This Thanksgiving, we have a lot to be thankful for. In particular, we should be thankful for America’s law enforcement officers. They put their lives on the line each and every day to protect us. Those of us in government — including the FCC — owe it to them to do whatever we can to keep them safe. We’ll take up this cause at our monthly meeting on December 14.
Specifically, we’ll vote on an order to authorize the use of “Blue Alerts.” Similar to the use of AMBER Alerts to notify the public of missing children, Blue Alerts may be used by state and local officials to notify the public of threats to law enforcement over the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system. The FCC has been working closely with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services to help develop compatible and integrated Blue Alert plans throughout the United States. This past May, I attended an event at the Justice Department at which I was honored to stand with officials from that agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and other law enforcement agencies to declare my support for Blue Alerts and to pledge swift FCC action towards creating a dedicated EAS Blue Alert event code. At our December meeting, I hope the FCC will honor that commitment.
The new Blue Alert event code could be used by state and local authorities to notify the public through providers of broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline video services when there’s actionable information related to a law enforcement officer who is missing, seriously injured, or killed in the line of duty, or when there is a credible, short-term threat to an officer. These Blue Alerts would also be passed through the existing Wireless Emergency Alert system so that the public receives them on their mobile devices. A Blue Alert could warn you if a violent suspect is in your community and tell you how to contact authorities and stay safe.
Our December meeting will also feature an important proposal aimed at bridging the digital divide. Few sectors hold more promise for broadband-enabled advances than health care. This is especially true for rural and remote areas where telehealth services can overcome more limited health care access and vast distances. So I’ve shared a proposal with my colleagues to review the FCC’s Rural Health Care (RHC) program. The program provides funding to eligible health care providers for communications services necessary for the provision of health care.
For the second year in a row, demand for the RHC program will likely exceed the funding cap. As a result, leading participating health care providers may face unanticipated funding cuts. At the same time, the current RHC Program rules also open up opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse. So any misspent funds come at the expense of health care providers (and their patients) that are acutely in need. In December, we’ll take a fresh look at this program. We’ll aim to figure out how it can operate more efficiently and have a sufficient budget so that Americans can get the advanced health care they need.
Turning to the wireless sector, the FCC will vote on a Public Notice and draft Program Comment to facilitate the collocation of wireless equipment on so-called “Twilight Towers.” That’s a mouthful, but here are the basics. Between 2001 and 2005, a bunch of wireless towers were built. This happened before the FCC outlined the process for complying with historic preservation laws. A longstanding question has been how to certify that those towers are in compliance with our rules. Allowing collocation — that is, different companies sharing space on a tower and installing their wireless equipment — would have no adverse impact in the vast majority of cases. In fact, it would seem to be a happy medium; it would minimize any harms to historic properties while encouraging the efficient installation and operation of wireless infrastructure. The Commission has spent years negotiating with Tribal Nations and industry to find ways to use these towers without triggering the need for full historic preservation review. After more than a decade of inertia, we’ll finally move to ease access to these towers. This solution was developed under the leadership of Commissioner Brendan Carr, who I have asked to lead the agency’s efforts on wireless infrastructure. I am grateful to him for helping us resolve this issue.
I’m also asking my colleagues to modernize our wireless rules at our December meeting. The Commission’s current rules classify various wireless services as commercial or private. And they assume that licensees in certain frequency bands should be regulated as commercial. But that assumption is sometimes wrong, forcing licensees to ask us to waive these rules. The FCC routinely grants these waivers, but not without delays that can slow the rollout of new business plans. To promote more regulatory certainty and conserve our own staff’s resources, we’ll vote on eliminating sometimes inaccurate rule-based classifications.
Speaking of modernizing our rules, we’ll continue our initiative to update our media rules. This time, the Commission will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that seeks public input on updating certain notice requirements that apply to cable operators. Among other things, we’ll explore allowing these companies to send “written” (that’s the word we use in our regulations) communications to subscribers electronically, rather than by paper mail. We’ll also ask whether and how to update our rules that currently require broadcasters to send carriage election notices to cable or satellite operators via certified mail.
Rounding out our December meeting will be two matters that were previewed yesterday.
First, the FCC will consider an order that would restore Internet freedom and return to the bipartisan, light-touch framework that helped America’s Internet economy become the envy of the world. In a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, I detailed how the heavy-handed public-utility style regulations adopted in 2015 have stifled infrastructure network investment and innovation.
Repealing these regulations will create jobs, increase competition, and lead to better, faster, cheaper Internet access for all Americans. My view is that the Internet should be run by engineers and entrepreneurs, not lawyers and bureaucrats.
And unlike the previous Administration, which pushed through its Internet regulations without letting the public see what was being proposed, anyone can read my plan. It’s on the Commission’s website and available here — more than three weeks before our scheduled vote.
Second, consistent with my commitment earlier this year, the FCC will consider a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that kicks off a comprehensive review of the national television ownership cap, including the UHF discount. In 2016, the Commission (including the current minority) concluded that “[it] has the authority to modify the national audience reach cap, including the authority to revise or eliminate the UHF discount.” We’ll take a fresh look at this issue. A comprehensive review of the national cap and the UHF discount is warranted in light of considerable marketplace and technological changes since the national cap was last modified in 2004.
Suffice it to say that the FCC will end 2017 not with a whimper but a bang. And we’ve been busy pretty much every month of this year. That we’ve been so productive is due to the tireless work of the FCC’s talented staff. And that brings us back to tomorrow. As the nation pauses to give thanks tomorrow, I would like to offer my deepest gratitude to the public servants of the FCC. Every day, they help us strive to serve the public interest.