Speaker 1: Hi, I'm Maggie ridin, a senior reporter with CNET, and I'm here with acting FCC, chairwoman, Jessica Rosen, Russel chairwoman Rosen, Russel, thank you so much for joining me today. I wanna jump right in with my first question about the digital divide. I know this is a subject that's near and dear to your heart. Earlier this year, the FCCS started administering the emergency broadband benefit. It's a subsidy program that helps people affected by the pandemic pay for high speed internet access. [00:00:30] And now Congress is making a version of the program permanent through the infrastructure bill, but the program hasn't been without some critics. What are some of the lessons that you've learned from the, that you think you can apply to the new subsidy program?
Speaker 2: All right. Well, first of all, thank you for having me and thank you for starting with the digital divide because this pandemic has exposed a really hard truth that we have a digital divide in this country. That's very real and very big, and we're gonna have to find new ways [00:01:00] to tackle it so that everyone everywhere has access to broadband. And one of those ways is what you mentioned, the emergency broadband benefit. And this program is a really big deal. It's the nation's largest ever broadband affordability program. We've never had anything this big before, and it helps low income household get online, stay online. And right now it provides $50 a month in support. And that number goes up to $75 [00:01:30] a month on tribal land. Plus there's ways that you can also get a discounted laptop or tablet computer. So during this time, when we've all been told to mask up hunker down and go online for school, for work for vaccine appointments, for healthcare, for entertainment, for more, it's been really vital.
Speaker 2: And in the very short time it's been available, we've had more than five and a half million households enroll, which I think really demonstrates that it is a program that we [00:02:00] need to help make sure that every household can get online and stay. I think that's the really good news. And I think Congress took note of how many households we've been able to enroll and in the legislation that's pending on Capitol hill is looking at how they can extend this program. And one of the benefits of that extension is that they're looking at, you know, what worked and what didn't to date, and they are putting in some new consumer protections to prevent things like upselling to these households. [00:02:30] And I think that's a really good thing. They're also taking a look at lowering the dollar value and support from 50 to $30 a month. And I think that's more challenging, but when you stand back and look at this, what's become clear is that affordability is a really big issue in the digital will divide, and we're gonna need programs like this and efforts like this to help solve it.
Speaker 1: So how do you make sure that it gets to the people who need it most right. Like thinking about folks who, um, you know, new immigrants, for example, who, you know, there [00:03:00] may be a language barrier or absolutely who aren't used question signing up for services like this, you know, it seems like there are a lot of hoops you have to jump through. So how do you reach those people? Right.
Speaker 2: So one of the things we realized really early when we set this up is that if we preached about this program from Washington, I don't know, we wouldn't hit that many ear. We were gonna have to find trusted entities in communities across the country who could get the word out. And we set up a way to take in information and, uh, contact [00:03:30] data from those who wanted to participate. We have more than 30,000 partners working with us across the country on this now. And that's boys and girls clubs, that's meals on wheels programs that, uh, involves faith institutions. I mean, we've got the NFL running a public service announcement on this. It's really small groups, big groups, everything in between. And what we've realized over time is that those trusted actors are really powerful in their communities. And we're gonna have to work with them to make sure, to get [00:04:00] the word out, continue to talk about this program and build trust in this program because we can't do it all from Washington and we can't do it all ourselves. And, you know, we're making progress because even now we're getting about 200,000 new households signing up a week. Um, and I really think a lot of that is, uh, the good work of our partners out in the field.
Speaker 1: So do you think that that uptake's been better than what you would've expected? You know, for example, I, I know we've had a lifeline program for years and years and, [00:04:30] and I don't think the uptake has been that, that big, right?
Speaker 2: Yeah. You know, um, I think that it's dramatic, but I think that what we're living through right now, this global pan is also kind of dramatic and it has dramatically made the case that we gotta get every household online, that you're not gonna have a fair shot at success in civic and commercial life. If you don't find a way to have high speed internet at home. And so, you know, out of crisis's opportunity and with this crisis, [00:05:00] I think we've ended the days where we talk about broadband is nice to have, I think, policy makers everywhere now understand it's need to have for everyone across this country. Yeah. So
Speaker 1: We've talked a lot about this subsidy program, but, but what else can be done? I mean, is there, is there something else, like for example, president Biden, when he was first introducing the infrastructure package, you know, mention there could be a place for some price regulation, um, he didn't really go into it, but is that something [00:05:30] that you think maybe necessary to, to really make broadband more affordable?
Speaker 2: You know, I don't think that, that, I think the focus of our efforts right now is how do we get to 100% of this country? So they have affordable, reliable, consistent access to broadband. We know affordability is a challenge and we've now got this program to help with it. But we also know deployment's a challenge and we've gotta figure out how, um, to get the infrastructure to the places in this country that don't have it. And I see that [00:06:00] as the focus of a lot of the, um, 65 billion that's being bandied about in the current legislation on Capitol hill, I think the most important thing for the United States right now is to adopt a 100% policy, get a hundred percent of our households online and try to identify every tool, every word, and every statute old and new to help us do that.
Speaker 1: And I know you've been a big proponent of, um, the FCC combating digital redlining, um, and the infrastructure bill [00:06:30] also addresses that. And, uh, Congress is, is working on that. So, but what can the FCC do? What can government do to, uh, fix that problem? Oh,
Speaker 2: Okay. So first of all, I think the fact that we're having a conversation about digital redlining is a good thing. We've got communities in this country that have been for too long or underserved and overlooked, and we gotta figure out how to address them. I was speaking to some advocates from Baltimore just a week ago, and, you know, they were talking [00:07:00] about what it means to be on the wrong side of town or the wrong side of the road and not have access to the most up to date infrastructure because, um, that's gonna be a problem in rural areas and urban areas alike. So Congress is, uh, looking at legislation now that would ask the FCC to on a proceeding on digital redlining, what it means, develop models for states and, uh, localities, and, um, also develop a special complaint process for it. So if [00:07:30] Congress passes that legislation, that's an area where we'll do some more work, but, you know, you asked what's the most important thing we can do right now. And I'll, I think the most important thing we can do right now is actually map where broadband is and is not across this country. So we know where those deficiencies are. And, um, as you know, to date, I think the FCCS data about, uh, where service is and is not, is, uh, not up to snuff for the digital age. We're gonna have to be a whole lot more precise and we are working very hard on that right [00:08:00] now. And I think that's gonna produce some meaningful information to help us address digital redlining too.
Speaker 1: When do you think that's gonna be ready? Cause I, I know you started, um, uh, a task force looking at this and you know, last sort of public comments were that we think this could be available next year, early next year, potential, but are, are you on track to meet that or should folks expect that sooner?
Speaker 2: Well, I think the most important thing to acknowledge is that the right time to have set up [00:08:30] an effort to build really good, honest and accurate maps was four or five years ago. The second best time is right now. So the minute that we took the rain at the agency, we set up a task force and we've done a lot since then we, uh, put in place a data architect to build systems, to take in all of this data. We actually set up a statistically valid system for crowdsourcing so that when we get data in, we can ask you and your neighbors, does this look right? Cause the [00:09:00] odds are, you know, what's going on in your house, in your backyard better than we do. So we gotta create a model that takes in all that, you know, lived experience that people have across this country so that the map actually reflects what's happening in their community.
Speaker 2: And then right now, in fact, we are in the middle of a process to secure a broadband fabric, which is like a foundation for a lot of this data, to know where every location can be served in the entire country that is in the throes of a government contracting process. So I'm gonna be careful [00:09:30] and say, I can't talk about it, except that I wish that moved faster. Um, and then one of the other things I'm really proud that we've done is we decided, well, let's just test our systems. We worked with the four largest wireless carriers in the country and uh, on a voluntary basis secured a whole lot of 4g data from them. And for the first time ever, we asked them all to use exactly the same propagation model with exactly the same cell loading characteristics and the likes. So what we wound up with is [00:10:00] a total apples to apples comparison about where 4g service is in this country. And it is a map that is many times more precise than the one you might get. If you go in and just try to sign up for service. So I'd encourage everyone to go to the FCCS website type in their and take a look. Uh, we, it was a real test run of our systems and, um, I'm excited by it cuz we're just getting started.
Speaker 1: Let's shift gears a little bit here and talk about, um, everybody's most hated subject robocalls. [00:10:30] I mean
Speaker 2: I hate them. Oh my gosh. To, yeah. I mean, come on. Uh, I can't stand them too mean there's nothing like sitting down with your family to dinner and you know, the, the phone rings and it's just someone on the other end who wants to sell you something you didn't ask for don't want don't need, uh, they're horrible. Oh my gosh. Yeah. And the scams move around and multiply. And I think for too many years, the FCCS been slow to catch up. [00:11:00] We're trying to change that. Yeah.
Speaker 1: So I know, um, a large number of the illegal Rob calls that people are receiving are coming from overseas. What's the FCC doing to address that particular issue of calls that originate outside the us,
Speaker 2: You know, that's yeah. Right. That's a, that's a great, uh, point we're hearing from a lot of the domestic carriers that an increasing number of calls are coming from abroad. The ones that look [00:11:30] scammy and those represent a real challenge because tracing them back and go into jurisdictions where, you know, um, there might be some actors who can scurry away before we can find them is challenging, right? Because, um, in a lot of those cases, uh, you, uh, we might have different, difficult diplomatic relationships with the United States, but we gotta find ways to stop them. And this month we are voting at the FCC on a new effort to crack down on robocall [00:12:00] broad. We've got a mitigation database and stir shaken in our networks. And at the risk of being technocratic, what we're trying to do is put new requirements on the first carrier. It brings that call from abroad into the United States, but we call the gateway provider because we have to stop it at that source. So they don't wind up reaching us at the dinner table at night. And so we have this crackdown on Rob calls from abroad that we, uh, I hope [00:12:30] my colleagues will vote on to end support. It's a terrific proposal. And I think it's necessary right now cuz we're seeing what we think is an increase in calls from abroad.
Speaker 1: I mean, how does that work in terms of, you know, the gateway providers who aren't in us jurisdiction is that
Speaker 2: Well, so if you wanna send a call to the United States, you actually have to register and our database, which is all about mitigating robocalls, but there are some providers abroad who can send their traffic [00:13:00] to an intermediate provider who then sends it maybe to someone else and along the way they mask, what that traffic's all about. And then it, it comes into the United States. And we can't quite tell if it's scammy stuff. What we're doing is saying that first gateway provider in the United States has some responsibilities and by imposing them on them, we're gonna be able to stop it before it reaches you in your home. And uh, we think that this is a little bit of a loophole that's been in our system and leading to increase in robocalls [00:13:30] from abroad. So we're gonna tackle it.
Speaker 1: That's great. Um, other things that experts have told me is there's been a big increase in fraudulent robo text messages. So is that something that the FCCS also looking at and, you know, can you use some of the same regulations and, and ways of combating that, that you do for the calls or is there a different approach that's
Speaker 2: Needed? Nope. We're taking a look at that too. And you know, in many respects our primary, uh, [00:14:00] law for governing, this is the telephone consumer protection act of 1991. I don't know about you, but I wasn't texting in 1991. So sometimes it takes, you know, um, it's like the proverbials, uh, square peg and round hole, figuring out how to take these new tech and fit them into old laws. But we gotta, we gotta up our efforts in every way, shape and form because scammers move fast. Uh, the FCCS gonna have to move just as fast if not quicker to catch them.
Speaker 1: Yeah. So when [00:14:30] I spoke with commissioner Brendan Carr in June, um, he said that this is like playing a game of whackamole because the criminals, um, that are perpetuating these calls are constantly finding new ways to scam people. And, and I think you just said that too, but, um, so do you think we're ever gonna see an end to this?
Speaker 2: All right. So here's my I'm gonna, I'm gonna stay with your metaphor, right? So if it's a game of whackamole, I don't want the FCC to be the only one whacking at these folks. And [00:15:00] one of the things that we've done is we've reached out to our colleagues at the federal trade commission at the attorney General's offices, all across the country at the consumer financial protection bureau. We are trying, everyone has some authority to go after, not just the calls, but the scam artists behind them. Because I think with coordinated activity with many more mallets smacking at this at we're gonna be more capable of bringing it to a stop. And to just give you an example of that, the FCC just [00:15:30] issued it's large, just ever fine under the telephone consumer protection act and in doing so, we worked very closely with the Ohio attorney general and I think more of that coordination federal to federal, federal state is gonna be necessary to be successful.
Speaker 1: Do you guys have anything to suggest that, you know, these efforts are having an effect yet? Or when do you think we'll as a consumer, we should start to, to feel it
Speaker 2: Well, uh, this summer we put in place for the first time, [00:16:00] uh, stir shaken technology, required it on our networks. It's a way to make sure that our networks capture these scammy calls before they get to you. We stop spoofed calls and I think over those systems are gonna grow even stronger. We're gonna see them deployed in more places. And I think, uh, early, early, uh, information suggests that we're making progress. But I, I think we're just getting started. We, uh, we have got more to do, but we have a new vigor to make it happen.
Speaker 1: And I just have one more, one more thing. I wanna get back [00:16:30] to the digital divide for just one quick second, because I, I wanna ask you about, um, you know, there's another subsidy program, the emergency connectivity fund that is about 7 billion to schools and libraries to help, um, provide broadband for folks. And I know that this has been something that you really had pushed for, you know, getting schools in particular to be out there, you know, trying to close the homework gap [00:17:00] in terms of broadband. But can you explain to me why it's important for large institutions like schools to be involved in this? You
Speaker 2: Know, maybe you saw some of those pictures that went viral during this pandemic. The one that stays with me where those two girls sitting outside a fast food restaurant in California, where they were perched on the cement and they, they weren't there for lunch. They had laptops, they were just trying to use a free wifi signal from the restaurant to go to virtual class. [00:17:30] This's a United States we can do better than that can decide that every child in this country has the internet and access. They need to do their nightly schoolwork to go to the remote, learning, to participate in virtual class. I don't think that's audacious. I think that's within our power to make it happen. And you know, for years I've been talking about the homework gap, these kids who would have internet access at school, but then they'd go home at night and they couldn't really do their homework [00:18:00] without the internet access at home.
Speaker 2: But during this pandemic, that homework gap turned into like a educational chasm. And I'm really glad Congress took notes. Uh, they provided the FCC with more than 7 billion to run a program, to help end the homework gap. We opened up our first window for demand. It's pretty short and schools and libraries came in and asked for more than 5 billion. Uh, it is proof that [00:18:30] this is necessary for every student everywhere and that working with schools and libraries, again, it's working with the local institutions that people trust to get students connected at home, I think is the way to go about doing it.
Speaker 1: Is there something about like using the school as a way, you know, because we have this E B B and you know, so there's a subsidy out there that parents can go out and sort of get on their own. But is there something about having the school involved that you think will [00:19:00] sort of capture more people who, who
Speaker 2: Really need, yeah, this is a great point. I think there's two things. First. I think that the, there, there are already trusted actors in their communities to the point you made before. It's really important to have them. You set up a new program, you need an intermediary that you trust and schools and libraries all over this country can act as those intermediaries. And then the second reason is this, since the telecommunications act of 1996, the FCCS been running a program called eRate. It's the nation's [00:19:30] largest technology program. And it's used to help rural and low income schools get internet connections in all their classrooms. It's like a quiet powerhouse that has made sure schools everywhere have the broadband access they need. And so schools have sat in that role for a while, worked through that program. And I think are really primed now to figure out how to get those same students connected at home.
Speaker 2: So, uh, the fact we've been working with them so long is [00:20:00] good, cause everything's changed, right. You know what I mean? Like nobody's going to the card catalog and pulling it out to try to see you on an index card and courier font, you know, where they should be researching anymore. We have collaborative tools that we all now use in classrooms online. And by the way, when we get out of this pandemic and we're fully on the other side, those tools aren't going away, like the ways we're teaching are changing. And there are things about, um, virtual and remote learning. We may not be working [00:20:30] very well, but there's also some collaborative and research activity and experiments we've had in real time that are, and if they're still gonna be with us on the other side, let's make sure every student everywhere is connected. Like the way I like to say it is leave no child offline.
Speaker 1: Thank you again. Chairwoman Rosen. Weel for that great conversation for more of our coverage of the digital divide and robocall, please check out, see net.com.