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March, 2011

Your Consumer Advisory Committee

by Scott Marshall, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 16, 2011 - 01:39 PM

The Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) is yet another means by which the consumers’ voice is heard at the FCC.

Originally established in November 2000, CAC advises the commission on consumer issues within its jurisdiction and facilitates the participation of consumers -- including people with disabilities and underserved populations such as American Indians and persons living in rural areas -- in proceedings before the FCC.

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On December 30, 2008, the commission announced the rechartering of the Committee for a fifth two-year term thru November 2010. As a federal advisory committee, CAC membership is required by law to represent a balanced point of view.  Accordingly, of the committee’s 28 volunteer members, 12 represented interests of consumers, minorities and low-income communities, five represented the interests of people with disabilities, six represented the interests of Tribal, state and local governments and five represented the telecom industries.  Debra Berlyn, formerly of the Digital Television Transition Coalition and presently the National Consumers League, chaired the committee.  

Last November, the committee was rechartered for another two year term (PDF) through 2012. Applications for committee membership were solicited and are currently being reviewed.  It is expected that Chairman Genachowski will make appointments to the CAC in April.

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Making Universal Service and Intercarrier Compensation Reform Happen

March 15, 2011 - 11:58 AM

When we voted unanimously to approve the USF/ICC Transformation NPRM last month, each of us made clear that we are committed to reforming the Universal Service Fund (USF) and the Intercarrier Compensation (ICC) system, and to doing so as soon as possible. We must eliminate waste and inefficiency and modernize USF and ICC to bring the benefits of broadband to all Americans. We can’t afford to delay.

As part of our process, today we’re announcing the first of a small number of open, public workshops to identify solutions to key issues in the USF/ICC proceeding. This first workshop at the FCC on April 6th will focus on ICC issues. At least one of the others will be held outside of Washington, DC, and all of them will be live-streamed on the Internet and will enable online participation. More details on the workshops will be released soon.

At these workshops, we’re looking forward to robust discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders. And we’re expecting participants to come prepared with responses to our reform proposals—and/or proposals of their own—that recognize that reform will entail compromise and shared sacrifice, as well as shared opportunity.

In addition to the workshops, we of course encourage parties to file comments in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). As a reminder, the first comments on certain issues are due on April 1, and the last reply comments are due on May 23. While the NPRM included many reform ideas, there may be others that merit consideration as well. We remain open to considering all ideas put forth in the workshops and comments.

Once the record is complete in late May, we look forward to moving to an Order within a few months—it’s going to be a busy spring and summer.

The time is right to make reform happen, and to do so through an open, public, and participatory process.

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The FCC's Amazing Crew in Gettysburg, PA

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
March 15, 2011 - 06:30 AM

I spend a lot of time at the FCC’s main building in southwest DC. Days can pass with me not even venturing across the street at lunch time for a sandwich. So, when my schedule offered me the opportunity to travel outside of this fine city to see what my FCC colleagues are doing in one of our field offices, I jumped at the chance and headed north.

The 200+ dedicated FCC workers in the Gettysburg, PA office deal with a variety of subject matter, all of it being crucial to the FCC’s mission and operations. Many bureaus are represented, from the Office of Managing Director to Wireless to Media. All are in constant communication with our DC headquarters and the other field offices around the country.

While there, I visited their spectrum auction room, which is used to monitor those transactions that the Commission conducts annually. Equipped with state of the art technology and security, the auctions are run smoothly and effectively, all under the watchful eyes of my FCC colleagues.

But the highlight of my visit was being able to observe our staff take calls from the general public. The Gettysburg office serves as the primary intake center for all FCC inquiries and complaints, and my colleagues tirelessly attempt to address any issue that is brought up during a consumer call. Some calls, as one might expect, are livelier and more animated than others, but it is a vital part of our mission to hear what everyday consumers and technology users think about the changing media and telecommunications landscape and how the Commission is regulating it. As I so often note, we are charged with the protection of consumers and whether certain decisions that we contemplate are in the public’s interest, and it’s a mission I take very seriously.

I want to again thank all of my FCC colleagues in Gettysburg for their gracious hospitality. Please keep doing what you do, and I hope you will invite me back soon.

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App Accessibility: Are We at a Tipping Point?

by Pam Gregory, Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative
March 11, 2011 - 02:33 PM

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Everyone is always talking about some new app, and I simply can’t keep up!

Recently, I ran across something called the “iPhone App Directory.” The British magazine, now in its sixth issue, reviews, rates and lists download costs for apps.  I was curious to see how many of the 947 reviewed apps had potential for assisting with most disabilities, and I ended up very pleased and surprised.

Dare I say we might have reached the tipping point in technological universal design?  It seemed there were many apps that could be beneficial to people with cognitive disabilities, although interestingly, some of those were not user friendly and therefore not recommended.

It was refreshing to see the number of new educational apps that may help persons with learning disabilities.  Knowing that this magazine couldn’t cover all the new apps, I launched a search for similar magazines and found a good site that listed endless publications that also rate and compare new apps.

Here are some apps that I thought were particularly interesting.

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Public Service Recognition Week

by Kelli Farmer, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 10, 2011 - 02:10 PM

Public Service Recognition Week (PSRW) is a great time to educate the public about what we as government employees do, why we do it and how well we do it.  The main goals of PSRW are to:

  • Educate citizens nationwide about the many ways in which government serves the American people
  • Improve the perception and confidence of government workers and other public servants, and
  • Inspire a new generation of public servants

In past years, the FCC, with the help our dynamic Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division in our Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau has held exhibits on the National Mall alongside various branches of the military, other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private companies showcasing the quality work done by public employees.

Due to a lack of funding, no doubt a symptom of the current financial hardship our country is experiencing, there will not be a major event held on the National Mall this year.  However, the effort to honor and highlight our dedicated, hard-working public servants won’t be diminished.  Instead, individual agencies are encouraged to hold events onsite for PSRW.

A variety of activities have been offered in the past in light of PSRW, such as:

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Digital Learning in the 21st Century

March 8, 2011 - 12:26 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:234:height=102,width=70]]From Des Moines to Charlottesville school districts across the country are making sure there is a laptop in the hands of every high school student. California’s e-textbook initiative augurs the nationwide rise of digital course materials. Teachers now use web videos to reinforce the quadratic formula or impart a civics lesson. Technology is moving forward. Our classrooms and our curriculum need to catch up.

We’re joining with the New York City Department of Education tomorrow morning for an event on digital learning in the 21st century. We’ll speak on the promise of wireless and present a roundtable on the future of K – 12 education, as America begins to employ digital learning solutions. This includes the adoption of digital textbooks and the possibilities of wireless technology to enhance learning in the classroom. Wednesday’s event will explore both the benefits and the obstacles to this shift. The event will take place tomorrow, March 9 from 10:30am to 12:15pm at the NYC iSchool at 131 6th Avenue, at Dominick Street.

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Sharing the stage with Chairman Genachowski at the roundtable is a handful of the nation’s standouts in education, from both the public and private sectors. This includes Sharon Greenberger, COO of the NYC Department of Education; Alisa Berger, Principal of NYC iSchool, our host; Matthew Small, Chief Business Officer at Blackbord; and other luminaries.

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The Big and the Up-and-Coming

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
March 8, 2011 - 05:30 AM

Spending two days in New York City can be exhausting. I had a number of meetings with mega news organizations and their executives in order to discuss the ever-changing media landscape, which continues to modify the way we view and access news content. Do you peruse the headlines on your blackberry while riding the subway, or do you prefer the feel of an actual newspaper? Do you listen to podcasts of Charlie Rose while working out or do you watch him interview his guests while sitting on your couch? Media companies are dying to know the answers to these questions as they continue to simultaneously innovate and study consumer habits, making this a fascinating time to have an eye on the industry. I greatly enjoyed learning about the myriad new approaches being used to deliver content to the innumerable devices we now carry, and I look forward to watching how future trends will form.

But the highlight of my time by far was my visit to People’s Production House. PPH is a non-profit that educates students in how to effectively conduct televised interviews and instills general production skills. Additionally, PPH serves as a type of tutor and information resource for individuals looking to develop plenary and basic computer literacy skills and the knowledge necessary to access all that the world wide web has to offer.

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Auditing FCC.Gov with Open Source DeveloperView

March 3, 2011 - 12:05 PM

The current FCC.gov has hundreds of thousands of pages, hidden across a myriad of different directories and subdomains. When thinking about how we wanted to migrate content over to the new FCC.gov, we had to find a way to organize these pages into categories based on a number of different factors. No existing product fit our needs so we made our own and called it “DeveloperView.”

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DeveloperView is an open source PHP/MySQL project designed to allow government agencies and other organizations, by aggregating otherwise distributed institutional knowledge, to overlay a third dimension of information over a web page and provide website stakeholders the ability to view, organize, and collaborate in the management of site content. When used in conjunction with our open source website crawler, it can provide complete statistics on tag usage and progress to a goal of tagging every page.

Here at the FCC, we’ve had each office and bureau use DeveloperView to categorize their pages into four main tags: archive, rewrite, consumer, and industry. We are now using these tags to import and classify pages into the new FCC.gov.

We’ve found DeveloperView useful in the redesign project and want to share it with any organization redesigning their website. The source code is released under the GNU General Public License and our current release is available on GitHub. Right now the project takes a bit of knowledge of PHP and MySQL to set up but we are planning to release a version of DeveloperView that runs right out of the box on a flash drive.

We encourage you to give the tool a try or if you are familiar with PHP, invite you to contribute back to the project itself.

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