FCBA Luncheon Address
September 17, 2001
Thank you Margaret for inviting me here today and for that generous and kind introduction.
These are difficult times to be making a speech. What I had planned to talk about -- my regulatory goals and philosophy -- just doesn’t seem very important after the terrible events of last week. This attack on us, this war has reminded us all of what is truly important -- our families, our friends, our communities, our country.
But since I had previously committed to making a speech today, I am very relieved it is here with my friends because I am once again reminded of something I have always believed: The Communications Bar is an extraordinary collection of compassionate and talented attorneys, and in some ways a very large extended family. As a longstanding member of this Bar -- and as a former member of its leadership -- I know that when tragedy befalls any one of our members -- its strikes us all. And this week we have rallied together to support those who are particularly close to this loss. For many of us - Karen Kincaid of Wiley, Rein and Fielding, Stephen “Jake” Jacoby of Metrocall, and other loved ones - have personalized this terrible tragedy.
And it makes the past week all the more chilling to realize that there are thousands of Karen Kincaids, Jake Jacobys or other stories of loss out there across America. The stories never seem to end and each one breaks your heart yet again. Each victim had their own loving family and friends, their own next-door neighbors, people they went running with, friends they would go to see at Starbucks, or people they talked to each day in the office. It is through the lens of these human connections that we see the toll and devastation of last week’s events.
And we will have to endure great pain in the coming weeks as we grapple with the enormity of these losses. But we also must continue to celebrate the remarkable lives of those we have lost. We should be inspired by the values that they embodied, and live up to their examples as best we can. And then ultimately, as a country and as individuals, we must go on
Anne Morrow Lindbergh once said, “It isn’t for the moment you are struck that you need courage, but for the long uphill climb back to sanity and faith and security.”
Those who perpetrated these heinous and cowardly acts will not conquer our spirit. We will not allow their vicious attacks to undermine our commitment to the principles that we hold dear. Instead we will recommit ourselves to those values. We will emerge from this -- as we did from the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the World Wars -- stronger and more committed than ever before. We will build on this disaster by gaining a new appreciation for the freedoms and values that we hold dear. And we will reconfirm our love and compassion for one another -- and newly appreciate the countless blessings of our families, our friends, and our FCBA family.
As I reflect on this tragedy, I am struck by the ability of communications to bring individuals and communities together in a time of crisis. From the ability to use a telephone to reach loved ones, to using the Internet, instant messaging, and wireless e-mail services to get word out saying that you are okay, millions of Americans were able to communicate simultaneously. We gathered around television sets and radios seeking to hear the latest news and trying to piece together these tragic moments in our lives. The response from each sector of the communications industry has been impressive. Critical infrastructure was kept operational and supplied the needed communications equipment and services to the local, state, and federal emergency workers as well as the victims of the attacks.
I’d like to touch just briefly on the responses to the attack from the wireless wireline and radio and television industries.
As I am sure you have all heard, there were phone calls from passengers on the hijacked airlines to their family and friends. A passenger on United Airlines Flight #93 used a wireless phone to call his wife, who told him that another hijacked plan had just crashed into the World Trade Center. It appears that in light of this information about the hijackers’ deadly intent, that passenger and others aboard the plane decided to rush the cockpit and try to subdue the terrorists. Communications networks appear to have played a small part in saving lives that might have been lost if that plane had made it to Washington.
People also used the Internet and wireless e-mail devices to get messages to their loved ones. A student at Georgetown University was worried about his father who was flying out of the Boston airport that morning until his dad found an internet terminal at the airport and was able to send his son an e-mail saying that he was not on one of the hijacked planes. Even more amazingly, public safety officials have said that several people were able to use their wireless phones to call from the rubble of collapsed buildings to let others know that they were still alive.
In addition, wireline network handled heavy volumes of calls throughout this entire crisis. The redundant capability afforded by the network’s back-up systems allowed service to continue for many customers who might have otherwise lost service. Indeed, New York City’s 911 system worked throughout this crisis. And to supplement the public safety effort, Verizon increased the number of operators serving the Northeast so that calls to regular operators would be answered in two seconds or less, thus ensuring that trapped victims dialing “0” could reach help quickly. Verizon also provided hundreds of additional lines for local New York hospitals and it programmed all of its curbside payphones to allow free local calling in New York. Other carriers as well as Verizon provided additional wireline and cellular circuits to emergency workers and investigators at the site of the Pennsylvania plane crash. Moreover, communications workers have been laboring around the clock in a extraordinary effort to ensure New York’s financial district could go back to work today and to get the city back to normal as quickly as possible.
AT&T also lost transport equipment in the World Trade Center, although a local switch in the basement of one of the destroyed building miraculously was able to continue operating. Traffic volume on the company’s long distance network hit 431 million calls on Tuesday as people tried to reach their loved ones. This compares to a previous record high of 330 million calls. AT&T, like the other common carriers, has been doing a tremendous job of keeping our citizens connected throughout this crisis by, among other things, actively managing network traffic to avoid system crashes, expediting repairs, and coordinating their efforts closely with other carriers.
On the wireless side, Verizon and AT&T quickly placed mobile cell towers in Manhattan, across the river in New Jersey, and in Brooklyn, to provide service to lower Manhattan. These and other carriers also made thousands of mobile phones available at no charge to public safety officials in New York and Washington. Sprint opened up its stores to allow anyone to use its phones to call outside New York -- and even allowed people who were stranded and could not get home to spend the night in some of their Manhattan stores.
The fact that our communications networks performed as well as they did is a testament to the careful work of organizations dedicated to ensuring the reliability of the public switched telephone network. The Network Reliability and Interoperability Council, for example, has established best practices and industry standards to ensure that networks remain up and running in crisis situations. These standards rely on the principles of redundancy and interconnectivity so that knocking out a single piece of the network should not impair service on a broad scale.
In addition to telephone service, the Internet has been a great resource during this crisis. It was available not only to connect us to our loved ones, but also to provide news updates and emergency information, and to coordinate outreach efforts. American Airlines and United Airlines replaced their regular home pages with fast-loading, text-only pages that displayed toll-free numbers that people could call for information. Many news sites quickly stripped their sites of advertisements, graphics, and other features in order to quicken response times.
Various groups set up databases allowing survivors of the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center to post their names - thus letting others know that they were safe. And through the help of online services, such as Yahoo and Amazon.com, the Red Cross reportedly received over $2 million in online contributions last Tuesday and Wednesday.
Broadcast networks, network affiliates, local stations and cable networks all have worked together sharing news sources and providing commercial-free news coverage. Affiliates were able to interweave network and local news coverage. CNN was simulcast on other Turner cable networks. News programs also included segments that provided guidance on how to explain this tragedy and the haunting images to our children. Radio stations quickly switched to all-news -- and mainly commercial free -- formats that would provide updates on the day’s events. Radio stations were able to rely on their own local news gathering, co-owned radio news stations, news feeds from networks, and audio from television broadcasts. Networks also responded in the public interest by replacing movies that had themes that were too closely related to the real tragic events with other types of programming.
I also want to recognize the extraordinary work of the public safety community throughout the past week. Their dedication, sacrifice and, indeed, effectiveness sets a standard for each of us. Although communications is only one part of their critical infrastructures - it is our part as an agency. In this regard I urge my colleagues to continue to support our public safety licensing and policy process. Moreover we should endeavor to move with new urgency towards availability of the 700 MHz interoperability bands, and ensuring that public safety operates free of harmful interference. We must maintain and grow our public safety wireless networks to further the essential mission of these licensees.
The generosity of communications companies in this time of need also has been impressive. General Electric, the parent of NBC, contributed $10 million, and Cisco Systems committed millions of dollars as well, to a fund that will help the families of the of the hundreds of police, firefighters, and emergency personnel who died during their rescue efforts. Local broadcasters have held fundraisers, organized blood drives, and worked with the Red Cross to produce public service announcements asking for blood donations and funding and providing information on coping with the crisis.
And I know I am failing to recognize many more people and companies who have responded to this crisis and for that I apologize. All of their efforts exemplify the best about who we are as Americans. These efforts also bring home the importance and pervasiveness of communications capabilities in our society - indeed, how they now define us as a society. I, as a commissioner of the FCC, and you, as members of this industry, have the responsibility of ensuring that the public trust, reliance, and hope that Americans have placed in our communications systems is not misplaced, and that we continue to work together to ensure that our communications systems reach their fullest potential. So that as a nation we can climb back to a place of “sanity and faith and security.”
That means we have to go back to doing our jobs, regardless of how difficult that may be. In my remaining time, I do want to share with you some of my thoughts on communications regulation and the principles that will guide my time as a Commissioner at the FCC. But since I’ve already been standing up here for what feels like a very long time, I’ll see if I can give you the condensed version of my original speech.
I’ve developed five core principles that will guide my actions in office.
First, Congress sets our agenda in the Communications Act, and our job is to implement the statute, not to pursue our own policy preferences.
Second, where the Act gives us discretion, we should rely wherever possible on market forces, rather than prescriptive regulation.
Third, we should regulate with enforcement in mind. This means limiting ourselves to a small number of clearly written rules and enforcing them vigorously.
Fourth, the FCC needs to be humble and recognize the limits of what it knows and can achieve, particularly during this time of rapid technological change.
Finally, the FCC is a service-based organization and should act like it. An upcoming law review article in the Federal Communications Bar Journal will elaborate on these five principles. But for purposes of today, I’ll focus here on the latter two points -- what I mean when I say the FCC has to be humble and that it has to act like a service-based organization. Government Humility
To me, government humility means recognizing that we cannot possibly duplicate the vast knowledge base of the industry we regulate. The communications industry is perhaps the most technologically advanced sector of our economy. Regulators cannot keep up with the myriad developments and innovations by the thousands of communications providers. For example, we cannot know all the latest research on switching technology or spectrum re-use. But we can put structures in place that maximize the information available to the agency in charting its regulatory course.
We need to reach out as broadly as possible to improve the flow of information into the Commission. We need to reach out to consumers, licensees, other regulators (international as well as state) trade associations, and the Bar. To this end, I believe the Commission should only reluctantly invoke its authority to make proceedings restricted. I have found, based on my experiences at the Commission and in the private sector, that ex parte meetings are critical to ensuring a full understanding of all the relevant issues.
There are also a number of improvements we can make to speed the flow of information from the Commission, thereby maximizing the transparency of our decisionmaking:
In addition to improving the flow of information into and out of the Commission, we can take steps to better educate ourselves and work smarter. In this respect, I applaud the efforts of Chairman Powell to upgrade our training programs and to attract top-flight engineers and economists to the Commission. While some of you may disagree, it appears to me we have enough lawyers who think we understand everything; what we really need are more experts who actually do understand the complex technical and economic issues that are so often at the core of our proceedings.
The FCC Is a Service-Based Organization
The other principle I’d like to touch on today is that the FCC is a service-based organization, and we should act like it. The people in this room, and all taxpayers generally, are our customers. We should strive to provide you with the same high level of service as a for-profit business.
Our customers deserve prompt, well-informed answers to regulatory inquiries. We owe you a quality process, even if we can’t always give you the substantive answers you seek.
When I was in the private sector, long delays were what I worried about most. Even if I got an adverse decision, at least my company or client could move forward and revise its business strategy as appropriate. It was regulatory uncertainty that was the most damaging and frustrating. Based on that experience, I will do everything in my power to push the Commission to deliver answers as promptly as possible.
The Commission has engaged in several efforts to tackle this problem, but we can do more. The Wireless Bureau has completed a substantial backlog-reduction project, which has been a big success. We have also established a goal of completing our review of license transfers within 180 days, and we should stick to it. One of my first votes at the Commission was on the Fox-Chris Craft license transfers, which took 10 months to complete, and that was simply too long regardless of where you stood on the substance of the outcome. The delay and uncertainty harmed the business plans of all parties involved.
Perhaps the area most in need of improvement is petitions for reconsideration and applications for review. These have been known to sit at the Commission for unbelievably long periods of time, and often for no good reason. Such petitions frequently present no new issues and could be decided relatively easily. But we don’t act. And where a party’s access to judicial review is frustrated by the long pendency of applications or petitions, delays are even more problematic.
One solution that I am exploring with the Office of General Counsel would involve the use of abbreviated orders to quickly deny those reconsideration petitions and applications for review where no new information issues are presented. The appropriate Bureau would sort all petitions into two groups - those that raise new issues, and those that don’t. The petitions that do not raise new issues would be subject to a deadline of something on the order of 45 days, which would be suspended, only in unusual circumstances. As I previously stated I have already begun discussing this proposal with the General Counsel, and I plan to work with the Chairman’s Office and the other Commissioners to see if we can adopt such procedures to cut delays substantially. This is the type of process change that I believe we are obligated to explore, if we are to deliver to you the level of service you deserve.
Let me close by saying that I extend the principle of providing good service to my own office. My staff and I make every effort to take all meetings, to return calls within 24 hours, and to provide as much information to parties as we can responsibly disclose. For those of you who think you are insiders because you have my staff’s direct dials, I’m sorry to say I’m going to let everyone else in on the secret: Those numbers are also available on my website. Please come to any of us with ideas of how we can serve you better - we share common goals in this endeavoer - to make the FCC as efficient and responsive as possible. Ultimately, I’d like you to think about my office as the FCC’s biggest suggestion box. We look forward to hearing from you all.