National Health IT Week at the FCC

This week the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) CONNECT2HEALTHFCC Task Force, a group formed in March 2014 that is focused on using broadband deployment to accelerate the adoption of advanced healthcare technologies, is joining more than 400 other public and private organizations in recognizing National Health IT Week (NHIT week).  NHIT week is a series of events and activities aimed at increasing awareness of the ability of information technology (IT) to advance healthcare services.  For example, health IT, or electronic health records, can improve healthcare by increasing patient safety, decreasing medical errors, and facilitating better communication between patients and their healthcare providers.  The themes for this year’s NHIT week include patient engagement, advancing interoperability, and clinical quality and safety.

NHIT week began September 15 with the Annual Consumer Health IT Summit hosted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.  FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn delivered the keynote address at the Summit and will also present at the First Annual National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved Conference on Tuesday, September 16.  The Conference will focus on strategies for using Health IT to eliminate disparities in healthcare and ensure that all patients have and use the tools available to maintain their health and well-being.  Additional NHIT week events include a webinar on new electronic health record certification criteria and a webinar on using health IT to improve the safety of healthcare.

The author wishes to thank Leigh Gusky, an Associate in our Washington, D.C. office, for her assistance in preparing this article.

Federal Communications Commission Rewrites E-Rate Rules for Technology Support for Schools

By Ari Fitzgerald and Deborah K. Broderson

On July 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) adopted a long-awaited order revising the rules governing E-rate, the federal government’s largest education technology program with an annual budget of $2.4 billion. Schools and libraries eligible for E-rate support should review the final FCC Order, which has not yet been released, closely to see how changes to this program will affect their technology budgets in the future.  

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Incentive Auction and Mobile Spectrum Holdings Report and Orders - Responses from Industry and the Public

As discussed in our post earlier today, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday adopted long-awaited rules governing the 600 MHz incentive auction and spectrum-aggregation proceedings.  Interested parties throughout the wireless industry, including wireless carriers, industry associations, and public interest groups, issued statements regarding their thoughts about the new rules.  We’ve assembled many of those statements here so you wouldn’t have to.

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Federal Communications Commission Adopts Incentive Auction and Mobile Spectrum Holdings Report and Orders

After eighteen-months of deliberation, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday adopted rules governing the 600 MHz incentive auction and spectrum-aggregation proceedings.  These hard-fought orders, which the Democrat-controlled FCC adopted over vigorous dissents from the two Republican Commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Reilly, provide a solid foundation for at least one competitive carrier to acquire low-band spectrum in the upcoming incentive auction without the risk of the largest two carriers shutting the smaller carriers out of the bidding in key markets.  The rules also helpfully modify the FCC’s “spectrum screen” to apply additional regulatory scrutiny to future transactions involving below 1 GHz spectrum.

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Broadcast Incentive Auction Update: Rules of the Road Coming Soon

By Michele FarquharPraveen Goyal, and Deborah Broderson

The FCC is expected to vote on rules governing the broadcast incentive auction during its May 15 open meeting.  Although the Report and Order outlining the rules is still being circulated internally among FCC leadership and has not been released to the public, the FCC has not been shy about telegraphing the direction the final rules might take, including broadcaster-related provisions.

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LTE-Unlicensed - The New WiFi?

By Tom Peters

Over the past few months, a debate has been quietly raging in the international standards group 3GPP over the possibility of using the 4G wireless technology LTE in unlicensed spectrum.  LTE is the de facto standard for 4G in licensed spectrum – the latest iPhones and Android devices support it on every major US operator’s network - and WiFi is the wireless standard used over unlicensed spectrum in homes, local businesses and public “hot spots” – it is built into every computer, tablet and smartphone out there.  So the possibility of expanding LTE into unlicensed spectrum where the WiFi standard is ubiquitous and dominant brings several questions to mind:  “What’s wrong with the current arrangement?”, “Why does LTE want to infringe on WiFi’s territory?” and “How could this affect me in the future?”  

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A Shared Vision for Spectrum

By Trey Hanbury and Wes Platt

Earlier this month, the U.K. took a small but significant step towards a future in which spectrum is shared rather than reserved for a particular use.  The U.K.’s Department for Culture, Media, and Sport (“DCMS”) released its 2014 Spectrum Strategy, which committed to “a gradual move” from exclusive to shared use of spectrum, in line with the European Commission's promotion of spectrum sharing. As unencumbered airwaves become a thing of the past, “sharing will be crucial,” it said.  “Technical and regulatory innovations to enable such sharing must be prioritized.” 

DCMS anticipates that the benefits of such a shift will be enormous.  In particular, DCMS predicts that such an approach can help double spectrum’s annual contribution to the U.K. economy by 2025.  It also states that such new and innovative forms of spectrum use will be necessary to keep up with developments such as 5G, Big Data, and the Internet of Things.

For starters, DCMS recommends making additional portions of government-owned spectrum available for public use.  Among other things, DCMS states that that the creation of a central public sector spectrum database should help generate sharing opportunities, and that new technologies such as geolocation databases and white space devices could add to these opportunities.  It also mentions that the Ministry of Defense is in the process of preparing additional bands for sharing and has already agreed to share the 2025-2070 MHz band with wireless cameras on a more formal basis.  Additionally, DCMS notes that it plans to apply the same core principles across all frequencies, to modify its regulatory framework to better support geolocation databases, and to meet with experts and publish additional conclusions by July 2015.

Time will tell whether sharing is an effective and practical way of easing (and perhaps overcoming) the current spectrum crunch.  The U.S. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (“PCAST”) recently considered the same set of issues, and it recommended a similar approach.  

FCC Delays Incentive Auction to Mid-2015

 Contributed by: Trey Hanbury

 

The US Federal Communications Commission has postponed the auction of 600 MHz broadband spectrum currently occupied by the nation’s over-the-air television operators until mid-2015.

In a blog posted on the Federal Communications Commission’s website on December 6, 2013, Chairman Wheeler announced the delay and a more detailed schedule that sets tentative milestones for activities leading up to the auction.   The blog is short on specifics, but here are the key milestones Wheeler describes by date:

  • January 2014 – the FCC staff intends to announce a more detailed incentive auction schedule at the Commission meeting currently slated for January 30, 2014.
  • “Early 2014” – the Chairman intends to circulate a proposed Incentive Auction Report and Order to the Commissioners.
  • “Spring 2014” – the FCC is scheduled to vote on the Incentive Auctions Report and Order.
  • “Second Half 2014” – the FCC staff is supposed to release an Auction Comment Public Notice and a Procedures Public Notice that will provide additional details and seek comment on how the specific parts of the auction will actually function; these notices will also provide details about some type of extended mock auction that will invite substantial participation from potential bidders.
  • “Mid 2015” and “only when our software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested” – the FCC will start the 600 MHz incentive auction.

 

The subject of multiple congressional hearings, including one before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation this week, the US 600 MHz incentive auction is an innovative, two-sided spectrum auction authorized by the Spectrum Act of 2012 that is designed to encourage over-the-air broadcasters to surrender their spectrum to mobile broadband operators.  The newly announced delay allows the FCC more time to work the many complexities of one of the most technically complicated and politically fraught auctions of all time.    

Wireless Avionics Intra-Communications Technology Not Slated for Takeoff Any Time Soon

Airplane

By Cary Adickman and Deborah Broderson

Wireless avionics intra-communications (“WAIC”) technology holds the promise of a safer, more efficient international aviation fleet, but the slow pace of designating spectrum for the service and the possible need for the reallocation of additional spectrum may leave WAIC sitting on the tarmac until at least 2015. And absent broad international consensus, WAIC deployment may never get off the ground at all. 

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Significant Changes in the Mexican Telecommunication Landscape Pending Formation of New Regulatory Body

Mexico flagBy Trey Hanbury and Deborah Broderson

The Mexican telecommunication regulatory body is in the midst of a significant overhaul, and major changes on the horizon could affect any entity with wireless voice or data operations near the U.S.-Mexican border.  Should uncertainty persist into the new year, the Mexican regulatory transition has the potential to affect the upcoming 600 MHz incentive auction, which will require intensive international technical coordination of television stations and wireless broadband operations in border regions.  

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Why Would DISH Want to Acquire LightSquared's Spectrum?

Satellite dish

By Trey Hanbury and Neal Desai

After receiving FCC approval to use its 2 GHz spectrum for terrestrial operations, DISH Network Corporation, the satellite television provider owned by Charlie Ergen, has emerged as a key player in the wireless space.  As part of an aggressive push to expand its spectrum holdings to offer both voice and Internet services to complement its current TV offering, DISH is seeking to acquire LightSquared’s spectrum assets.  DISH offered to purchase the bankrupt carrier’s frequency allocations for $2.2 billion in May and DISH’s CEO Ergen is said to have purchased more than $1 billion in LightSquared’s secured debt in a further attempt to acquire LightSquared’s spectrum.  

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LightSquared's Quest for Spectrum Continues

By Trey Hanbury and Neal Desai

LightSquared, the satellite-terrestrial venture backed by Phil Falcone, continues to push for a spectrum solution that the FCC will accept.  On Aug. 7, 2013, the FCC moved the proceeding forward, requesting comment on LightSquared’s recent study that showed no interference between its proposed terrestrial uplink operations and GPS providers.  If the Commission is convinced there is no interference, this approach would allow LightSquared to deploy terrestrial uplink operations on its current MSS uplink spectrum.  Paired with higher-frequency downlink spectrum that LightSquared is seeking, this could finally provide the basis for LightSquared to offer its wholesale 4G LTE service.

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FCC Seeks Comment on Reforming the Multibillion Dollar E-rate Program

By: Trey Hanbury and Deborah Broderson

FCC logoIn 2012, the government authorized the transfer of $2.25 billion from telecommunications consumers to schools and libraries to fund “E-rate,” the federal government’s largest education technology program. This year, the FCC proposed fundamental changes to the E-Rate program that could either help usher in a more efficient, more responsive program for students and educators, or swell funding for what some regard as an already inefficient government subsidy program.   

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FCC Increases Spectrum Concentration Screen

In an otherwise unremarkable order approving AT&T’s acquisition of multiple licenses in the 2.3 GHz band, the FCC yesterday changed its rules on spectrum concentration.  Generally speaking, the FCC reviews an acquiring firm’s spectrum holdings and applies a “spectrum screen” to ensure that no more than one-third of the total pool of available broadband spectrum resources rests with any one company in any given market.  Yesterday’s order, however, increases the screen to incorporate twenty megahertz of Wireless Communications Service (WCS) spectrum into the total amount of spectrum the FCC considers useful and available for broadband use. 

As a result, the new spectrum screen for wireless transactions and auctions is as follows:

  • 102 megahertz or more of cellular, PCS, SMR, 700 MHz, and WCS spectrum, where neither BRS nor AWS-1 spectrum is available;
  • 121 megahertz or more of spectrum, where BRS spectrum is available, but AWS-1 spectrum is not available;
  • 132 megahertz or more of spectrum, where AWS-1 spectrum is available, but BRS spectrum is not available; or
  • 151 megahertz or more of spectrum where both AWS-1 and BRS spectrum are available.
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Truth or Dare: Encouraging Truthful Bidding in the US Incentive Auction

 By: Coleman Bazelon & Giulia McHenry, The Brattle Group; Trey Hanbury, Hogan Lovells

The Federal Communications Commission recently proposed a voluntary “incentive auction” of most of the nation’s over-the-air television frequencies.  The process of trading rabbit ears for smartphones begins with a reverse auction for the broadcasters’ spectrum.  The auction is called a “reverse” auction because the government is buying, not selling, the spectrum used by the broadcasters.  The auction may have another innovative feature: unlike ascending bid auctions such as those on eBay, the FCC will start with very high prices for broadcast stations and then lower the prices broadcasters can receive as the auction progresses.  The descending prices will prompt some broadcasters to quit the auction and continue broadcasting instead.  Others will remain in the auction until the FCC finds a point at which the amount of spectrum broadcasters surrender matches the demand a more traditional ascending auction identifies for new broadband frequencies. 

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