they have little incentive to do quickly.  Frustrated attachers may be tempted to take matters into their own hands and put up their wires in secret, which can be unsafe as well as unfair to the pole owner.  Access can become even more complicated when wireless carriers want to put their antennas on pole tops to fill in cellular coverage.  

So following up on the National Broadband Plan, the Commission is taking a look at ways to reduce costs and speed access to poles in an Order and FNPRM released in yesterday's Open Commission Meeting.  The item will also look at whether rates can be made as low and as close to uniform as possible.  So next time you walk down the street, don’t take that humble stick of creosoted dead tree for granted.  It’s as important a part of delivering you 21st century communications as that slick iPad is – though maybe not as pretty to look at.

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