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The FCC’s Moment is Now

With Senate confirmation of incoming FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, the FCC is now back at full strength.  A full plate of issues critical to the future of innovation and the national economy now awaits the five men and women who sit atop the agency.

Most FCC leadership teams are lucky if they get to decide one, maybe two, policy decisions of significant impact on the course of innovation and the national economy.  This leadership team has the opportunity to be the decision-makers on a number of critical matters. It is the FCC’s moment.

Among the key issues is radio spectrum -- both in the licensed cellular and unlicensed Wi-Fi bands.  By 2017, the amount of mobile traffic moving over networks will be 67 times what it was in 2007.  Wi-Fi networks now carry half of all US Internet traffic, a number which will grow to two-thirds by 2017.  There is bipartisan agreement that more spectrum must be made available to ensure we can meet consumer demand, which is growing as a result of our ever-increasing reliance on smartphones and tablets, and the video and other content we consume every day.

The prior leadership of the FCC has successfully identified, and teed up, a number of spectrum bands that can be made available for broadband – 600 MHz, 1755-1780 MHz, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz.   Now these proceedings must be decided. The issues in these dockets are difficult ones – transitioning spectrum from existing uses to new uses, and in some cases sharing spectrum — and are not susceptible to easy resolution.  The FCC’s actions to resolve these matters over the next 12-18 months will determine whether our regulatory system is up to the challenges that technology change and consumer demand have laid at its feet.

And as the FCC swings into decision-making mode on spectrum, so too will it need to decide how to modernize and streamline the E-Rate program.  E-Rate is the cornerstone of America’s effort to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.  Since the program’s inception 15 years ago, it has connected 100,000 schools to the Internet. But the needs of modern districts and classrooms are much different than they were 15 years ago.  Fifteen years ago, having a dial-up connection in a classroom was considered cutting edge.  Today, we need 25 students at a time – in classroom after classroom — to be able to connect to video content over a wireless network.  Among others things, this requires ensuring that there not just be good connections to schools, but within schools as well.   Cisco has developed 5 major recommendations on E-Rate, to ensure that there will be high speed broadband in every classroom in America.  Our recommendations can be found here.

Finally, we’d like to congratulate Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner O’Rielly on their confirmations, and we stand ready to work with them – and the other FCC Commissioners – to find practical solutions to the significant telecommunications challenges facing our nation.

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