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FCC Waves Farewell to Commissioner Ajit Pai During January Open Meeting

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Screenshot from FCC January Open Commission Meeting

January 14, 2021 – Many “thank you’s” and pats on the back accompanied Ajit Pai’s last Open Commission Meeting as chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

Set to depart the agency next week, Pai utilized time during his final meeting on Wednesday to stress the importance of eliminating the digital divide and emphasize the significance of the United States leading in 5G technology development.

While three important items were on the agenda, the commissioners chose to make the tough decisions ahead of time, adopting all three items prior to the meeting. The FCC announced the move Tuesday evening, cutting the items from the schedule.

Prior to Wednesday’s cavalcade of achievements, Commissioners adopted proposals on how to structure an auction of 2.5 Gigahertz airwaves, a notice announcing winners of a $100 million telehealth effort, and more.

The first adopted item was  a public announcement for selecting the first round of victors of the $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program, which provides Universal Service Fund support for health care providers, allowing delivery of telehealth services directly to low-income patients.

The commission further voted regarding the process of competitive bidding for an auction in the 2.5 GHz band, which the FCC reported is the largest contiguous spectrum under 3.0 GHz in the United States, and is especially available in many rural areas.

Commissioners adopted a more contentious item when they advanced a notice of proposed rulemaking that considers repurposing some 12 GHz satellite airwaves for 5G wireless.

Although some advocacy groups, Dish Network and Dell CEO Michael Dell, who holds a cut of these airwaves, had rallied to open the spectrum for 5G, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk lobbied Pai directly multiple times to back off.

The meeting included review of the Media Bureau and Incentive Auction teams’ accomplishments since late January 2017

What did make the cut for the meeting were reports from offices that comprise the FCC. The commissioners heard five presentations from agency staff summing up Trump-era efforts, with many  congratulations coming from staff members in-between, as a farewell to Pai.

Some highlights from the reports include:

  • The challenge of shifting use in bands for 5G mobile networks, such as the 12 GHz band that they voted on previous to the meeting.
  • Addressing the digital divide between rural and urban areas and low-income residents who lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband.
  • The recent C-Band auction is up to over $80 billion, much higher than any other auction, as reported by the Office of Economics and Analytics.
  • According to the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau, the number of Americans who lack access to broadband is down by 46% since 2016, as measured at 25/3 Mbps download/upload speeds. Although as reported in December 2020, that number may be off.

Notably in attendance for the first time on Wednesday was Commissioner Nathan Simington Pai extended a warm welcome and “open arms” to the newest member of the Commission, in is early remarks.

Simington is a Trump nominee, succeeding Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who has been criticized by many as having been elected solely for his stance on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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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