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Copps' Seeks to Revitalize Transparency and Cooperation at FCC, Welcomes Broadband Stimulus Legislation

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2009 – Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps said he had “no idea” how long he will hold the gavel, but he has no intention of being a mere seat-warmer.

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WASHINGTON, February 11, 2009 – Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Copps said he had “no idea” how long he will hold the gavel, but he has no intention of being a mere seat-warmer.

Speaking at a press briefing Wednesday morning, Copps outlined an ambitious agenda of institutional reform, welcoming Congress’ investment in broadband deployment, and emphasizing his plans to encourage more growth in high-speed networks.

Most the briefing was devoted to the upcoming transition to digital television. Originally set for February 17, last week Congress moved the date of the transition to June 12, 2009.

Speaking about the broadband stimulus legislation that passed the Senate on Tuesday and is currently in conference negotiations, Copps said that the FCC is “trying to hit the ground running” to collect better data on broadband availability.

The agency will have no problem coming up with definitions of unserved and underserved areas within the 45 day period imposed by the bill. Regardless of who is in charge of administering the stimulus bill’s grant programs, Copps stressed that the FCC is ready to do its part to foster inter-agency cooperation to ensure the public’s dollars are well spent.

One of Copps’ initial goals at the FCC is to reopen lines of communication within the FCC. Better communication will “unleash the huge reservoirs of talent, energy and intellect” at the agency, he said.

Every commissioner should be included in the flow of information between the FCC’s various bureaus — a sharp contrast to what he called “opaque” practices that were commonplace under former chairman Kevin Martin. Martin was often criticized for keeping other commissioners in the dark on important decisions, and for hindering communication between the bureaus.

Copps said he had already begun to include representatives from each commissioner’s office at the weekly meeting of bureau chiefs. He also said he wants to ensure that “synergies” within the agency are taken full advantage of. The bureaus should know what the other bureaus are doing. Such policies would ensure that “everyone [at the FCC] has a better idea of what is going on,” he said.

Copps was adamant about revitalizing the culture and mission of the FCC. “We need transparency in this agency,” he said, emphasizing that the FCC is consumer protection agency. The commission should focus on its goal of serving the public interest, rather than acting as “a referee between well-heeled interests.”

The commission needs to make it easier to include consumer input in its decisions as well as make proceedings and information more accessible to the public, Copps said.

Referring to the generally terse notices of ex parte proceedings — issued when a party meets with a single commissioner, Copps said the public should be able to know more than about them than “such-and-such Inc. met with Commissioner Copps, they talked about retransmission consent, period.”

“That’s not a public record that a transparent agency needs to have,” he said. “Knowing who met with who is important, but so is knowing what is actually said.”

The FCC also needs to return to a “culture of predictability,” Copps said. The commission should operate based upon rules and “fact-based” policymaking, he said, and use information gathered professionally and neutrally – as “an agency acting under rule of law.”

Reaching those goals would “take a while to get all the way,” he said, noting that he was encouraged by the open government initiatives of the new administration that would allow the agency to better perform in the public interest.

As regards the national broadband strategy called for by the fiscal stimulus legislation current in conference committee, Copps said that a nationwide broadband network can’t be built in an uncoordinated fashion.

Getting it done will depend on successful public-private partnerships, and the innovative ideas they can generate, he said. Copps noted that well-executed infrastructure projects have always relied on created policy environments that foster successful partnerships. Why it hasn’t been done with broadband remains a mystery, he said.

Copps also announced the dates for upcoming open meetings going into the next three months, and while he acknowledged he won’t be running the show forever, he may yet be in the driver’s seat for some time.

It has been widely reported that President Obama had selected Julius Genachowski, a former aide to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt and a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama’s, to fill the chairman’s seat. Senate Commerce Committee staff said that no confirmation hearing has been scheduled since they had not yet recieved Genechowski’s official nomination papers.

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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5G

CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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FCC

FCC Commissioners Tout 5G, Spectrum and Permitting Reform

Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

WASHINGTON, December 15, 2022 – High-level Federal Communications Commission officials addressed the 40th Annual Institute on Telecommunications Policy and Regulation on Thursday, touting 5G technologies, increased spectrum access, and permitting reform as the broadband industry braces for what promises to be an action-packed 2023.

In his keynote, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks argued that expanding connectivity would enable sustainable, environmentally friendly technologies such as 5G-enabled precision agriculture. During a subsequent panel, Joel Taubenblatt, acting chief of the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, predicted robust innovation in 5G-powered technology sectors including transportation, energy and finance.

Starks, Taubenblatt, and Commissioner Brendan Carr each voiced support for robust spectrum availability. Carr reiterated his outspoken opposition to popular social-media app TikTok, and earlier in the day, Commissioner Nathan Simington proposed raising cybersecurity requirements on wireless device manufactures.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act allocated $65 billion to broadband, the largest single investment to date. Policymakers and industry leaders have voiced concern that regulatory mismanagement could blunt the funds’ impact. Testifying before a U.S. Senate subcommittee Tuesday, representatives from trade groups US Telecom and NCTA – The Internet & Television Association warned lawmakers against onerous regulation, especially opaque permitting processes on federal lands.

To ensure the efficient use of unprecedented broadband funding initiatives, federal and state authorities should streamline permitting processes, Carr said. The commissioner told Broadband Breakfast he supports expanding small cell infrastructure reforms, such as approval shot clocks and limitations on unreasonable fees, to the wireline sector.

Carr, in his featured remarks, said regulators should craft policy to avoid overbuilding and prioritize building to the least unserved communities. He once again advocated tech-neutral policies that allow fixed-wireless and satellite broadband to fairly compete with fiber.

Permitting and access barriers at multiple levels of government

Representatives from broadband industry groups detailed potential regulatory barriers to deployment in a webinar held Wednesday.

At the local level, providers must obtain access to utility poles, which can be owned by a range of entities including municipalities and utility companies. State broadband offices could likely coordinate with providers and regulators to ease this process, suggested Teresa Ferguson, senior director of broadband and infrastructure funding at the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative.

At the federal level, Congress has signaled interest in streamlining permitting processes, said Angela Simpson, general counsel and vice president of legal and regulatory affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, noting the body introduced 28 reform bills this session. Earlier this month, a bipartisan coalition of senators wrote to the U.S. Departments of Interior, Agriculture, and Commerce, urging them to update federal permitting guidelines.

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