Storming Back Stronger
For several days, Hurricane Dorian battered the Bahamas with devastating winds, rain, and storm surge, and now it is close to our southeast coast. My thoughts are with everyone who is in harm’s way and our neighbors in the Bahamas whose lives have already been upended by this historic tragedy. This situation has led us to focus our energies at the FCC on working with our federal and state partners as well as industry to prepare for and mitigate Dorian’s impact in the United States. Among other efforts, the Commission has already activated our system for monitoring and reporting network outages, and we’re helping to ensure that coordinated plans are in place to expedite any needed service restoration.
Unfortunately, Dorian is not the first natural disaster to spur the FCC into action, nor will it be the last. For example, two years ago this month, Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands within a span of two weeks. In addition to massive property destruction, power and communications outages were widespread. The Commission acted quickly, providing an infusion of about $66 million from the Universal Service Fund to assist carriers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with initial restoration efforts.
Then, in 2018, we created the Uniendo a Puerto Rico Fund and Connect USVI Fund. For Stage 1 of these funds, we provided about $64 million in additional funding to assist with network restoration. That support was critical to the carriers’ efforts to restore their networks. And for Stage 2, we proposed a longer-term strategy for improving, expanding, and hardening broadband networks throughout the islands.
Today, I shared with my colleagues a draft Order that would finalize Stage 2 of the Funds, allocating about $950 million to improve, expand, and harden broadband networks in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We will be voting on this draft Order at the FCC’s monthly meeting on September 26. Now that most carriers have largely restored service, it is time to authorize long-term funding to ensure that everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has access to the same high-speed fixed and mobile broadband networks as other Americans. And at the same time, we must storm-harden those communications networks so they can withstand the future hurricanes that will undoubtedly come and will continue to function when Puerto Ricans and Virgin Islanders need them most. I’m particularly pleased that the draft Order would create incentives for the deployment of gigabit-speed fixed broadband and 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity, on the islands. My goal is simple: I want everyone in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to be connected with digital opportunity.
At our September meeting, we’ll also consider final rules to combat a persistent problem known as “access arbitrage.” Despite FCC reforms in 2011, bad actors still game our existing intercarrier compensation system and increase their access charge revenues (in other words, make money) by purposely and inefficiently inflating high-volume call traffic — like “free” conferencing calling or chat line traffic. Long-distance carriers — and their customers — end up footing the bill for these “free” services. So, we’ll vote on rules to eliminate the incentives to engage in these wasteful arbitrage schemes. Specifically, we would shift financial responsibility for paying these excessive access charges to the carriers that are responsible for stimulating them.
In three weeks, the Commission will also take another step forward in our work to promote American leadership in 5G wireless services. Making more spectrum available for the commercial marketplace is a central plank of the Commission’s 5G FAST strategy. We’ve already completed two spectrum auctions this year and will begin a third on December 10. And at our September meeting, we will vote to seek comment on draft procedures for an auction of 70 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band to begin on June 25, 2020.
The 3.5 GHz band is prime spectrum for 5G services. But when I became Chairman, we didn’t have the right rules in place to encourage the deployment of 5G in the band. That’s why I asked Commissioner O’Rielly to lead our effort to adopt targeted updates to the licensing and technical rules for the 3.5 GHz band with the aim of promoting more investment and innovation. Thanks to Commissioner O’Rielly’s leadership, we put the rules in place last year that will facilitate the deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz band. And we are now ready to start the process that will lead to the 3.5 GHz auction commencing next June.
Our September meeting will also feature the latest chapter in our Modernization of Media Regulation Initiative. Specifically, I am proposing to replace the requirement that broadcast licensees and applicants file notices in local newspapers when they file certain applications with the Commission with a requirement that they instead post online notices that would directly link to the applications themselves. I am also proposing to simplify the announcements regarding these applications that broadcasters must make over the air, and to have these announcements direct the public to online resources where they can review these applications. This is just another example of how we are modernizing our media rules to reflect the digital age and streamlining them to eliminate unnecessary red tape.
Rounding out this month’s agenda is a draft Order to reform the Commission’s rules governing direct broadcast satellite (DBS) service. The Commission recently streamlined its processing procedures for certain satellites, but the procedures for DBS satellites, those most commonly used to deliver satellite TV, were not updated. At our September meeting, we will therefore vote on aligning our DBS processing procedures with the procedures for other types of satellites. Taking this step will facilitate increased use of spectrum and orbital resources, while protecting existing consumers of satellite television from harmful interference to their services.
In closing, I would like to thank all of the emergency responders who have been working around the clock in response to Hurricane Dorian. It’s still unclear how this storm will impact the southeast coast, but I know for certain that our nation’s first responders will rise to the challenge, like they always do.