Last week, I joined the President at the White House to discuss the FCC’s efforts to promote U.S. leadership in 5G wireless communications. “American companies must lead the world in cellular technology,” the President declared. “5G networks must be secure. . . . They must cover every community, and they must be deployed as soon as possible.” Last week, the FCC made progress toward the last two goals, announcing December 10 as the start date for the largest spectrum auction in our nation’s history, and revealing plans to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to extend high-speed broadband in rural America. At the Commission’s May meeting, we will take action to advance the goal of security.
Promoting secure communications is a long-standing FCC priority. In fact, the second-stated mission Congress gave the Commission in the Communications Act is “the national defense.” One facet of our work on security involves our review of foreign companies that seek to do business in the United States. In 2011, China Mobile USA, which is ultimately owned by the Chinese government, applied to the Commission seeking to provide international telecommunications services in the United States. Consistent with agency policy, we reached out to all relevant federal agencies to see if the application raised national security, law enforcement, or related concerns.
After a lengthy review of the application and consultation with the U.S. intelligence community, in 2018, the Executive Branch agencies recommended that the FCC deny China Mobile USA’s application due to substantial national security and law enforcement concerns that cannot be resolved through an agreement with the company (called “voluntary mitigation”). Notably, this is the first time the Executive Branch has ever recommended that the FCC deny an application due to national security concerns. Based on this recommendation and the full public record in this proceeding, I have determined that approving this application would not serve the public interest. At our May meeting, the Commission therefore will vote on an Order that would deny China Mobile USA’s application.
In addition, we’ll also move forward with yet another item to free up spectrum for wireless services. The President’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget — which “propos[es] legislative changes . . . that pertain to the FCC” and that “are designed to improve spectrum management and represent sound economic policy” — calls on the Commission to “either auction or use fee authority to assign spectrum frequencies between 1675–1680 megahertz for flexible use by 2020, subject to sharing arrangements with Federal weather satellites.” I agree with opening this spectrum for commercial use so that’s exactly what I intend to do. So today, as the first step down that path, I’m circulating a proposal to reallocate spectrum in the 1675–1680 MHz band for shared use between incumbent federal operations and new, non-federal fixed or mobile operations.
Turning to the skies, we’ll also vote on whether to give the green light to new satellite services. Specifically, we’ll consider Theia Holdings A, Inc.’s application to construct, launch, and operate a constellation of 112 active non-geostationary-satellite orbit satellites. In addition to supporting broadband connectivity, Theia’s satellites promise to deliver remote sensing analytics, which could enable precision agriculture, first-responder support, and other applications.
Next on our May agenda will be an item that I previewed at this year’s National Association of Broadcasters Show. Thanks to the Commission’s AM Radio Revitalization Initiative, the FCC has granted AM stations 1,707 construction permits for new FM translators, and almost five hundred of these translators are already on the air. These translators are helping AM broadcasters attract more listeners and advertisers. But with this success has come an uptick in interference complaints from FM stations due to the increasing number of translators on the air. To address this problem, the FCC will vote on streamlining and expediting our current process for resolving interference complaints. Among other things, the order would establish simpler interference remediation procedures, clarify listener complaint requirements, and make it easier for translators causing interference to change channels.
We’ll also vote on an order to improve Video Relay Services (VRS). VRS is a vital communications tool for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The new VRS rules we hope to establish will make it easier for people who rely on American Sign Language to communicate directly with signing customer support representatives. And to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the VRS program, the order would strengthen our mechanisms for call validation — essentially, making sure it’s a legitimate VRS call (and hence one properly supported by federal funds). As part of an accompanying Further Notice, among other ideas, we’ll propose expanding the available pool of qualified sign-language interpreters by converting the current pilot program on at-home interpreting into a permanent one.
From calls to Coase: Six decades on, the great economist’s idea that the FCC should allocate scarce resources using auctions has proven to be a success. Although the Commission has typically held auctions of spectrum, last year we voted to use this market-based tool for the allocation of toll-free numbers. Next month, we’ll vote on a Public Notice to initiate the pre-bidding process for the auction of certain toll-free numbers in the 833 code. Over 17,000 numbers which have been requested by more than one applicant will be available in this first-of-its-kind auction.
Rounding out our May meeting will be a proposal to fine-tune the FCC’s collection of regulatory fees. (Look, I know it may not be the most exciting work we do, but laws old and new make us do it and these fees pay most of our bills.) Fulfilling our statutory requirements, this item proposes a schedule of regulatory fees for Fiscal Year 2019 and seeks input on ways to improve our regulatory fee calculations.
Well then — when you’re talking about the minutia of FCC fee schedules, you’ve come a long way from high-profile events at the White House. Just know that, on issues big and small, the Commission is committed to pursuing an aggressive agenda to modernize its rules, protect our national security, and expand digital opportunity to all Americans.