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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Pokes Finger in Eye of Telecom Incumbents at Broadband Communities in Austin

AUSTIN, April 14, 2015 – The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission came to Broadband Communities Summit here to metaphorically poke his finger in the eye of the biggest incumbent communications companies.

He cited this city as Exhibit A for his mantra of “competition, competition, competition.”

And one day after the first of multiple legal challenges to the agency’s network neutrality rules, Wheeler delivered a full-throated defense of those regulations.

Wheeler also defended — to repeated applause from the crowd — a vigorous defense of municipalities and to communities’ rights to offer broadband internet services.

Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.



Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Broadband Communities Summit.

AUSTIN, April 14, 2015 – The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission came to Broadband Communities Summit here to metaphorically poke his finger in the eye of the biggest incumbent communications companies.

He cited this city as Exhibit A for his mantra of “competition, competition, competition.”

And one day after the first of multiple legal challenges to the agency’s network neutrality rules, Wheeler delivered a full-throated defense of those regulations.

Wheeler also offered — to repeated applause from the crowd — a vigorous defense of municipalities’ and communities’ right to offer broadband internet services.

Speaking of the reason for gathering in Austin, Wheeler said: “I know it’s not an accident that you’re meeting in Austin, the city that proves competition works. Back in 2013, Google Fiber announced it was coming to town.  Not to be outdone, AT&T initiated upgrades to its network, so it can offer gigabit service for $70/month. As if most of you weren’t jealous already, a regional carrier, Grande upgraded its network and is offering Gigabit broadband in Austin for $65 a month.”

Wheeler continued: “You see a similar competitive response across the country. Google Fiber has designated Atlanta as one of the next markets it will enter. Just weeks ago, Comcast announced plans to offer two-gigabits-per-second broadband in Atlanta, leapfrogging Google’s speeds even though the competition is only hypothetical at this point.”

He also defended the agency’s decision, on February 26, to preempt restrictions in Tennessee and North Carolina. That order, taken by a 3-2 vote of the FCC, came the same day as the even-more-controversial 3-2 decision mandating a new public utility regulatory framework governing net neutrality.

Laying out the big-picture importance of broadband, Wheeler said that ultra-high-speed broadband networks are the “indispensable infrastructure of our 21st century economy and democracy,” and that such capacity has “revolutionized the way businesses operate and people community.”

As regards public policy, Wheeler described “three simple keys to the broadband future: Broadband networks must be fast. Broadband networks must be fair. Broadband networks must be open.”

He segued into a discussion of the FCC’s decision to use Title II of the Communications Act, describing it as a “light-touch regulatory approach” which he said was modeled after the framework put in place for the mobile wireless industry.

He said that his regulations on the cable, telco and wireless communications providers had been defended by tech giants including Google and eBay, and by startups Etsy and Vimeo. They’ve “praised the rules, saying strong net neutrality protections will preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.”

On the subject of broadband expansion by communities, either by municipalities directly or by public-private partnerships, Wheeler was speaking to a strongly supportive crowd.

He said that many Americans are going from one choice to none at all. “In 2015, just under 75 percent of U.S. homes can chose from only one or fewer wired providers. And, of course, that ‘or fewer’ reference means that about 20 percent have NO access at that speed. That reality is simply unacceptable. Where there is no choice, the market cannot work.”

And that’s one key reason why the agency should be supportive of all measures to build better broadband, including fiber and Gigabit Networks by cities.

“No matter what the commission does to remove barriers to broadband investment, there will be communities that are underserved, or even unserved, by the private market,” he said. But “when commercial providers don’t step up to serve a community’s needs, we should embrace the great American tradition of citizens stepping up to take action collectively.”

In the specific cases of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, where the agency acted to override state restrictions on municipally-owned broadband providers, Wheeler said: “In Chattanooga, large companies like Amazon and Volkswagen have invested in new facilities, citing the city’s world-leading network as a reason why. And Chattanooga is emerging as an incubator for tech start-ups. In Wilson, the area’s top employers all rely on the community broadband network, new companies have located in Wilson because of its network, and residents and businesses in five surrounding counties are all pleading for access to this Gigabit-speed connectivity.”

Nearing the conclusion of his remarks, he said:

My position on this matter was shaped by a few irrefutable broadband truths:

  • You can’t say you’re for broadband – but endorse limits on who can offer it,
  • You can’t follow Congress’ explicit instruction to “remove barriers” to infrastructure investment – but endorse barriers to infrastructure investment,
  • And you can’t say you’re for competition – but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices.

It is also important to recognize that the Commission’s recent ruling is responding to two specific petitions from two cities. It is enforceable only in those two states.

Having said that, this issue extends beyond these two states. I hope it highlights and discourages the efforts of incumbents to block consumer choice and competition.

And, as examples of positive trends in supporting community broadband networks, he cited efforts in the state of Connecticut; Bozeman, Montana; and Grand Junction, Colorado. In Grand Junction, “residents voted overwhelmingly last week to approve the city’s right to provide Internet access and local leaders are now exploring plans for a new community broadband network.”

Wheeler’s remarks were the first remarks by an agency chairman in the recent history of the Broadband Communities Conference, an annual gathering of fiber-optic enthusiasts, public policy officials, and the operators of broadband in multiple-dwelling units.

Wheeler opened his remarks by lauding Broadband Communities CEO Scott DeGarmo and his team “for hosting this conference and to all of you who work to spread the gospel about the importance of high-speed connectivity.”


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FCC Commissioner Supports Rural Telco Efforts to Implement ‘Rip and Replace’

In remarks at the Rural Wireless Association event on Wednesday, Commissioner Geoffrey Starks reaffirmed the FCC’s goals.



Photo of Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association, leading a discussion at the summit on Wednesday by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 30, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks acknowledged the agency’s goal of obtaining secure broadband networks at an event of the Rural Wireless Association on Wednesday.

“We must ensure that our broadband networks are secure,” Starks said in keynote address at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here, delivered via Zoom. “This is evident in the constant barrage of attacks of American networks from hostile state and non-state actors.”

Starks continued, “insecure networks, by definition, can’t provide the stable, reliable, always on communications we need. Especially during emergencies… Broadband must be secure for the full benefits of broadband to be achieved.”

The issue of ridding American telecommunications networks of equipment manufactured in China was a constant theme during the conference.

In addition to Starks’ presentation, several sessions addressed the dilemma faced by telecommunications carriers, particular rural ones, that had in the past invested heavily in lower-cost equipment from Huawei, a leading Chinese manufacturer.

As the political winds have changed on the topic over the past three years, Congress has allocated funds for a “rip and replace” program. The FCC is expected to announce the providers that will receive nearly $2 billion as part of the program by July 15.

But some fear that number could be more than $4 billion short of needed funds.

“The funds available will cover only a very small portion” of the costs to replace Huawei with non-Chinese manufacturers, said Carri Bennet, general counsel of the Rural Wireless Association.

Potential new requirements imposed on telecom providers

The commission recently sought comment on whether it should require carriers that receive high-cost support to have include baseline cyber security and supply chain risk management plans.

If these plans are included in requirements, Starks said that American communication networks would be protected from bad actors. Moreover, they are consistent with requirements already included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Starks thanked the RWA for its activity and advocacy in the “rip and replace” proceedings, officially dubbed the Secure and Trusted Communications Network Reimbursement Program.

“The threat is real,” called Starks. “Companies that are deemed by the federal government to be a threat to the United States and its people can not have free reign in data centers featuring some of the most sensitive data of Americans.”

This comes only days after Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores in response to the apps’ obligation to comply with the Peoples Republic of China’s surveillance demands.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks Calls for Environmental Sustainability at Summit

Environmental sustainability in telecom has been a key talking point for Starks.



Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

June 27, 2022 – Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Geoffrey Starks raised on Monday the importance of sustainability in telecommunications as a speaker at the 2022 Broadband for All Summit in Stockholm, Sweden.

An important responsibility for agencies in the industry is building infrastructure that is environmentally sustainable, Starks said, suggesting four avenues to improve sustainability.

First, “we must continue to find ways to do more while using less, and that begins with the way we use spectrum,” he said. We need to “squeeze” the most out of the finite spectrum while simultaneously building networks that draw less power.

Second, “we need to realize our full potential to help other sectors consume less, too.”

We are entering an era where we can “collect, communicate, and analyze massive quantities of data to improve decision-making in real-time. Everything from traffic flow to energy transmission to orders of operation on the factory floor can benefit from data-driven efficiencies that were previously impossible,” he said.

Third, “industry-led initiatives must continue to play a significant role, from progressing towards reducing or eliminating the carbon emissions associated with their operations, to increasing renewable energy and minimizing electronic waste.”

Some manufacturers, according to Starks, have gone beyond carbon neutrality and are aiming for net-zero operations.

Fourth, “we must collectively do our part to mitigate climate change’s harmful effects at the network level”. With harsher weather patterns than previous generation, we should invest in networks that will keep communities connected during storms, floods, wildfires, and other disasters.

Starks, who has pitched environmental sustainability in telecommunications on a multiple occasions, advocated for players in the industry to be “as aggressive as possible with our climate commitments, and we should be as comprehensive as possible in our effort to comply with them.” This should include eliminating waste during the production phase, he said.

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FCC to Gather Information on Offshore Spectrum, Accurate 911 Call Routing

The FCC is examining the need and use cases for allocating spectrum for offshore use.



Photo of Nathan Simington

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Wednesday to examine technology that can improve wireless 911 call routing, propose a fine for interrupting U.S. forest service radio communications, and to seek comment on offshore spectrum needs and uses.

The FCC voted to begin gathering information through public comment on the “possible current and future needs, uses, and impacts of offshore wireless spectrum use,” including for cruise ships, oceanography and wind turbine projects. Other options, like satellite-based systems, are available to provide service.

The construction and operation of windfarms in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and communication services between at-sea vessels require offshore spectrum. The notice of inquiry asks what other cases exist that require offshore spectrum access that are not being provided for under existing models.

“We seek more broadly to understand the extent of the demand to use offshore spectrum and more generally where that demand is concentrated,” stated the inquiry.

“It is important that the FCC stay ahead of the curve in its consideration of upcoming commercial spectrum needs and this item does just that,” said commissioner Nathan Simington.

911 call routing

The FCC launched an examination into technology that could result in faster response times by more precisely routing wireless 911 calls to the correct call center.

Some wireless emergency calls are made near city or county borders where the closest call center is in the neighboring jurisdiction, resulting in lost time as calls are rerouted to the correct call center.

Since 2018, when the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking comment on feasibility of routing 911 calls based on location of the caller versus location of the cellular tower, there have been many advancements in location-based routing technology. The FCC issued a Public Notice Wednesday seeking updated information on these technologies and the feasibility of adopting them into public use.

Last month, AT&T announced a new technology that would allow dispatchers to get a more accurate location of distressed calls by using the phone’s GPS.

Proposed fine for violating radio interference rules

The FCC also proposed a $34,000 fine Wednesday against Jason Frawley who, in 2021, allegedly interfered with radio communications that were guiding firefighting during the 1000-acre wildfire near Elk River, Idaho.

Frawley reportedly admitted to a Forest Service supervisor that he broadcasted on government frequencies in direct defiance to the Communications Act which prohibits any interference with authorized radio communications.

Neither the allegations nor the proposed sanctions are final FCC actions, said the press release.

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