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Modernizing the FCC.gov Website

by Dr. David A. Bray, FCC CIO
April 20, 2015 - 01:14 PM

In August, the FCC team began a six-month research and design project to dramatically improve the usability and functionality of FCC.gov and its subdomains. The outcome of these collaborative efforts resulted in an interactive prototype of what the improved FCC.gov will look like, as well as an outline of how website content will be organized and structured based on our research findings.

Our Research

The focus of our research was to identify and understand what different FCC.gov visitors want from our website and how to optimize the way they search, use, and interact with the website. The first round of research began by analyzing web content and web analytics. This gave us a sense of the web pages with the most traffic and most commonly searched terms by website users.

The second round of research involved several iterations of “card-sorting” with internal and external audience groups. Card-sorting is a method used in website design to help evaluate and determine the navigation and information architecture of a site. The information architecture of a site represents the way content is structured and organized for users. Ultimately, card-sorting helped us better understand how content should be organized on the site and gave us the foundation for the information architecture.

The third round of research was done in parallel. We conducted one-on-one user experience interviews with various external stakeholders, documenting common tasks and areas of concern with the current site. The interviews were invaluable in helping us better understand current user behavior and needs.

Our Findings

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Working Together to Close the Rural Digital Divide

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 17, 2015 - 02:32 PM

Over the last few years, the FCC has made significant progress modernizing its universal service programs to make broadband available to all Americans. Importantly, the FCC in 2011 unanimously voted to transform the USF high-cost program for the large “price cap” carriers into the Connect America program, which supports rural broadband networks. This program is now moving into its second phase, in which $1.8 billion will soon be offered to expand broadband in price cap areas where deployment would not occur absent subsidies.

At the same time, however, another part of the universal service program that provides $2 billion annually in support for smaller rural carriers – called rate-of-return carriers – requires modernization. Senator Thune rightly recognizes this fact, and my colleagues and I recently made a commitment to him to take action on this issue by the end of this year. Modernization would ensure that this program reflects the realities of today’s marketplace and supports the deployment of broadband networks throughout rural America. We started this process last April when the Commission unanimously adopted a Further Notice that set forth the principles to guide our efforts in modernizing this program. Yesterday, we took another important step as my staff, Commissioner O’Rielly and his staff, Commissioner Clyburn’s staff, and staff from the Wireline Competition Bureau met with associations and others representing rate-of-return carriers to ask for their creative cooperation in getting this job done for rural consumers. I share Commissioner O’Rielly’s vision that we can get this done if we are prepared to roll up our sleeves and work together.

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Direct Video Communication: Access for People who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Speech Disabled in an IP World

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 14, 2015 - 02:27 PM

A few months ago, I received a note from a woman in New Mexico, recounting her recent experience in making a 911 call. She had fallen in her home, alone, badly hurt and bleeding.  She dialed 911, reached an emergency center, an ambulance was dispatched and she was taken to a medical facility.

You might be wondering why someone would write to the Chairman of the FCC about a 911 call. The reason is that this was an emergency for someone who is deaf and the call was made through Video Relay Service (VRS), a program administered by the FCC. The woman had never before had a reason to make an emergency call and, when she made the call, she wondered whether the technology would work.

Most of us take for granted that when we make a phone call, the call goes through. You call from any type of device to any phone number. You don’t think about how the call travels – via circuit or packet, time division or code division, copper or fiber, 1.9 GHz or 700 MHz Networks are interconnected. Telecommunications software is increasingly interoperable.  

Now, imagine that you hear with your eyes. You contact friends and family by video calling and your native language is American Sign Language (ASL).  And when you call a hearing person who does not speak your language, the call is automatically routed over the Internet through a VRS sign language interpreter who conveys what you want to communicate to the hearing person.  The VRS interpreter voices everything you sign to the hearing person and signs back everything that the hearing person says.  

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Serving America's Public Safety Telecommunicators

by Rear Admiral (ret.) David Simpson, Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 14, 2015 - 10:35 AM

This week (April 12-18) is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week, when the nation recognizes the dedicated men and women who answer Americans’ calls for help at 911 centers across the country.  These call takers and dispatchers provide the first critical contact for those in need of emergency services.  In the midst of crises, they obtain vital information from callers in order to link them rapidly to police, firefighters, and emergency medical responders – and at times even dispense vital, life-saving information themselves. 

To perform this critical mission, the nation’s telecommunicators need a 911 system that keeps pace with technological advances, particularly as communications networks migrate to Next Generation technologies and consumers embrace smartphones and new communications applications.  New technologies also bring opportunities to improve our 911 system, but they do not lessen the nation’s need for skilled telecommunicators.  Even the best technology cannot replace the essential person-to-person connection offered by a 911 call-taker to a person in need or a dispatcher’s knowledge of the local community that is often critical to timely and effective response.

It is why our focus at the FCC must be on helping telecommunicators secure the technology that will best support them in the challenging work they do and help them do their jobs more effectively.  

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Let’s Move on Updating the AM Radio Rules

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 13, 2015 - 11:04 AM

During her impressive tenure as Acting Chairwoman, Commissioner Clyburn kicked off an important proceeding asking what the Commission should do to keep AM radio thriving.   The so-called AM Radio Revitalization NPRM started an important dialogue on the future of the AM band.  I am committed to taking action in this proceeding so that AM radio will flourish while also preserving the values of competition, diversity, and localism that have long been the heart and soul of broadcasting.

As the oldest broadcasting service, AM radio has been a vital part of American culture for decades and today remains an important source of broadcast programming, particularly for local content. In fact, Americans turn to the AM dial for a majority of all news and talk stations.

However, AM radio stations currently face unique technological challenges that limit their ability to best serve their listeners. In some cases, outdated regulations make it difficult for AM stations to overcome these issues. In other cases, interference concerns that are unique to AM stations are an obstacle.

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Guest Speakers & Questions at FCC Open Meetings

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 10, 2015 - 01:26 PM

Over the years, Open Meetings at the FCC have taken a variety of formats.  At one time, Open Meetings were working sessions where issues were debated live and staff were questioned about different policy choices.  More recently, they have been summaries of decisions already made that are capped off by an official vote.  Lately, it has even become common to invite select guest speakers to Open Meetings to provide testimony in addition to the Bureau presentations.    

Guest Witnesses

While I fully support improving the functionality of the Open Meetings in terms of structure and process, I am not convinced that adding guest speakers is beneficial or appropriate.  While witnesses may provide valuable insight into issues the Commission is considering, these presentations come far too late in the process to inform the outcome of an item.  Indeed, they fall within a no-mans-land where they are practically too late to be ex partes but technically too early to be congratulatory.  Therefore, it’s not clear what substantive value is gained by inviting stakeholders to speak at an Open Meeting.  If the only purpose is to add a glitzy spectacle, then that’s inappropriate and perhaps not demonstrative of the proper decorum befitting a federal regulatory agency.    

Instead, it seems that the purpose of inviting guest speakers is to further promote the viewpoint championed in the item about to be adopted.  And the more controversial the item, the more likely we are to receive such presentations.  But, the lengthy Bureau presentations and approving statements already accomplish that goal.  There is no need to add to the chorus or to try to further rebut or dilute dissenting opinions.    

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Preventing Smart Phone Theft & Protecting Your Personal Information

by Kris Monteith, Acting Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
April 8, 2015 - 01:41 PM

Combatting smart phone theft is a multi-faceted challenge that requires the efforts of and coordination among industry, consumers, law enforcement and others.  Part of the equation is enforcing the rules the FCC has in place today to protect private customer information.  Second, we must continue to inform consumers of ways to guard against phone theft.  And lastly, we can continue to adopt policies to discourage cell phone theft by preventing re-use.

The FCC has been proactive and strong in its enforcement of our consumer privacy rules.  Just today, the Bureau announced a record-breaking settlement with AT&T to settle an investigation into a data breach that affected nearly 280,000 consumers.  Read more about the settlement: here.

To discourage re-use of stolen devices, Chairman Wheeler has encouraged the industry to make lock/wipe/restore functionality operational by default on all devices.  To help guide us in future policy efforts, Commission’s Technology Advisory Committee compiled a report on smart device theft prevention.

Consumers are encouraged to take the following actions to avoid becoming a victim of smart device theft: 

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Consider a New Way to Combat Pirate Radio Stations

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 8, 2015 - 10:43 AM

Everyone should agree that pirate radio stations – by any definition – are completely illegal.  Given other responsibilities and obligations, however, the Commission’s resources are stretched, and it seems that stopping pirate radio is not at the top of the priority list.  While this reality is not surprising, we need to consider other ways to remove the scourge that is pirate radio.  One approach would be to give broadcasters a new right to use the legal process to go after such stations, letting loose broadcasters’ legal bloodhounds to root out the violators. This isn’t a new idea as it has been done in other circumstances outside of spectrum policy, such as to combat email spam, and we should consider it here, too.

It is important to start by recognizing the truth about pirate radio stations. They are not cute; they are not filling a niche; they are not innovation test beds; and they are not training grounds for future broadcasters.  If broadcasting were a garden, pirate radio would be poisonous crabgrass.  Put another way, pirate radio participants are similar to outlaws who rob a retail store and then sell the stolen inventory online.  In practice, pirate radio causes unacceptable economic harm to legitimate and licensed American broadcasters by stealing listeners.  Pirate operators also cause “harmful interference” that inhibits the ability of real broadcasters to transmit their signals and programming, which provide such vital services as emergency alerts, critical weather updates, political information and news.  And, pirate radio can disproportionately impact minority-owned stations as they undercut their financials and can cause harmful interference to legitimate stations serving minority populations.

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FCC’s Pre-Adoption Process Also Needs Work

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
April 1, 2015 - 12:55 PM

I am pleased that the Chairman has now initiated a new Process Review Task Force, and there is much to do.  Working with my colleagues and staff, we need to undertake a holistic review and make necessary and meaningful changes to promote fair, open, and efficient procedures that complement Congress’s process reform efforts.  I have already offered several concrete ideas, including improvements to delegated authority, editorial privileges, and advance publication of meeting items, that must be considered by the task force and, if appropriate, by Congress. 

Now, I want to draw attention to yet another aspect of FCC procedure that warrants significant review:  the FCC’s pre-adoption process for Commission meeting items.  For those who may not be familiar, Commissioners receive meeting items from staff, on behalf of the Chairman, not less than three weeks in advance of a Commission Agenda Meeting (this is the sole, additional document I believe can and should be made public at the time of its circulation inside the Commission).  During the first two weeks, outside parties may meet with Commissioners and staff to advocate their views and seek changes, if necessary.  The last week of the three-week period is the Sunshine period.  During that time, parties may not proactively lobby the Commission, but Commissioners and staff are permitted to ask them questions.  The Sunshine period allows Commissioners time to contemplate the complex issues, discuss matters with other offices, and respond to any issues raised during the prior two weeks.        

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Innovation in the 3.5 GHz Band: Creating a New Citizens Broadband Radio Service

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
March 27, 2015 - 03:51 PM

Five years ago, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a report identifying possible spectrum bands for reallocation for commercial uses. In the report, it identified the 3550-3650 MHz band as a potential opportunity for future commercial use. At the time, there was relatively little commercial interest in this band. But some saw an opportunity to promote new wireless technologies, new business ideas, and new spectrum management techniques to increase our nation’s broadband capacity. Today I circulated to my colleagues a draft Report and Order that will seize that opportunity by creating a new Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

The 3.5 GHz band is an innovation band. As a result of technological innovations and new focus on spectrum sharing, we can combine it with adjacent spectrum to create a 150 megahertz contiguous band previously unavailable for commercial uses. It provides an opportunity to try new innovations in spectrum licensing and access schemes to meet the needs of a multiplicity of users, simultaneously. And, crucially, we can do all of this in a way that does not harm important federal missions.

The draft Report and Order implements a three-tiered sharing paradigm, which we have explored in multiple rounds of notice and comment over the past two years. The lowest tier in the hierarchy, General Authorized Access (GAA), is open to anyone with an FCC-certified device. Much like unlicensed bands, GAA will provide for zero-cost access to the spectrum by commercial broadband users. In the Priority Access tier, users of the band can acquire at auction targeted, short-duration licenses that provide interference protection from GAA users. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy, incumbent federal and commercial radar, satellite, and other users will receive protection from all Citizens Broadband Service users.

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