General Government

Daily Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/2/15

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 02, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:56 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I appreciate you venturing out to the White House on a rainy Tuesday.  It’s nice to see you all.  I don’t have anything at the top, so we’ll go straight to your questions.

Josh, welcome back.  It’s nice to see you.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  It’s great to be here with everyone.  I wanted to ask about the NSA bill.  I know you were pretty clear yesterday that the White House does not want to see the Senate start playing a lot of games with this bill that would slow it down and require another House approval.  But it looks like that’s kind of what’s going to happen anyway.  So I’m wondering if the White House has had a chance to review any of the specific amendments that Senator McConnell plans to have votes on today to see whether they are changes that would be amenable to the President.

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, what’s clear is we’ve seen Republicans in the United States Senate already play far too many games with a piece of legislation that’s critical to the national security of the United States and the civil liberties protections of the American people.  It’s time for the game-playing to come to an end. 

And we continue to believe that the best course of action, now that the Senate has blown through the deadline that they have been aware of for more than a year and a half, that they should vote to pass the bill in its current form, in the form that already passed the United States House of Representatives with the support of 338 Democrats and Republicans.  If they will pass that piece of legislation, the President will quickly sign it into law and give our law enforcement professionals once again tools that they say are critical to their efforts to keep the country safe.

Q    So if the Senate does pass this bill but they make some changes — for instance, a provision dealing with the declassification of FISA Court decisions — and they’re able to get the House to sign off on that, will the President accept an amended piece of legislation?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me just be clear that the administration and certainly the President would view efforts to water down the civil liberties reforms that are included in the House version as contrary to the kinds of values that he’s advocated.  It certainly is not consistent with his view that reforms should be incorporated into these programs to better protect the privacy and civil liberties of the American people.

So what we believe the Senate should do is pass a piece of legislation that appropriately balances the need to protect the country with the need to protect the privacy of the American people.  That’s what the House bill does — 338 Democrats and Republicans agree.  Our national security professionals agree. That bipartisan ground was reached by the House.  And the Senate has already done enough to try to spoil that common-sense bipartisan compromise.  They should just do the bare minimum — pass this bipartisan piece of legislation so the President can sign it into law, and our national security professionals can avail themselves of all of the necessary tools to protect the country.

Q    There was this counter-ISIL meeting this morning that Secretary Kerry took part in by phone prior to his surgery.  Tony Blinken was there and said something kind of interesting — he said, “We will redouble our efforts.”  And considering that the U.S. has committed publicly to the same strategy that it’s been pursuing against ISIL, I’m wondering if you can elaborate on what does that mean, we’re going to redouble our efforts?  Does that mean we’re going to increase training, weapons that we’re sending?  What exactly did he mean by that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think it means that the U.S. government, in partnership with the members of the coalition, are always in consideration of ways that we can offer additional support and assistance to the Iraqi central government and to the Iraqi people as they face down the ISIL threat in their country.

This could take a variety of forms.  This could include the provision of additional equipment to Iraqi security forces.  I would note that in the last week, the United States did provide 1,000 AT4 weapons to Iraqi security forces.  These are weapons that could be used to counter some of the car bombs that we have seen ISIL deploy in advance of some of their offensive military operations.

There has been an interest in trying to ramp up the training capacity of the Iraqi security forces, and the United States, our coalition partners have played an important role in this.  There are some of our coalition partners that do have a special expertise in terms of training security forces, police officers, intelligence — or special operations forces.  And we certainly want to boost the capacity of those forces that are under the command-and-control of the Iraqi central government.

So there may be several things that we can do.  The President has been very clear about something that we won’t do — and I know that Deputy Secretary Blinken agrees with this sentiment — that the President does not believe it’s in the best interest of our country to deploy a large-scale ground operation that is manned by U.S. military personnel, principally because the President believes that the security situation in Iraq is the responsibility of the Iraqi government, the Iraqi security forces, and the Iraqi people.  And the President will not put the U.S. military in a situation where we are doing something for the Iraqis that they should be doing for themselves.

Q    Because the Iraqis are saying that they’re not really seeing it on the ground from there.  Just this morning, Prime Minister Abadi said as far as ammunition and armament, they’re seeing basically nothing and they’re relying only on themselves. So is he exaggerating — or perhaps under-exaggerating — the degree of U.S. support that they’re currently receiving?

MR. EARNEST:  I didn’t see the precise comments from Prime Minister Abadi, but there is no doubt about the substantial assistance that has already been provided by the United States and our coalition partners.  That assistance has been in the form of efforts to coordinate airstrikes at the Joint Operation Centers in Baghdad and Erbil.  That assistance has taken the form of training Iraqi security forces.  That assistance has taken the form of providing important military equipment, including AT4s that have been valuable and will be valuable as Iraqi security forces take the fight on the ground to ISIL fighters in their country.  That will also take the form of some advice that U.S. and other coalition military officers have provided to Iraqi security forces as they’ve carried out operations against ISIL on the ground.  But the other thing that is true — and I know this is something that Prime Minister Abadi has indicated he would like to see more of — is that there’s also been important intelligence support that’s been provided by the United States and our coalition partners. 

And so, again, in all of these areas, the United States and our coalition partners are considering additional steps that we can take to ramp up the extensive support that has already been provided to Iraqi security forces.

Q    And the President lost his distinction yesterday as the fastest person to hit 1 million Twitter followers to Caitlyn Jenner.

MR. EARNEST:  It was good while it lasted there, Josh.  (Laughter.)

Q    It was a short period, but it was a good.  And I saw that there was a tweet from one of the accounts associated with the President regarding this very public transition that the country is witnessing.  But I’m wondering if he had any other thoughts that he shared with you either about that, or about losing this honor of — related to Twitter.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t think the President is particularly concerned.  Again, while he enjoyed holding that distinction while it lasted, I would say that the sentiments that were expressed by OFA that tweeted about this are consistent with the President’s views, which is that the President does believe that Caitlyn Jenner has shown tremendous courage as she has undergone this transition in a very public way.  And that’s worthy of our respect. 

Roberta.

Q    The House is going to be moving to consideration of the TPA sometime soon here.  And I’m wondering how the White House —

MR. EARNEST:  That would be great.

Q    I’m wondering how the White House feels about the labor-sponsored campaign against Democratic Representative Bera over his support for the President’s trade agenda.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t seen a lot of the details of those campaign tactics.  The President has made clea, and he believes that he has a pretty compelling case to make about why Democrats and progressives can be strongly supportive of the most progressive trade promotion authority bill that the Congress has ever considered and has ever been passed by the United States Senate.

It includes built-in protections related to raising labor standards and raising environmental standards.  It includes important human rights protections.  And all of this is consistent with the President’s view about the way that we can implement trade agreements that will level the playing field, put upward pressure — particularly in those areas of the world that are growing so quickly right now economically — in a way that will open up opportunity for American workers and American businesses around the world, and that ultimately will have a positive impact on the U.S. economy and on job creation right here in the United States.

So the President believes that he’s got a strong case to make.  And if it becomes necessary for the President to make that case in the context of a Democratic primary contest, the President is committed to those members of the House of Representatives that face that kind of pressure that the President will stand with them.

Q    So what does that mean — he’ll stand with them?  What sort of support is he going to give them?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we haven’t seen that that kind of support is necessary at this point.  But if it does, those members of Congress, I think, having received personal assurance from the President, know that they can go out and vote their conscience; that they can put the best interest of their constituents ahead of the claims and criticisms from those who are focused on the next election.

Q    I wanted to also ask about a report today.  A detainee at Guantanamo Bay has said that the CIA used a broader, wider array of sexual abuse and torture than had been disclosed in the Senate torture report last year.  And I’m wondering if the White House is aware of this new report and what the response is, if any.

MR. EARNEST:  I haven’t seen those claims, but if we do have a response, we can get it to you. 

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  New topic.  This afternoon, the House Oversight Committee is beginning two days of hearings into agency compliance with FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act.  And they’re claiming that agencies are falling way behind and not complying with the timelines in the bill — in the law.  Does the administration have any plans to improve that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Cheryl, I can tell you that the administration continues to be justifiably proud of our ongoing efforts to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests.  In the last fiscal year, the administration processed 647,000 FOIA requests that we received from the public.  I would note that that is 647,000 more FOIA requests than were processed by the United States Congress.  And those who are interested in advocating for genuine transparency in government should advocate for Congress being subject to those kinds of transparency measures.  So this has been the administration approach to this and we’re proud of our record.

Q    Also, there are a couple bills pending that would reform the FOIA law.  Does the administration —

MR. EARNEST:  Will they reform the FOIA law in such a way that Congress would be subject to it?

Q    It would not.

MR. EARNEST:  They wouldn’t, huh?  Well, hopefully the transparency advocates who are testifying before Congress today will urge them to do that.  I guess we’ll wait and see if they do.

Annie.  Nice to see you.

Q    Thank you.  It’s nice to be here.  I’m here to ask about a letter that Senator Elizabeth Warren sent to the SEC this morning.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I heard a little bit about that.

Q    She said in her letter that she is disappointment Chairwoman White.  And I’m curious if the President shares any of her disappointment, or if he believes that White has been aggressive enough in prosecuting Wall Street banks?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Annie, as you know, Mary Jo White is the Chair of an independent regulatory agency.  And for me to spend a lot of time talking about the performance of her in that role or her agency under her leadership could be construed by some as undermining that independence. 

But let me just say as a general matter that the reason that the President appointed her to this very important position is because she has a strong track record both as a lawyer in the private sector but also as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York early in her career; that she earned her reputation as somebody who was tough but fair, and maintained a sophisticated understanding of a complex set of issues related to the financial markets.

And the President also is confident that she shares his values and the priority that he has placed on promptly implementing Wall Street reform.  And there are a variety of rules that are related to this.  She has to make her own independent judgment about how those rules should be implemented and on what time frame.  And I won’t comment on that from here today, but the President does continue to believe that the reasons that he chose her, based on her experience and her values, continue to be important today.  And the President does continue to believe that she is the right person for the job.

Jon.

Q    Josh, I want to ask you about the IAEA says that the nuclear fuel in Iran now has stockpiles 20 percent more than it was at the start of these negotiations 18 months ago.  You repeatedly said, I believe, that their program is frozen in place.  How do you square that with the IAEA now saying that they have a 20 percent increase in their nuclear fuel?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  The metrics by which we determine Iran’s compliance with the Joint Plan of Action are pretty straightforward.  Iran is not enriching uranium above the 5 percent level.  Iran is not installing new centrifuges at their nuclear facilities.  Iran is not making progress at the heavy-water plutonium reactor in Arak.  And Iran is cooperating with the IAEA inspections that have allowed us to verify their compliance with the agreement.

Now, as it relates to the uranium stockpile that you’re talking about, the IAEA report that was published at the end of last week is merely a snapshot in time.  And the Joint Plan of Action requires Iran by the end of that Joint Plan of Action period — in this case, by June 30th — to be at the appropriate cap on their stockpile.

Now, we know that Iran is enriching at this low level.  And that means that there are going to be ebbs and flows in terms of the amount of uranium — low-enriched uranium in their stockpile. The requirement is for them to be at the cap by June 30th.  And our nuclear experts continue to have confidence that they will meet that requirement.  They have in the past.  We’ve seen this similar ebb and flow in their uranium stockpile in advance of previous deadlines, and each time they have met the deadline.  We’re confident that they’ll do so this time.

The last thing I’ll say about this is that the size of Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile is something that is specifically addressed in the longer-term agreement that we’re hoping to reach by June 30th.  And you’ll recall that in the context of the political negotiations that completed the first week in April, the agreement was that Iran would reduce that low enriched uranium stockpile by 98 percent down to a cap of 300 kilograms.  That significant, even dramatic reduction in their low-enriched uranium stockpile combine

General Government

Exposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

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Terrorism & mediaExposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

Published 27 May 2015

The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels which, in some cases, have been linked with long-term negative health effects. For some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack.

The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.

In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels, with a corresponding increase in symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, a sense of emotional numbness, or re-experiencing their trauma. Such responses, exhibited shortly after exposure to a trauma, have been linked with long-term negative health effects.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports that a trio of researchers in psychology and social behavior and nursing science at the University of California, Irvine — supported by the Social Psychology Program in NSF’s Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences Directorate — released a paper last year finding that for some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack. Their latest research article, published this month, finds that the likelihood of those symptoms developing also increases with multiple exposures to prior trauma.

In other words, the more hours you spend following disasters and tragedies in the media, the more sensitized you may become.

“Media-based exposure to these large, collective traumas — these community disasters — can have cumulative effects on people,” said Dana Rose Garfin, one of the paper’s authors. “More prior indirect exposures are associated with higher stress responses following subsequent traumatic events.”

Garfin, E. Alison Holman and Roxane Cohen Silver used survey results from residents of metropolitan Boston and New York City collected within weeks of the Marathon bombing to examine the relationship between how they responded to the attack and their media-based exposure to three previous traumatic events: the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, Superstorm Sandy, and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

“We were able to specifically explore the accumulation of exposure to collective disasters,” Silver said. “We looked at three different, collective events to which people on the East Coast — and in particular New York and Boston — have been exposed.”

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General Information

Press Gaggle by Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz en route New London, CT

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

May 20, 2015

Aboard Air Force One
En Route New London, Connecticut 

9:57 A.M. EDT

MR. SCHULTZ:  Welcome aboard Air Force One today, en route to Connecticut where the President will speak on the importance of acting on climate change and the risks this global threat poses to our national security in his commencement address to the United States Coast Guard Academy.

The President, in his remarks, will highlight the immediate risks climate change poses to our national security, which includes contributing to increased national disasters resulting in humanitarian crises, and potentially increasing refugee flows and exacerbating conflicts over basic resources like food and water.

One other risk that we look at is that how climate change can aggravate issues at home and abroad, including poverty, political instability and social tensions — conditions that can fuel instability and enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence. 

As I think most of you saw today, the White House also released a report on national security implications of climate change and how the federal government is rising to meet that challenge.  I encourage you all to look at that report if you haven’t done so already.  And with that, I will take your questions.

Q    All right.  I’ll go first.  There was a record number of vehicle recalls yesterday for Takata airbags.  Given that this is the latest in a series of similarly large vehicle recalls, is the President confident in the auto safety regulators and the auto industry to assure the public that our cars that we drive are safe?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Angela, the safety of the traveling of public is the Department of Transportation’s number-one priority.  And as you mentioned, that department is taking a crucial step of making sure that every American car and truck owner has safe airbags in their vehicle.  Takata has agreed to declare that airbag inflators — believed to be responsible for five deaths in the U.S. — are defective, which I believe until now the company had refused to do so. 

It is recalling those inflators and the recalls are nationwide.  We strongly encourage all vehicle owners to check safercar.gov for updates.  And if they receive a recall notice from their manufacturer, they should immediately call their dealer to make arrangements for free repairs.

Q    And what about the President’s thoughts on the auto industry, given the series of recalls?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, we think the Department of Transportation is taking the extraordinary step of — the extraordinary yet critical step of making sure that cars and trucks are safe with these airbags.  And that’s why they’re taking the step. 

Q    Eric, do you expect the President to talk at all today about the fight against ISIS at the Coast Guard Academy?  And can you tell us, based on his meeting with the National Security Council yesterday, whether he had concerns, or anyone in the administration is concerned, about the use of Shiite militias to try to retake Ramadi, given that many of them are backed by Iran?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Julie, I don’t have any more of a preview of the President’s remarks to give you at this time.  I encourage you to listen and watch closely up in Connecticut. 

As you pointed out, the President did meet yesterday with his National Security Council to discuss the situation in Iraq and our strategy to counter the threat posed by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  The President was briefed on the latest developments in Iraq and our support of the Iraqi security forces and local tribal forces responding to the situation at Anbar Province.  The President reaffirmed the strong U.S. support for Prime Minister al-Abadi’s efforts, and welcomed the decision to accelerate training and equipping of local tribes in coordination with Anbar Province.  The President reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the government of Iraq and the Iraqi people in the fight against ISIL. 

With regards to your specific question — and Josh addressed this a little bit yesterday — but the decision by Prime Minister Abadi to call on the Shia militia was one that was done in consultation with Anbari leaders and through a unanimous vote on Sunday by the Anbar Provincial Council. 

We have been clear that the decision to use these forces is one of the government of Iraq to make in conjunction with Anbari leaders.  But we’ve also been very clear that all forces there should be under the command and control of the Iraqi security forces.

Q    It may be their decision, but are there concerns in the administration that this could lead to sectarian violence, whether or not it was Abadi’s decision to make?  We know that some of these militias have been involved in clashes like that before.

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I do think, in response to your question, it’s important to note that the Council, in making this decision, strongly supported Prime Minister Abadi’s actions.  And we always are concerned about sectarian violence.  And that’s why it’s going to be important for these forces to be under the command and control of the Iraqi security forces.

Q    Can you tell us anything more about the reports that Abu Sayyaf was one of Kayla Mueller’s captors, and that his wife, who was captured when he was killed, is telling American officials about her captivity and giving them information about that?  What do you expect to learn from her?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t have any readouts of that process that is underway right now to offer for you.  But again, as we’ve said, Abu Sayyaf was a senior ISIL leader who, among other things, had a senior role in overseeing ISIL’s oil and gas operations, a key source of revenue that enabled the terrorist organization to carry out their brutal tactics and oppress thousands of innocent civilians.

He was also involved in the group’s military operations.  He also may have been complicit in the enslavement of the young Yazidi woman we rescued.  As you know, the HIG was deployed to debrief Umm Sayyaf.  And so I don’t have any readouts of that process to give you right now.  But as more information becomes available to release I’m sure we’ll be in a position to do so.

Q    Could you just say whether she’s being cooperative?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m not sure.

Q    Today federal authorities indicted six Chinese citizens on charges that they sold trade secrets.  This comes just a few days after Secretary Kerry was in Beijing to talk about maritime tensions between China and its neighbors and at a time when the administration is pitching a trade deal that does not include China and, in fact, has been viewed in China as something of a containment strategy to some degree.  I’m wondering, ahead of — we’re just a few months out before the President of China comes for a visit — does the administration feel like the trajectory of relations with China, the second biggest economy, or biggest, depending on how you measure it — is headed in the wrong direction?

MR. SCHULTZ:  You packed a lot into that question, so let me just take the first part out which is I believe what you’re talking about is the law enforcement action announced by the Department of Justice.  Those are independent decisions made by career prosecutors there, so I’m not going to be in a position to comment on that.

Generally speaking, as you point out, we are looking forward to that visit later this year.  And we have a complicated but good relationship with China.  We continue to work closely with them on a number of issues and we look forward to robust discussions on that visit later this year.

Q    After the President met with his national security advisors, did he decide to make any tweaks to his strategy for fighting Islamic State militants?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I do want to be clear, Roberta, that there was no formal strategy review that is underway.  The President’s national security team meets frequently to review developments and determine how to best refine and carry out the strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy.

This includes a systematic campaign of coalition airstrikes, while enabling local forces fighting ISIL on the ground, as well as supporting the Iraqi central government that governs in an inclusive and multi-sectarian manner.

So I don’t have any changes to announce.

Q    Does the President have any response to the oil spill in California last night?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I have not seen that, John.

Q    Okay.

Q    Leon Panetta had an editorial in The Wall Street Journal this morning suggesting that the President is risking U.S. national security by not opening oil to exports.  Is that an opinion that the President will weigh as he decides whether to change that policy?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I haven’t seen that report.  I don’t have any new policies to announce on that.

Q    Iran’s Supreme Leader today ruled out any interviews from inspectors with Iranian nuclear scientists.  And I’m just wondering what the significance is of that and whether that will harm the efforts to reach a final agreement. 

MR. SCHULTZ:  I couldn’t hear you —

Q    Will it harm the efforts — letting inspectors talk to Iranian nuclear scientists, like interview them as part of their reviews?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I hadn’t seen that specific piece.  I can tell you that as part of the framework that was announced I believe two months ago now, Iran has agreed to the most robust, intrusive and stringent inspections and transparency regimes ever negotiated for any nuclear program.  So the political framework which was announced a month or two now is now in the technical phases to get down to a final deal at the end of June.  So I’m going to let those negotiators continue to do their work.  But we feel certain about the transparency and inspection regimes that Iran will have to agree to as part of the final deal.

Q    Does the President have any position on the legislation in the House that would cut back benefits for former Presidents?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Nancy, I saw that that passed the House Oversight Committee.  I have not talked to the President about it and I don’t know if we’ve been briefed on the details of that.

Q    Paul Ryan is a key partner for the President on trade, I would say.  In an interview with Politico today he said it’s important for the country and the Republican Party to get behind this trade deal because otherwise if it doesn’t pass that would be “the punctuation mark on the declining narrative of America.” How would the President respond to that framed in that matter, to say that without this trade deal it’s the punctuation mark on the declining narrative of the country?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, I think the President has been clear about, first of all, the trajectory of our economy over the past six years that the President has been in office.  As I think you know, we’ve seen the longest stretch of private sector job growth in our nation’s history.  That is 62 months that happens to coincide with the signing of the Affordable Care Act, for those keeping track.

In terms of what this trade deal means, though, the President has been very clear that he thinks this is an opportunity for tremendous increased growth, continued growth for American companies.  As you know, U.S. goods and services exports supported an estimated 11.7 million jobs in 2014, 1.8 million more than in 2009, and that 95 percent of the world’s consumers are outside U.S. borders.

Q    So Paul Ryan framing it in that way, is that sort of a poor way to go about it, do you think?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Again, we’ve been clear on the President’s reasons for this.  Due to the grit and ingenuity and determination of the American workforce, our economy has come back from one of the worst economic eras since the Great Depression.  And this particular trade deal presents an opportunity to take that economic growth even further. 

Q    — of time the President is personally spending with House Democrats in an effort to pass the trade deal?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t have a quantity to read out to you, Christi, but I can tell you the President has been engaged with House Democrats, House Republicans, Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans — because he believes it’s in the best interest of not only American companies but the American worker.  And I’ll also make clear that the President is not only speaking with supporters of the trade deal but also skeptics to make sure that they understand how solid our arguments are. 

And the last point I’ll make is, the effort on the Hill is not limited to the President but you’ve got senior administration officials both inside the White House and at the agencies all making the case.

Q    — in terms of senior administration officials?  I’ll ask you this.  Would you compare — I mean, you don’t want to quantify how much time the President has spent on it, but would you compare it to the effort to pass the health care legislation?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m hesitant to sort of parse that out.  I think that when the President has a priority pending before Congress — take the Affordable Care Act, take raising minimum wage, take immigration reform, or take the trade deal — there is no question that we do everything we can to make sure members have all the arguments — all the information they need to make solid decisions on the merits. 

Q    Following up on that.  In the past, when members of Congress have raised concerns about labor and environmental provisions, the President’s response — and your response — has been that there are enforceable, labor and environmental rules, in the text of the TPP.  Yesterday he issued a statement specifically saying that he backed certain provisions in the Trade Promotion Authority bill that would apply to labor and environmental and other rules.  Is this a shift on the part of the President?  Is he acknowledging that some of those issues are going to have to be in the fast track bill in order for it to pass Congress?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I don’t think so, Julie.  I think the President has always been clear that the landmark labor provisions, the environmental safeguards, and the human rights protections are both historic in the nature of how robust they are, but also that they’re enforceable and that they should indeed be included in the body of the text.

This is something that we have looked at in terms of past trade deals — noted that they are on side agreements or side notes, and that because of that, they’re not as enforceable as if they were in the body of the text.   So that’s why the President has insisted they be included.

Q    But if that’s sufficient, then why is there any necessity to include any of this, including currency, in the fast track bill?  Why would you have to include that if the provisions of the trade agreement itself are so binding?

MR. SCHULTZ:  I think that’s a fair question.  I might refer you to our technical folks at the USTR.  I believe — the President has been clear that these pieces should be included in the body of the text because, again, that is the only way to ensure that they can be fully enforceable. 

Q    A question kind of related to today’s event.  Since the President is going to be talking about carbon emissions and carbon pollution, can you give us an update on where the administration is at in determining whether the Keystone pipeline significantly contributes to carbon emissions?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Roberta, that is a policy review that’s underway at the State Department.  I don’t have any updates for you on that.

Q    So the President has gone pretty much as far as he can go with executive orders on climate change.  He’s tried the health arguments, environmental arguments, national security arguments.  How does he push his agenda forward?

MR. SCHULTZ:  Well, thank you, Nancy, for giving me an opportunity to review how much we’ve done over the past six years on this.  We’ve made unprecedented investments to cut energy waste in our homes and our buildings.  We’ve doubled the fuel efficiency of our vehicles so we’re putting less carbon in the air.  We’re using more clean energy than ever before — 20 times more solar, three times more wind.  We’ve reduced carbon emissions more than any other advanced nation and today, our carbon pollution is near its lowest levels in almost two decades.

Again, I believe the report that we issued earlier talks about not only the progress we’ve made over the past six years but also efforts happening in real time to continue and build on that progress.

Q    But, I mean, there’s not much more he can do.

MR. SCHULTZ:  I’m not sure that’s the case, Nancy.  I know that this is a priority for the President.  We’re constantly looking at the tools in our toolbox, given that this is such an important priority for the President. 

Okay.  Thank you. 

END 
10:16 A.M. EDT

General Information

Stephen B. Simpson to the 2015 British Columbia Broadband Conference

Richmond, British Columbia
April 29, 2015

Stephen B. Simpson,  Regional Commissioner for British Columbia and the Yukon
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

Check against delivery

Thank you very much. It’s always good to see so many familiar faces. Broadband technology is getting more awesome every day, but it’ll never replace getting together in the same room.

In this room I can feel a lot of entrepreneurial energy.  You need it to keep up with all the diversity and activity in the local and regional communities that you serve. When we think of telecommunications in Canada, we typically think of national networks connecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast—and to the world beyond our borders. But it’s also about the many networks that connect people locally and help them share their local interests and concerns. You are the ones who make that possible.

I’d like to give you a brief overview of what we’re up to right now at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). I’m going to talk about the consultation on basic telecommunications services that we’ve just begun. But first I’d like to review the Let’s Talk TV conversation that we’ve recently concluded.

Let’s Talk TV decisions

Our television industry employs nearly 60,000 Canadians. It invests over $4 billion each year in the creation of content made by Canadians. So it’s not only an important service, but also a key contributor to our economy.

Let’s Talk TV was a conversation with Canadians that we launched in October 2013. One of the goals of the conversation was to put Canadians back at the centre of their television system. We reached out to them in ways that were quite different and innovative for the CRTC. More than 13,000 people participated, sharing their views on the current state of the television system and how they saw it evolving in the future.

As a result of this process, we reached a number of key decisions to ensure that the television system can adapt to the technological shifts that are changing how Canadians find and watch content.

The first decision was on cancellation policies.

Some television service providers used to require 30 days’ advance notice before a customer could cancel their subscription. We heard from consumer groups and from individuals that they wanted to see this requirement eliminated.

The same 30 days’ notice was also required by certain Internet and telephone service providers. Many Canadians complained about this practice to the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services.

It’s a high priority for the CRTC to foster a dynamic and competitive marketplace. In such a marketplace, individual and small business customers should be free to switch providers with minimum hassle. We therefore prohibited 30-day cancellation policies in television, Internet and phone services. The decision took effect in January. We had already prohibited those policies under the wireless code, which came into effect in December 2013.

Choice

In our Let’s Talk TV conversation, Canadians made it very clear that they wanted more freedom in subscribing to the TV channels of their choice and at a reasonable price.

Changes will be made next year so that Canadians will have access to a low-cost entry-level package featuring local and regional news and information. If they want to add more, they will be able to pick-and-pay for individual channels or choose small packages. Multicultural communities will have more flexibility in choosing ethnic and third-language channels, both Canadian and non-Canadian.

It means more choice for everyone, without being forced to pay for too many channels that you don’t want. Those who are happy with their current packages will also have the option of keeping them.

Television Service Provider draft code

Let’s Talk TV also revealed some discontent with cable and satellite companies over inadequate information on packages and pricing. There were complaints about customer service.  We have prepared a draft code that requires easy-to-understand agreements and clearly defined terms of service. We are currently receiving comments from the public on this code, and we will soon be hosting an online consultation.

Once finalized, the code will empower Canadians by providing the tools they need to make informed choices about their television service providers.

Content

Canadians want to watch content made by Canadians—not because it’s forced on them, but because it’s great. In March, we announced new measures to help Canadians connect with that content.

Broadband Internet and wireless networks have brought massive changes to a world of content that was once controlled by broadcasters. The viewer is now in control and can use mobile devices to access unlimited libraries of material from anywhere.

The latest figures from the Media Technology Monitor indicate Canadians are using your networks, and those of other ISPs, to watch an average of 8.2 hours of online video each week.

So we’ve removed barriers that stood in the way of innovation, such as policies that restricted the type of content specialty channels could air. And we’ve introduced two pilot projects to provide more flexibility in the financing of big-budget Canadian productions. 

Discoverability

Content created by Canadians can compete with the best in the world—and win. But in a sea of online content, how can Canadian-made programs stand out? We’re hosting a Discoverability Summit in the fall to explore technologies that would help viewers find the programs they want to watch.

Discoverability is a big issue for everyone in the world who creates and offers content. That’s partly because conventional and online video services are multiplying and fragmenting audiences. But there’s also a flood of content that’s being created outside the traditional producers of professional entertainment. Think of TED Talks, and corporate and institutional content. Every minute of the day, YouTube adds 300 hours of content.

So it’s a real challenge for creators to guide the world to what they’ve got to offer.

The Discoverability Summit will feature experts from various fields – from app developers to behavioural scientists. We’ll explore the technologies and strategies to make our programming discoverable by everyone, and to promote it.

So those are some of the decisions that emerged from Let’s Talk TV.

Open Internet

The content explosion puts more pressure on Internet service providers to build and manage their networks. And of course the issue of an open Internet inevitably comes up.

It’s our aim to see that Canadians can access content equally and fairly, in an open market that favours innovation and choice. In 2009, our framework on Internet traffic management policies, which applies to both Internet and wireless service providers, made Canada a leader in this area.

Our neighbours to the south are also moving in this direction. Earlier this year, the FCC ruled in favour of an open Internet as a public utility.

Basic telecommunications services

There is no question that telecommunications are fundamental to our daily lives and to the functioning of our society. We recently launched a consultation to what should be considered a basic telecommunications service in this day and age.

The first phase of the proceeding began earlier this month. We’re collecting information from the industry to give us a clearer view of the services that are now being provided to Canadians. We’ll be examining what prices Canadians should be expected to pay for them. And we want to determine which areas of the country are not being adequately served.

We’ll then move on to the second phase, when we’ll be inviting Canadians to comment on the services that they consider necessary if they’re to participate fully in the digital economy. This will lead us to a public hearing in April 2016.

The broadband Internet services that you provide give Canadians access to essential online resources: health, education, banking, public safety, business, social networking and government services.

Different kinds of devices, mobile and fixed, are linking up to the Internet. Canadians are creating and using innovative applications. Cities are using smart traffic control systems to manage congestion more effectively. Homeowners are using smart meters to monitor their consumption of hydro, water or natural gas in real time. 

At the same time, residential and business users are relying less on wireline voice service and more mobile and broadband Internet.

Current regulatory measures

Given these developments, how should we define basic telecommunications services today?

Let’s look at our current definition. It includes local Touch-Tone telephone service, access to the long-distance network and dial-up Internet access.

Funding from certain providers is used to support basic residential local services in high-cost serving areas.

We also cap telephone rates in areas where there is not enough competition to protect the interests of consumers.

Broadband Internet access

But what about broadband? In 2011, the Commission decided that the rollout of broadband services should continue through a combination of market forces, targeted government funding and public-private partnerships.

But considering the increasing importance of the Internet, we established universal target speeds of 5 megabits for downloads and 1 megabit for uploads. These are actual speeds and not advertised “up to” speeds. We expected that this would be achievable for all Canadians by the end of 2015.

But these have not yet been achieved in a significant number of Canadian homes, typically in rural and remote areas, including the North.

In our consultation, we are asking if broadband Internet should be defined as a basic service. And are there any other services that should be put into that category?

What speeds are necessary? What other performance requirements are appropriate?

What funding mechanisms might be needed?

What are the roles of the economic and regulatory players—the private sector, governments and the CRTC?

We’re asking for comments to be submitted by the end of June.

I invite you to participate in this consultation. My colleagues at the CRTC and I would benefit from your perspectives on these important issues, and from a greater understanding of the role you play in connecting Canadians to the Internet.

Service in the North

In 2013, the Commission issued a decision regarding services to northern Canadians in the areas served by Northwestel. Our objective is to ensure that they can enjoy a level of service comparable to the level already available in more populated parts of the country. This should include improved broadband Internet services and access to advanced mobile wireless services.  

We noted then that under Northwestel’s Modernization Plan, the company would not achieve our broadband Internet target speeds in all of its territory by the end of 2015.

In our current consultation, we are considering whether a funding mechanism should be put in place to help support the provision of up-to-date telecommunications services there. This would apply to capital investment in infrastructure as well as maintenance and enhancement. It would complement continuing investment from the private sector and from governments.

We are also inviting comments on whether such a funding mechanism might be applied in other regions of the country.

One of the impediments to affordable broadband Internet service in the North is the reliance on satellite transport. When we launched our consultation three weeks ago, we also released the Satellite Inquiry Report by Commissioner Candice Molnar. It notes that in communities served by satellite, Internet speeds are in most cases below the Commission’s targets. This affects about 18,000 households in northern areas. Certain satellite transport services are costly, and many remote communities will likely have to rely on satellite for the foreseeable future.

We recently launched a separate consultation to review the price ceiling for certain satellite services.

Wholesale wireless review

There are now more than 28 million wireless subscribers in Canada. To provide wireless service to retail customers, smaller wireless competitors must rely on the major providers for wholesale access to their network infrastructures.

Last September, we held a public hearing on the wholesale wireless services market. During the hearing, we looked into the state of this market, which includes roaming arrangements and tower sharing. We also explored the impact of the wholesale market on retail services to consumers. And we asked for input on whether there should be greater regulatory oversight in cases where the wholesale market is not competitive enough.

We are working towards a decision that will take into account the need for continued innovation and investment in high-quality networks, as well and sustainable competition that provides benefits to Canadians.

Wholesale wireline review

The same purpose underlies our current review of wholesale wireline telecommunications services. In order to encourage competition, large cable companies and incumbent phone companies must provide certain wholesale services to their competitors on terms approved by the CRTC.

We held a public hearing last November as part of the process of deciding which services should be mandated and which deregulated. One of the key discussion points was fibre optics. Some companies have been investing in their networks to bring fibre closer to the homes of their subscribers. Should independent ISPs have mandated access to these facilities?

On issues like these, we must strike a balance between sustainable competition and sufficient incentives for investment in networks by both incumbents and competitors.

Broadband measurement project

We will soon have something to announce on our broadband measurement project.

As you may be aware, we have been working with the major facilities-based ISPs to develop a system to measure broadband performance that will help better inform Canadians about the services they are getting from their providers.

We will be recruiting subscribers from participating companies to help us gather automated test results on a 24/7 basis. This will be useful information for subscribers, for ISPs, and for the CRTC to help guide us in broadband policymaking.

In the future, we hope to expand the project to include more ISPs and more technologies. So stay tuned for that.

Conclusion

Today, I’ve covered a wide range of our regulatory activities, in broadband, wireless, wireline and television. They’re all part of a Canadian communications industry that is changing and expanding very rapidly. New technologies. New services. New choices. New challenges. We’re always looking ahead to ensure that Canadians can make the most of all this and get good value. 

I was glad to see that you too are looking ahead with the very timely theme of this conference, “Bringing Urban Internet to Rural Canada”.

I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Thank you very much.

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