No Slowing Down
Yesterday, a new poll came out that found more than 1 in 8 Americans used a video chat to consult with a health care professional during the past month. That’s more than double the percentage who report receiving care in an emergency room and triple the rate who went to an urgent care facility. This highlights the importance of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m proud of the role that the FCC is playing to expand telehealth opportunities. Thanks to Congressional action, the President’s signature, and quick work by FCC staff, the Commission has already pushed resources out the door to help healthcare providers meet the growing demand for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Commission started accepting applications for our COVID-19 Telehealth Program last Monday, April 13. And in only three days, the Commission was able to process applications and award money for telehealth expansion to six medical facilities in hard-hit areas, from New York to New Orleans. And earlier today, we approved telehealth funding for another five healthcare providers from Michigan to California. Commission staff have done tremendous work processing these applications, and their efforts continue as they review all of the applications that we have received for this vital program. We will be approving additional funding in the days and weeks ahead — stay tuned.
But that’s far from all that the Commission has been doing recently to address the ongoing pandemic. To give another example, few communities have been impacted more harshly by this national emergency than the Navajo Nation in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. So late last week, the Commission granted temporary authority to the Navajo Nation to use spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band to enhance mobile broadband access across its reservation.
Of course, while the Commission focuses on our pandemic-related activities, we also must continue to advance the ongoing work of the agency. So at our May meeting, the Commission will vote on moving forward on a series of longstanding initiatives.
Leading off next month’s meeting will be a Report and Order to reconfigure the 900 MHz band for the deployment of broadband services and technologies. For decades, this band has been allocated for narrowband communications like two-way dispatch radios used by business, industrial, and land transportation licensees. The draft rules would make available six of the band’s ten megahertz for the deployment of broadband services, while retaining four megahertz to continue incumbent narrowband operations. The new regulatory framework would allow 900 MHz licensees, like utilities, to obtain broadband licenses and would include operational and technical rules to minimize harmful interference to narrowband operations. To facilitate the quick transition to broadband services, we would use a market-driven process that primarily relies on negotiated agreements between interested parties.
As with wireless broadband for utilities, so too with ships and planes. Our May agenda will also include a vote on new rules to expand the use of Earth Stations in Motion, or ESIMs, which transmit data from satellites to moving vehicles like ships, airplanes, or school buses. I saw the impact this connectivity can have on a trip to Moab, Utah, where students in remote, rural regions of the school district were able to do homework and take tests online during multi-hour bus rides. In 2018, the Commission adopted rules to make it easier for geostationary-satellite orbit (GSO) satellites to target ESIMs. And next month, we will vote on an Order to allow ESIMs to communicate in additional frequency bands with GSO satellites. The draft rules would also allow ESIMs to communicate with non-geostationary orbit (NGSO) satellites, which is important as several companies are in the process of launching new NGSO constellations. American consumers want and expect to be connected wherever they are, and this plan will open new market opportunities to connect vehicles on land, on sea, and in the air.
Aside from closing the digital divide and promoting innovation, perhaps the most frequent subject of monthly agenda items over the past three years has been modernizing the Commission’s outdated media regulations. Our May meeting will feature our latest attempt to inject common sense in our rulebook by streamlining our rules for public notice of the filing of broadcast applications. Current FCC rules require radio and TV broadcasters to notify the public before and after they file certain license applications. The types of required notice are inconsistent based upon the type of applicant, type of station, and type of application. For example, notices can either be over the air or in a local newspaper, and there are requirements on the type of newspaper. Moreover, the current notices are clunky and lengthy, and give consumers little guidance on how to access the applications and file comments or objections to them. The result is an increasingly complex system that makes compliance costly and much more difficult than it needed to be. In three weeks, the Commission will vote on rules to require shorter and more uniform public notices for all broadcast stations. Our goal is twofold: to make it easier for the public to meaningfully participate in the broadcast licensing process and to make the process easier for broadcasters. Notices will be simpler and transition from newspaper to websites, better reflecting how consumers access information these days. The simpler notices will direct consumers to the Commission’s Online Public Inspection File and existing Commission databases, where they can access the applications in question and comment on them. This brings our notification process into the 21st century and offers consumers more opportunities for engagement.
Last but not least, we’ll tackle an important task that enables us to keep the lights on. Unlike most federal agencies, the FCC actually covers its own operational costs by assessing fees on companies we regulate. The Commission is required by Congress to assess regulatory fees each year in an amount that can reasonably be expected to equal the amount of its appropriation. At our May meeting, the Commission will vote on a plan to collect $339,000,000 in regulatory fees for fiscal year 2020. Notably, we are proposing a new fee for foreign-licensed space stations that have access to the U.S. market. The Commission spends resources regulating these space stations, so it’s only fair that the foreign space stations, just like U.S. space stations, help pay for the Commission’s operations.
Yesterday, the Office of Management and Budget and Office of Personnel Management sent a memo to the heads of federal agencies with preliminary guidelines on how to “ramp back up government operations to the maximum extent possible.” This will be no problem for the Commission, because, as our May agenda and the totality of our efforts over the past two months make clear, the FCC has shown no signs of slowing down. Thanks again to everyone at the FCC for rising to this challenge.