Federal Communications Commission

Archive for November 2009

Smart Turkey?

November 27th, 2009 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

Nick SinaiThanksgiving weekend is a time for a turkey, family, and football. After you've gotten your fill of all three - is it really possible? - maybe there is time for a little reflection too.

In that spirit, we're reflecting on the responses to our public notice and from our ongoing conversations with the American public about the Smart Grid - the modernization of the electrical grid. We're also reflecting on the recent presentation to the Commission about critical gaps in the path to future universal broadband.

I'm often asked, why focus on the Smart Grid in the energy section of the broadband plan? The answer is simple-we have a climate crisis on our hands, and broadband and IT need to be part of the solution. In fact, smart electric grids, smart homes, and smart buildings-sometimes collectively called the smart grid-are the greatest opportunity for broadband and IT to reduce carbon emissions. One study recently concluded that smart grids, homes, and buildings could reduce over 800 million tons of annual carbon emissions by 2020. That's the equivalent of taking more than 100 million gasoline-fueled cars off the road.

The responses to the public notice on Smart Grid issues have also made it clear that there are two issues that we need to address in a comprehensive plan to Congress.

First, it's clear from the record that our electrical system-really a collection of systems-will require greater data connectivity across the entire grid, from generation to transmission to distribution to the meter, and within the home and building. As we have more distributed generation, plug-in electric vehicles, and retail prices that better reflect costs, we'll need to modernize the grid, with greater communications and IT throughout.

It's also clear from the record that each Smart Grid application has different networking requirements, from meters that must be read once per day, to advanced sensors called synchrophasors that must report power quality data in a continuous stream.

As a result, there are a variety of networks already being used to support the Smart Grid, including private and commercial, wired and wireless, narrowband and broadband. What is less clear is how these requirements will change as the Smart Grid continues to develop, and as greater intelligence and control is pushed deeper into the network.

Second, a lot of the expected benefits of the Smart Grid are really benefits we'll gain from smarter homes and smarter buildings. Consumers and building owners will be expected to interact with the grid in new ways, including the "Prius Effect", which refers to the way Toyota Prius drivers responded to the prominent display on the car's dashboard of real-time fuel economy by changing their driving behavior to get even better mileage. Similarly, exposure to better energy consumption information can help encourage energy savings behavior. But a lot of the benefits will be the automation of home or building systems to manage energy better - you won't have to lift a finger!

The wealth of consumption and pricing data that will be created by the smart grid can enable a variety of innovative products and services. But who will control access to this data? If third parties develop products and services, how should consumers connect them to this data? Can the Smart Grid do for energy what the Internet did for communications and media?

It's clear the Smart Grid holds enormous promise to help tackle our national goals in energy and the environment. In order to do so, it will be important to address the communications and energy information questions. We're intently focusing on these issues as we consider the final shape of the National Broadband Plan.

 In order to add to the record, and gather additional input, we're also holding a Commissioner-led field hearing on Energy and the Environment on Monday, Nov. 30th, at MIT in Cambridge, Mass., at 1 p.m. The entire event is open to the public and available online at Video of the hearing will also be archived on the field hearing site. [Ed. update: video from yesterday's field hearing is available here]

Enough reflecting for now. Back to the leftover turkey!

Broadband Gaps in the Healthcare Sector

November 25th, 2009 by Mohit Kaushal - Digital Healthcare Director

Last week at the Commission meeting, the Broadband Taskforce outlined key gaps in broadband service that need to be addressed. There are connectivity gaps in the healthcare sector that I think are important and worth highlighting.

Hospitals and clinics need to empower a range of applications such as Electronic Health Records, Diagnostic imaging and Tele-radiology. There is a connectivity gap within healthcare.
Every day physicians have to treat patients, and their previous medical history is not available on the hospitals' local databases.
This is more common than not: it happens every time such a patient is brought into a hospital network that they haven't visited before. It can also occur when a patient visits their regular hospital but the site has misplaced their hand-written notes or hard copies of their imaging scans.
Today, those doctors are forced to act without the knowledge that a previous radiological scan would show them about the patients' baseline disease state. The technology exists so that they could pull up that diagnostic image in real time, from the imaging center where it was performed. But such technology requires a 100 mbps broadband connection -- a fiber connection -- which many hospitals lack.
Furthermore, the healthcare ecosystem must be more robust in order for broadband to really benefit healthcare outcomes and cost. Some things that would constitute a strong ecosystem include training and implementation assistance and even reimbursement considerations. Currently, telemedicine usage is hindered by state physician licensure and credentialing rules.
Finally, if broadband is going to further national priorities, incentives need to be aligned. A good example is that of reimbursement policy for telemedicine.



November 25th, 2009 by Steve Midgeley - Education Director

As we progress in our work on the national broadband plan as it relates to education, we are focusing on evaluating three key gap areas:  connectivity required for schools and applications, the ecosystem necessary for broadband to advance progress in education, and the incentives that need to be aligned to realize the potential of broadband.
Thanks to E-rate, virtually all of our schools and libraries are connected. The most recent statistics put the number at approximately 94% connected instructional rooms (classrooms and similar). While ostensibly good news, the key questions are what is the level of connectivity in these classrooms and is it sufficient to meet the needs of students mastering 21st century skills.  There is evidence of significant increases in teachers’ use of the Internet for classroom-related work (in 2007 nearly half of teachers report using the Web for preparation compared with fewer than a third in 2005), yet more than half of teachers report dissatisfaction with connection speed for their current usage, which involves predominantly low-bandwidth tasks. Imagine the level of dissatisfaction when their usage needs require greater bandwidth.  According to CIOs in school districts across the country, projected bandwidth needs are projected to grow five times current levels by 2013.  How can the E-Rate program best support the learning objectives of our schools and teachers?
However necessary it is, connectivity isn’t the only thing that matters.  There is a lot lacking in terms of pervasive and effective use of technology in our classrooms today – the broadband ecosystem is weak in multiple dimensions.  This is due, in large part, to a lack of innovation in the field.  For example, we need better, smarter applications to support the ecosystem related to broadband in education.  The questions we are exploring include how to bring the kind of innovation from other sectors into education.  As Jim Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation at the US Department of Education, noted in our August workshop, something is wrong with our priorities when we have a “Genius” functionality for music selection on our I-Pods that uses a complex algorithm to predict what we would like to hear next and we don’t have anything nearly that sophisticated to anticipate what skills a student lacks and what specific application or content might be both effective for and compelling to him.  Imagine a world of personalized, just-in-time learning enabled by broadband.
Finally, the education community needs better aligned incentives to realize the potential of broadband in schools.  As an incentive investment program, E-rate has proven very effective. Yet there are potential changes in rules and regulation, investment strategies, and standards development that could have an equally significant impact.  Imagine a world where all education content and devices use common, interoperable standards to securely share content and instructional data. The effect could be aggregation of once-fragmented demand of individual classrooms and schools. How many new entrepreneurs could enter the education market? How many of those entrepreneurs might be teachers or former teachers? What would this mean for the education outcomes of the next generation of American students?
Through broadband as a platform we can help bring sufficient connectivity, standards and appropriate incentives to permit innovation. We can also expand the rewards for creativity, engagement and personalized learning. While there are no silver bullets, these strategies should help create greater educational opportunities available to all students.


Consumer transparency- knowing your speed and performance matters!

November 25th, 2009 by Peter Bowen - Applications Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Do you know what kind of speed and performance you get from your broadband service today? Do you know what most Americans get? And if you knew, what would you do with that information? Who else would benefit from this information? How should broadband performance be tracked, reported and shared while protecting consumer privacy?
These are all critical questions as we tackle a National Broadband Plan. On Tuesday, the broadband team launched our 25th public notice, entitled “Broadband measurement and consumer transparency of fixed residential and small business services in the United States.” A nice, short title.
This notice focuses on the broadband services that households and small businesses subscribe to today, and how to increase transparency and track performance of those services. To that goal, it addresses three primary areas:
Consumer transparency
  • How should we think about the way that information about new and existing broadband service is displayed and communicated? 
  • Is this information comparable from one service offering to another?
  • How do we ensure privacy of consumer information?
Measurement, tracking and reporting
  • How should we augment existing data to track, measure and report broadband service performance across the nation?
  • What are the most useful pieces of performance information for consumers, researchers, service providers and regulators?
  • How should performance be measured?
  • What are the benefits and what are the costs of measurement?
Multi-unit building transparency
  • How should we increase transparency of broadband services offered for multi-unit residential and commercial buildings?

Answering these questions will help identify ways to educate broadband consumers, a goal everyone agrees is in the best interests of the country. Striking the right balance on depth of information, communication, privacy, display and cost effectiveness will be difficult, but we intend to find the right path. We need your input and thoughts on new ways of thinking that empower consumers.

Best Practices - Spurring Access and Adoption

November 24th, 2009 by Calvin Osborne

Last month, the FCC presented its workshop on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Deployment and Adoption. As part of the workshop, the FCC invited a panel of experts to discuss the best strategies for closing the gap in broadband access and adoption.

These experts included investors whose investment strategies place a heavy emphasis on technology companies and educators who are focused on creating community technology centers. Laura Efurd, Vice President of ZeroDivide, discussed the best practices for addressing civil rights issues in adoption. She pointed out that broadband adoption issues demonstrate a divide among race, age, disability, and geography. She noted that this divide is part of a larger problem that exists in our country, and that in order to address best practices, the adoption issues should be addressed holistically. That means focusing on racial, cultural, and socioeconomic factors that may affect adoption.

Antoinette Cook Bush of Skadden Arps discussed a number of ways the government can support the deployment and adoption of broadband technologies. Ms. Bush suggested that existing programs such as Lifeline, Linkup, and other Universal Service Fund programs, should be used to expand broadband services. Ms. Bush, who is also the chairperson of the broadband subcommittee of the Federal Diversity Advisory Committee, pointed to a number of "best practices" provided by that committee. Patricia Bransford is the President of National Urban Technology Center, one program highlighted by the Diversity Advisory Committee. Ms. Bransford emphasized that Internet training programs must be used to assist people with different learning styles by making learning more visual and by strategically focusing on ways to include the 30% of high school kids who drop out during their high school experience.

Heather Dawn Thompson of Sonnenshein, Nath, & Rosenthal argued that the U.S. government must become more adept at creative financing and become more inclusive of tribal governments in order to empower them to create broadband companies on tribal lands. And Jonathan Glass, Principal of Council Tree Investors, confirmed that his investment company and others like his are keenly interested in working with diverse groups to increase broadband adoption. He illustrated how support from the federal government and the FCC can advance these initiatives, including on Native American tribal land.

Panelists emphasized that broadband deployment and adoption must be viewed from many different paradigms in order to include as many Americans as possible. A deployment and adoption plan that is best for a tribal government or a desert county may not be best for a thriving metropolitan area or a sleepy southern town. As panelist Geoffrey Blackwell noted, "one size fits none." It is not sufficient to roll out a plan and expect all Americans to implement it in the same way. The plan must address the needs of the unserved and the underserved alike. To empower citizens, it must be community based. At the same time, it must have the full support of government agencies that will use existing programs to support local broadband efforts and ensure sustainability over time. In short, the national broadband plan must be flexible enough to meet the needs of all Americans wherever they are on the technology spectrum.

This is the last in a four-part blog on the Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Deployment and Adoption workshop held on October 2, 2009. Full biographies and a transcript of the workshop can be found at

Promoting Broadband Diversity Within the Law

November 24th, 2009 by Mark Lloyd - Associate General Counsel / Chief Diversity Officer

Mark LloydThis is the third in a four-part series of blogs on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Adoption and Access.  The full biographies of all participants can be found at

What is the federal government compelled to do, and what is it prohibited from doing to promote access and adoption for all Americans in the National Broadband plan?  That was the topic of the second panel in the workshop on Diversity and Civil Rights Issues in Broadband Access and Adoption.  As FCC Commission Michael Copps said in opening the panel, "This is where the rubber really hits the road."

The panel featured a range of lawyers and scholars wrestling with the thorny issue of federal action that might target those groups that do not have access to broadband or are not adopting broadband, while adhering to the constitutional mandate of equal protection for all Americans.  The panelists discussed the different legal review standards applied to racial and ethnic minorities as compared to Native Americans or the poor, the challenges in subsidizing religious groups, and what other federal agencies have done to address the different needs of distinct American communities.

Allen Hammond, a law professor at Santa Clara University, focused on the FCC's responsibility.  Relying on the preamble to the Communications Act, Sections 706 and 257 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Professor Hammond argued that "the Commission is required to facilitate inclusive, non-discriminatory, affordable access to broadband in a reasonable and timely manner, and if access is not reasonable and timely, to take immediate action to accelerate deployment by removing barriers to investment and promoting competition." 

University of Pennsylvania Professor and former Chairperson of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, Mary Frances Berry noted that "race is the bugbear in the room." According to Dr. Berry, to meet the judicial standard or review applied to race-conscious measures, also known as strict scrutiny, "What you've got to do is make sure that you prove that there is a compelling governmental interest and make sure that you show that you narrowly tailored whatever you do in this plan, and that you tried every alternative possible, that you are monitoring what you are going to do, and that whatever you're doing is of short duration."  Dr. Berry repeatedly emphasized the importance of "overwhelming evidence."  She ended on an encouraging note, saying that it was "possible for the FCC to develop a plan that will ensure success, meeting the needs of all our people and exercising the FCC's responsibility." 

Thomas Henderson, a long-time civil rights attorney, argued that the FCC "can act with an awareness of race . . .  so long as you're not classifying people or treating people differently."   However, he added, although "race-neutral remedies are sometimes disparaged and seen as not effective, there are lots of reasons to consider them thoroughly.  One, you can get a lot done through race-neutral means.  Secondly, they can be really useful in identifying where the real barriers are.  And the third thing is employing them and using them provides a very good basis for race-conscious actions if you need to take them."

David Honig, Executive Director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, and chairperson of the Diversity Advisory subcommittee on constitutional issues, referred the FCC to the advisory committee recommendations to replace the current eligible entity designation with a program like those used in state university systems, also known as a full file review.  Honig proposed that an entity might be considered eligible for a credit if it has overcome a disadvantage.  "The overcoming of which is predictive of entrepreneurial success."  According to Honig, credit would be given to those who could demonstrate some social disadvantage, such as "disadvantages that derive from having experienced racial discrimination or gender discrimination or the various disabilities that, unfortunately, attend veterans' status or living in certain geographic areas or certain kinds of disabilities."  

Geoffrey Blackwell, of the Chickasaw Nation Industries, the National Congress of American Indians, and Native Public Media is also a member of the Diversity Advisory Committee.  He noted that Native Americans could also be considered in the proposed full file review program.  Blackwell noted that "the Commission has very good tools... developed over the last 10 years that it can draw upon" to increase broadband access and adoption on Tribal Lands, such as the Enhanced Tribal Lands Lifeline and Link-Up Program "that created significant rises in the telephone penetration rate in Indian Country."  According to Blackwell, because of the special status of sovereign Native American Tribes, strict scrutiny would not apply. 

Professor Mara Einstein of Queens College and the Stern School of Business at New York University argued that whatever policy the FCC considered needed to take into account the economic fundamentals of media in the U.S.  Dr. Einstein argued that it was especially important to recognize that "when it comes to revenue generation, new media looks exactly like old media, and this economic model is anathema to content diversity." 

She gave various examples of "why the market can't or rather won't solve the problem of the digital divide" as it relates to generating content that might spur adoption.   Dr. Einstein suggested that the government "fund and promote categories of content without specifying what exactly the content should be."

Henderson proposed that there were measures that the FCC could take now to advance diversity and equal opportunity in any National Broadband Plan that contemplates direct federal employment to advance either deployment or broadband service.  Specifically, Executive Order 11246 requires a federal contractor not to discriminate.  In addition, with respect to any federal contracts with private employers, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act provides that recipients of federal financial assistance are prohibited from discriminating. 

Henderson also suggested that the study conducted by the Department of Transportation would be a useful guide.  That study resulted in the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program.  A program upheld in the federal courts as being constitutional.

All the panelists agreed with the importance of gathering data to guide and support any regulatory action.  But they also noted that the FCC has to avoid its tendency to develop rules in silos without fully appreciating the impact of all its policies. As Professor Hammond put it, "You can't implement [diversity] policy without taking into account what you're doing in the rest of the regulatory space."

Professor Berry echoed Commissioner Robert McDowell's opening comments about the inevitability of litigation aimed at whatever rules the FCC eventually adopts, and urged the Commission to anticipate "who is likely to bring a legal attack, understand why would they bring it and what are they likely to argue, and to know how to repel them before they do it."

Data Portability

November 23rd, 2009 by Vishal Doshi - Government Performance Analyst, National Broadband Task Force

No, we’re not talking about an android in a transporter. We’re talking about the data that pass through government systems, and the ways in which the public can make use of the data. As access to and adoption of broadband increases, the capacity for the flow of data between government and the public increases, enabling the provision of new services online. With that in mind, we’ve issued a Public Notice seeking your comments, data and analysis regarding data transparency, cloud computing, and online identity.

Data transparency: There have been significant efforts by governments and nonprofits across the country and around the world to publish government data in a central repository. These include the publication of data feeds and competitions encouraging innovative and novel uses of government data. Share your success stories and frustrations. What would you like to see government continue doing or do differently regarding data transparency?
Cloud computing: Cloud computing is often misunderstood. That is why we want to know more about cloud computing as a model for the provisioning of technology. The federal government has taken steps to adopt this model (see or this article about the CIA’s internal cloud). We want to understand the consequences of agencies moving their systems to the cloud, with a specific focus on potential costs and benefits. Please share your views. What are the costs and benefits of moving to the cloud?
Online identity: In order to provide a number of the new services enabled by increased broadband access and adoption, governments at all levels will need ways to verify people’s identities online to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and increase the integrity of government services. The federal government has begun exploring the use of Open ID technologies to provision services that require a low assurance level (pdf) – or “little or no confidence in the asserted identity’s validity.” What are the potential costs and benefits of a national strategy on this topic?
For more details, background and context on these issues, please see the Public Notice. You can respond directly to this blog or file comments in our Electronic Filing Comment System, using either ECFS Express or our standard submission page if you need to attach a file. Please title comments and reply comments responsive to this Notice as “Comments (or Reply Comments) – NBP Public Notice # 21.”


Analysis of the Gaps: Public Safety

November 20th, 2009 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Jennifer Manner BB


 Earlier this week at the Commission meeting, the Broadband Task Force outlined key gaps that need to be addressed before the U.S. can enjoy universal broadband. There are gaps in the public safety and homeland security sector that I think are important and worth highlighting.  Specifically, we are still determining how best to ensure the creation of a nationwide, interoperable public safety broadband network.  Today, there is no such network that meets the requirements of the public safety community. 
More generally, there is a broadband connectivity gap for the public safety community, including the police, fire fighters, the emergency medical response community, and many 911 centers.  This gap limits the potential for development of broadband applications that would vastly enhance the ability of public safety personnel to protect lives and property.  For example, today most police and fire departments do not have access to broadband wireless communications for their first responders that would enable them to increase situational awareness when responding to an event.  The only broadband wireless services available today are those offered by commercial providers, which lack the coverage and resiliency that public safety requires.  
The Task Force presentation also highlighted that if broadband is going to further national priorities such as public safety, incentives that promote broadband deployment need to be aligned.  For example, in order to ensure that public safety agencies across the country will have access to a broadband network that meets their requirements, we need to identify existing and potential incentives that will support deployment of the network in rural and remote areas that commercial broadband networks are unlikely to reach.  These incentives can come in many forms, but are critical if this network is able to support emergency responders throughout the country.  Other incentives must be provided to ensure that public safety broadband networks are able to have the sorts of resiliency and redundancy that public safety requires in order to ensure operation during emergencies.


Report from Nov. 12 Georgetown Field Hearing on Broadband and Public Safety

November 20th, 2009 by Jennifer Manner - Deputy Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau

Jennifer Manner BB

We just wrapped up a fascinating field hearing held in conjunction with Dr. Howard Federoff and the Georgetown University Medical Center on public safety and emergency medical applications and requirements. The hearing included Under Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security Rand Beers as well as FCC Commissioners Clyburn, Copps and Baker. There was also a cast of experts whose valuable input will help us develop a National Broadband Plan with meaningful expectations and recommendations for public safety. Their attendance and participation only further highlighted how important it is that everyone in the public safety community come together to find solutions to the communication issues we’ve faced for quite sometime.  As Commissioner Copps noted, the National Broadband Plan presents as good an opportunity as we’ve had to solve these issues.  It was a truly insightful discussion. Here are some key points that were raised during our three-panel field hearing.
The first panel focused on innovative broadband applications used by emergency medical personnel. One example was from Dr. Richard Katz, Chief Cardiologist at George Washington University, who highlighted a program Georgetown University Medical Center uses that can display a patient’s complete chart and monitor EKG readings wirelessly from a smart phone device.  Dr. Katz indicated that he is able to write prescriptions for patients electronically no matter where he may be.  This helps better ensure that patients get the prescription drugs they need much more efficiently and quickly.  Another example of how broadband has helped treat patients was the use of electronic health records that greatly reduce medical costs and the chance for human error related to patient care. Thanks to Larry Flournoy of Texas A&M, Dr. Richard Katz of George Washington University, Jonathan Linkous of American Telemedicine Association, Bruce McFarlane of the National Organization on Disability and Kevin McGinnis of the Joint National EMS Leadership Conference for their participation.
During the second panel, we heard about exciting applications used by police departments that help officers quickly respond to emergencies, save lives and do their jobs easier. Tim Riley, the Chief Information Officer for the Los Angeles Police Department talked about the 1,800 LAPD squad cars that can send and receive broadband communication such as access to national databases, fingerprint identification, photos and video files -- this includes the ability to send electronic subpoenas.  An interesting point that many panelists agreed upon was that the commercial wireless systems in use now are not entirely reliable and coverage is not guaranteed, which was noted by several panelists as a way to emphasize the critical need for the build-out of a commercial mobile broadband network for public safety on the 700 MHz band.  Thanks to Randy Hughes of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bob Pavlak of the Government of the District of Columbia, Eddie Reyes of the Alexandria Police Department, Tim Riley of the Los Angeles Police Department, Greg Schaffer of the Department of Homeland Security and Richard Tuma of City of Waukesha, Wisconsin.
The third and final panel featured a spirited and interesting discussion on the requirements needed for the public safety wireless network.  Highlights of this discussion include the need for the network to be available anytime and anywhere, resilient, interoperable and secure.  Mission critical voice must be required as Land Mobile Radio communication is here to stay and remains a vital part of emergency response and should be supported by the network and devices.  The panelists also emphasized that it is essential that government at all levels, the public safety community and communications providers work together to pave a path forward for the development of a robust and interoperable mobile broadband network for America's first responders, hospital emergency departments and public health officials.  Thanks to Paul Mankiewich of Alcatel/Lucent, Bob Epsom of Motorola, Steve Harte of the City of New York, Dennis Martinez of Harris Corporation and Chief Charles Warner of the Charlottesville Fire Department.
The contributions of the wide variety of stakeholders who shared reports on the exciting and potential applications our brave medical and first responders will use with a public safety network, as well as their views on what we should include in the National Broadband Plan were truly fascinating.  This field hearing shed some light on the subject and will contribute significantly to the development of the public safety and homeland security section of the National Broadband Plan.
In case you missed it, you can view presentation materials and recorded webcast here. Please feel free to add to our discussion by leaving your comments.  I look forward to hearing from you.


Thoughts from the Chairman...

November 19th, 2009 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

Chairman Genachowski discusses the Open Commission Meeting at which the FCC heard a presentation from the Omnibus Broadband Initiative:


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.
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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