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Consumer View: Coming to the FCC

by: Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

January 18, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]I’m writing this post at the end of my first month at the FCC, and a week after coming back from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – one of the largest annual conventions in the country, and a benchmark event for all of us who care about consumer technology and communications. Before I share some insights from CES, I’d like to let you know a few things about my background and how I’ve come to be at the FCC.

I’ve been involved in consumer issues throughout my career – as a journalist, book author, magazine editor, Web strategist, and advocate.  What brought me to the FCC, as head of our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, was my 15 years at Consumer Reports. I began there as Science Editor, was Editorial Director and Editor of Consumer Reports magazine for three years, and then served as Executive Vice President of the parent organization, Consumers Union, for almost a decade. During my time as Executive VP, I oversaw editorial, publishing, product testing, and other areas, and directed the launch and expansion of our website at www.ConsumerReports.org. That website is believed to be the largest paid-content information-based site in the world, with more than three million subscribers.

My years at Consumer Reports taught me that consumers have a more personal relationship with communications products and services than they do with almost anything else they buy. At Consumer Reports, our readers couldn’t get enough information about smartphones, internet service providers, online services, digital TV, and the rest of the communications ecosystem. It’s not surprising. Communications technology is central to everyone’s life. We use it every day to connect with our families, shop, find entertainment, do business, and learn about social issues that are central to our democracy.

Here at the FCC, our Consumer bureau will look at consumer issues across the board, in wireless, cable, online, and bundled and other services.  We’re committed to ensuring that consumers have the information they need to choose a service provider, choose a service plan, review their bills, and, when appropriate, consider changing providers.

In August 2009, the FCC put out a Notice of Inquiry asking for input on what kinds of information should be made public, and in what way, to support consumer choice. We’ve gotten many good comments from consumers, state governments and agencies, and the industry, and are now reviewing these comments as we determine our next steps. We believe that information and transparency help both consumers and service providers:  Making terms of service clear to everyone fosters a truly competitive marketplace.

I’m delighted to be here at the FCC, and hope that my background and experience will serve both the Commission and the consumers who count on us. In my first days here, I’ve found an agency with extraordinary colleagues and truly visionary leadership.

A highlight of the Consumer Electronics Show for all of us there from the FCC was the chance to see our Chairman and a panel of three FCC Commissioners speak to two standing-room-only crowds.  You can read about their sessions here and here. The enthusiastic response to their sessions underscored how much everyone involved with communications technology is counting on our agency to help consumers and help foster innovation. Preserving the open internet, allocating spectrum, developing a national broadband plan – all of these issues, and more, are central to the future of communications and central to the FCC’s work.  I and others in the agency will be posting regularly to keep you up to date on our efforts and invite your comments, questions, and suggestions for us.

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