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FCC Launches Webpage with Best Practices for Implementing Text-to-911

by Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
March 7, 2014

Today we launched an interactive webpage with best practices to assist text message providers and 911 call centers with deploying text-to-911.  

The webpage contains materials prepared by Vermont, Texas, and other state 911 call centers (known as public safety answering points or PSAPs) that have already successfully integrated text-to-911, with expertise and insight that can ease the deployment process for others.  For example, the State of Vermont has developed a list of “lessons learned” from its highly successful text-to-911 implementation as well as a series of informational videos for potential text-to-911 users.

The webpage is a tool enabling text providers and PSAPs to contribute and refer to comments, best practices, and informational materials.  It additionally contains documents from public safety organizations NENA and APCO, with Frequently Asked Questions, a checklist of issues that 911 call centers should consider, and technological options available to support text-to-911.

Why is this important?  In today’s world, wireless usage has become increasingly text-based. Yet in most parts of the country, if you send a text message to 911 during an emergency, it won’t be received.  Being able to text during an emergency is essential for the tens of millions of Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities. Texting can also provide an alternative means of contacting 911 when a voice call may place someone in danger, such as in an active shooter or domestic abuse situation, or when voice networks are congested. 

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Innovation in Voting Accessibility

by Sherry Dawson, Deputy Chief, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 7, 2014

Voting is a right we Americans value, and most of the time it’s fairly easy for most of us to participate in the electoral process. However, have you ever considered the challenges that come with using a voting machine if you have trouble reading, are blind or visually impaired, or if you have a physical disability that limits your mobility? The good news is that new accessibility solutions are being introduced to allow more people with disabilities to privately and independently vote, including a universally-designed voting machine developed by Clemson University’s Dr. Juan Gilbert. For this work, Dr. Gilbert received in 2011 an FCC Chairman's Award for Advancement in Accessibility in the category of civic participation.

Photo of Presenter Dr Juan Gilbert
Dr Juan Gilbert, Presidential Endowed Professor and Chair of the Human-Centered Computing (HCC) Division in the School of Computing at Clemson University.

On Tuesday March 11, as part of the FCC’s Accessibility and Innovation (A&I) Initiative Speaker Series, Dr. Gilbert will speak about his research team’s work to ensure voting technology is accessible to all people, regardless of ability or disability.  The presentation will be held from 9:00 a.m.-11:15 a.m. in the Commission Meeting Room and will be followed by demonstrations in the FCC's Technology Experience Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on two voting systems developed in his lab that enhance the voting process.

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Moving Forward On the E-rate Modernization Path

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 6, 2014

Delivering on the announcement made by Chairman Wheeler in his Digital Learning Day remarks, the Wireline Competition Bureau released today a Public Notice seeking more focused comment on a set of key issues initially raised in the E-Rate Modernization NPRM.  Chairman Wheeler has laid out a timeline for an order in the coming months that would be effective in time for Funding Year2015.  Today’s Public Notice is an important mile marker on the road to E-rate modernization. 

The Notice seeks to strengthen the record on four important issues: (1) how to best structure the program in a way that places a greater focus on connectivity inside the walls of classrooms and libraries in an equitable manner to all eligible schools and libraries; (2) whether and how to establish a one-time deployment initiative within the structure of the existing program providing targeted additional funding for those schools and libraries who remain without access to a high-speed broadband connection; (3) phasing out or reducing support for legacy voice services; and (4) ideas on potential demonstration projects.  Additional focused comment on these topics will help the Commission tackle some difficult issues necessary to accomplishing the program goals laid out in the E-Rate Modernization NPRM.  While we seek answers to these questions, by no means does this Notice represent the full set of issues that may be addressed in a future order.     

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Protecting Television Consumers By Protecting Competition

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
March 6, 2014

Every four years, the FCC is required by law to assess its media ownership rules and determine if they need to be modified to serve the public interest. In fact, it’s been six years since the Commission last completed a quadrennial review, so it goes without saying that the video marketplace has changed dramatically since the FCC last updated these rules.

Later this month, the Commission will begin in earnest its 2014 quadrennial review, building on a record it has amassed over the years. This will be an open evaluation to understand how evolving market structures and competition should influence how we act to preserve the continuing values of competition, localism, and diversity of voices in our local media.

I come to the 2014 review with two bedrock beliefs: that broadcasting provides a vital public service as a part of its public trust, and that the overall changes in the media landscape are opening new opportunities for U.S. broadcasters.

While this review is pending, the current rules addressing media consolidation will remain in place.  But motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission Rules to enforce existing rules.

JOINT SALES AGREEMENTS

One notable development that requires immediate attention is the rise of Joint Sales Agreements in small- and medium-sized TV markets. Commonly known as JSAs, these are arrangements in which one station sells advertising time for another station in the same market. In more than two-thirds of JSA transactions, one station sold 100 percent of the advertising time of the other.

What does that mean in plain English?

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How The Sidecar Business Model Works

by Phil Verveer, Senior Counselor to Chairman Wheeler
March 6, 2014

The sidecar business model involves a dominant and weaker (or, to put it another way, an independent and a dependent) broadcaster in the same market.  The broker exercises operational and financial influence over the brokered station and performs the basic functions of station operation.  The model is used primarily in markets where one entity would not be allowed to hold more than one television license.  Part of the model’s utility thus involves overcoming a rule that is designed to promote competition, diversity, and localism.   The other part of its utility involves increasing the joint profits of the two (or more) broadcasters involved.

The typical sidecar business model has three principal components:  (1) a joint sales agreement (JSA); (2) shared services agreements (SSAs); and (3) special financial arrangements.

The JSA is the element that addresses advertising revenue.  Basically, the independent broadcaster takes over the ad sales for the dependent broadcaster.  In normal economic theory, if two ostensibly independent entities in the same market engage in coordinated selling, the expectation is that they will be able to raise the average per unit price they receive.  If this holds in the sidecar markets, advertisers buying local ads are paying more than they otherwise would.

The SSAs largely address the cost side of the broadcasting business.  The sharing of talent, other human resources, and hard assets presents an opportunity for efficiencies.  Everything else being equal, it is less expensive to hire three news reporters than four, one news director than two, and to maintain one studio rather than two, etc.

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Duplication Alert: Broadband Pilot Projects

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
March 6, 2014

January’s IP Trials Order contained a provision to use USF dollars to fund rural broadband “experiments” designed to deliver robust, high-speed, scalable broadband service.  The language put out for comment on this new program potentially gives the FCC latitude to do any number of things in this space, including gigabit communities.

Exactly five days later, Congress spoke to this very same issue.  Included in the Agricultural Act of 2014 (“The Farm Bill”) is a provision that allocates up to $50 million—$10 million per year for FY 2014-2018— to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a Rural Gigabit Network Pilot Program.  To be eligible for these funds, a provider must be able to build out “ultra-high-speed Internet service” within three years in rural areas that lack such service.   

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Early Progress in Efforts to Learn About the Impact of Technology Transitions

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
March 3, 2014

In January, the Commission’s unanimously adopted Technology Transitions Order kick-started the process for a diverse set of experiments and data collection initiatives focused on how consumers are affected by the historic technology transitions that are transforming our nation’s communications networks.  Just one month later, providers and members of the public are accepting the Commission’s invitation to participate in that process.

For example, on Friday AT&T filed a proposal for service-based experiments that would explore the transitions to wireline and wireless Internet Protocol-based services in its wire centers in Carbon Hill, Alabama and the other in West Delray Beach, Florida.  The Wireline Competition Bureau then issued a Public Notice seeking public comment on AT&T’s proposal.  Just last week, the Bureau sought comment on a service-based proposal filed by another entity, Iowa Network Services. 

There also is much enthusiasm around the targeted rural broadband experiments that the Technology Transitions Order authorized.  At least 15 parties­ already have filed expressions of interest in conducting a rural broadband experiment with Connect America funding, and we expect to receive many more expressions of interest by the initial March 7 deadline.  We also look forward to the Rural Broadband Workshop that the Commission will host on March 19. 

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FCC Speed Test App for iPhone Expands Options for Mobile Broadband Performance Information

by James Miller and Walter Johnston, Office of Engineering and Technology
February 25, 2014

Late last year, we expanded the Measuring Broadband America program to include mobile broadband measurement, and released our first FCC Speed Test app for Android smartphones. Mobile broadband services are increasingly important to consumers, and this was an exciting first step in our program.

Today we are very pleased to announce that the FCC Speed Test App for iPhone is available for download, further extending our program.

The FCC Speed Test app for iPhone uses the same interface and technologies as our Android app, delivering you useful information about your broadband performance and, like the Android app, is ad free. After reviewing and agreeing to the privacy policy and terms of use, understanding mobile performance on your iPhone is as easy as clicking “Run now” to start testing your performance.

While we believe the app is useful in informing you regarding your phone’s performance, by downloading the app you are also supporting our open broadband data program, contributing to the information we make freely available to the public on the nation’s mobile broadband performance

There are some differences from our Android app. Because the iOS app cannot run periodically in the background, you will need to run tests manually to test your cellular and Wi-Fi network. The kinds of information you can see about your cellular modem performance, like signal strength and the type of connection, are also more limited.

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Adoption of Unlocking Standards Offers Consumers Additional Choices

February 21, 2014

Consumers often question why they may not have the choice of using their existing mobile wireless device when they change between compatible wireless service providers.  The answer is usually a practice called cellphone locking and it is about to change.

On February 11, 2014, CTIA-The Wireless Association adopted six standards on unlocking into the CTIA Code for Wireless Service.  Implementation of these six standards by major mobile wireless service providers will give consumers greater freedom and flexibility while increasing competition among service providers to innovate.  Participating wireless service providers will implement three of these six standards by May 11, 2014, and all of these standards by February 11, 2015.

Once these standards are fully implemented, your service provider will unlock your postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of your service contract or installment plan have been met and your account is in good standing.  Service providers will unlock prepaid wireless devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements. Service providers will clearly notify you when your device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked.  Additionally, your service provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.

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From the Wall to the Desk: Facilitating 21st Century Digital Learning

by Trent Harkrader, Associate Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
February 20, 2014

In his recent Digital Learning Day speech, Chairman Wheeler emphasized the tremendous potential of digital learning for America’s students and teachers.  Among the reasons for the revolution going on in teaching and learning, the Chairman highlighted two transformative technological changes:  “First, inexpensive tablets turn the computer from something in the corner of the classroom (or in the computer lab down the hall), to something on each student’s desk.  Second, Wi-Fi means connecting to the Internet is no longer a function of being close enough to the plug on the wall.”

As numerous commenters have pointed out, these changes mean that as the FCC modernizes the E-rate program, we have to be thinking about getting high speed connectivity all the way to students’ desks and to open library work spaces, not just to the school or library door.  Today, a host of services -- including legacy services like long distance calling and paging -- are categorized as “priority one” services and funded before any money goes to high speed Wi-Fi in classrooms and libraries.  As a result, the existing E-rate program has been increasingly unable to meet the need for Wi-Fi funding. 

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