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Introducing the Internet to the FCC’s Contest Rule

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 16, 2014

Have you ever listened to your car radio while you were stuck in traffic and heard a super-fast talker rattle off the rules that apply to a contest for a trip to some sunny destination?  Or, maybe you’ve seen the small print displayed at the end of a contest promoted on television.  These detailed disclosures—such as who is eligible for a contest, how to participate, the value of the prizes, and when and how winners will be selected—are efforts to comply with the FCC’s “Contest Rule.”  I agree that it is important to notify the public about the terms and conditions of the contests aired on broadcast stations, but are these fast-talkers and tiny, on-air print the most effective means to communicate this information in the Internet age?  I suggest there is a better way.

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FCC Launches Direct Video Communication Access to Help Consumers Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing

by Greg Hlibok, Chief, Disability Rights Office
June 11, 2014

The FCC has unveiled a new type of support service specifically designed for consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate in their primary language, American Sign Language (ASL).   The “ASL Consumer Support Line,” announced by Chairman Tom Wheeler at the M-Enabling Summit last night, allows deaf and hard of hearing consumers to engage in a direct, interactive video call with a consumer specialist at the FCC who can provide assistance in ASL for filing informal complaints or obtaining consumer information.  

The direct ASL video concept was first conceived by FCC staff members in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau’s Disability Rights Office who have observed that direct access to communication, rather than through intermediaries such as interpreters or video relay service (VRS), provide greater autonomy to the consumers.   This direct video access will allow consumers who are deaf and hard of hearing to communicate in their native language, ASL, with ease and confidence that their messages are being delivered in an exact manner.  

Now, direct video access to the FCC has finally become a reality for deaf and hard of hearing consumers who communicate primarily in ASL. 

We believe the new service will be highly preferred to VRS and to filing written complaints through the FCC’s website because of the difficulty in trying to convey the complexity of complaints for disability-related issues.

Persons who are deaf or hard of hearing can use the ASL Consumer Support Line by calling 844-4-FCC-ASL (844-432-2275) or 202-810-0444. Hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Eastern Time), Monday through Friday.

You can watch an ASL web video about the ASL Consumer Support Line at http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/disability-rights-office.

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Removing Barriers to Competitive Community Broadband

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 10, 2014
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

If any city understands the power of networks to drive economic growth, it’s Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chattanooga’s proximity to the Tennessee River – a natural network – fueled its initial growth. When the railroad network arrived in the mid-19th century, Chattanooga became a boom town. The railroad allowed raw material to flow into the area and finished products to flow out to markets around the country – making Chattanooga an industrial powerhouse.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to meet with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, and when it comes to networks driving economic growth in Chattanooga, past is prologue.

Mayor Berke and the city’s leaders recognized that today’s high-speed broadband networks will be the indispensable platform for tomorrow’s economic growth and the jobs of the future. That’s why Chattanooga invested in building out one of the nation’s most robust community broadband networks.

The network was partly built out of necessity. Local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market. Without faster networks, Chattanooga residents were at risk of finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, bypassed by the opportunities high-speed connectivity enables.

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With an Eye Towards WRC 2015

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 9, 2014

It is never too early to engage in preparations for the World Radiocommunication Conference, or “WRC,” a meeting hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) every three to four years.  This conference facilitates the international coordination of spectrum usage and satellite orbit allocations, and the next one is scheduled for November 2015 (“WRC-15”) in Geneva, Switzerland.  Although it does not typically generate much fanfare, the conference is critical because the decisions made there can directly affect the future development of all mobile services—key drivers of innovation, economic growth and job creation.

WRC-15 is especially important because it will address many significant issues.  Topping the agenda will be identifying more spectrum bands to meet the ever-growing demand for wireless services.  WRC participants will consider modifying the allocations to allow for wireless broadband operations in the broadcast spectrum, 3.5 GHz, and 5 GHz bands.  The United States has already taken action to open these frequencies to commercial wireless service in this country, but consumers will benefit if we are successful at WRC-15 in reaching international agreement.  Spectrum harmonization helps prevent harmful interference and promotes the seamless use of wireless devices across borders—a growing concern in our increasingly mobile world.  It also enables communications equipment manufacturers to take advantage of the economies of scale as they create devices that can be used and sold internationally, at lower prices.

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Closing the Wi-Fi Gap in America’s Schools and Libraries

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
June 6, 2014

Chairman Wheeler examines a 3-D printer in an engineering classroom at Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Va.

I had the pleasure of visiting Robinson Secondary School in Fairfax, Virginia yesterday. The visit confirmed my deep belief that broadband-enabled technologies have the power to revolutionize education – empowering students and teachers. I saw students using laptops to access science lessons and collaborate in the cloud on year-end projects. I saw English as a Second Language students using apps to help learn their new language at their own pace. I talked to students using connected technology, including 3-D printers.

This was my third trip to a school since becoming FCC Chairman, and a consistent theme is emerging from these visits:  “connectivity” used to mean connecting to the school; today it means connections to each student. That means that schools need robust Wi-Fi networks. It is wireless broadband connectivity that changes the learning experience and opens new opportunities for students and teachers. What I saw was how Wi-Fi to each student’s desk is the essential component of interactive, personalized instruction tailored to each student’s strengths and weaknesses. I saw how Wi-Fi makes students more productive.

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FCC Needs to Improve its Internal 911 and IPv6 Compliance

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 2, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets communications rules and policies, as directed by the Congress, and works with providers and organizations as they develop and implement industry standards.  To remain relevant, the agency must stay on top of current technologies and serve as a model both for industry and other federal agencies.  The FCC loses credibility when it seeks to impose rules or standards on the private sector but does not adhere to the same or similar commitments in its own operations.

To this end, I suggest that two important areas are ripe for improvement. 

Direct access to 911.  As has been highlighted in recent regulatory actions, the FCC is responsible for promoting safety of life, via communications technologies and we take that responsibility very seriously.  For instance, the agency has advanced numerous policies to improve the effectiveness of the 911 system with the hopes that one day wireless callers—especially those with hearing or speech disabilities—will be able text their emergencies to First Responders.  In fact, the FCC acted three months in a row to adopt changes to the current 911 capabilities of wireless carriers, comparing the cost of these regulations to the cost of a life or lives. 

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Opportunity Abounding in STEM

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 30, 2014

You would have been both amazed and encouraged if you had accompanied me across the Potomac River to northern Virginia recently. I had the pleasure of spending a stimulating afternoon at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, the real-life high school made famous by the inspirational hit movie, “Remember the Titans”. But the buzz surrounding this day was not about the football team; it was all about technology and innovation, and how tech executives, entrepreneurs, developers and policy makers came together to engage and inspire students to pursue careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Innovation Afternoons” is part of a program in which an earnest and committed group of business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators are nurturing a pipeline of diverse future STEM leaders. Under the banner of the Equal Footing Foundation, community leaders also fund, launch and sustain “computer clubhouses” in partnership with local governments, businesses and nonprofits.

The result is an innovative, after school learning center where students 8-18 can work with adult mentors to learn, develop and explore their interests as future STEM leaders. Many of these students do not independently have access to technology, so the computer clubhouse is their gateway to the web and all that it holds for young technologists. Today, this program supports 1,500 students every week, and hosts 30,000 individual visitors every year. It has been recognized and awarded for outstanding academics, citizenship and peer-to-peer mentoring.

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The Caged Bird Sings . . . My Brief But Incredible Brush With Greatness

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 28, 2014

A remarkable woman once told us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  That woman was the indomitable Dr. Maya Angelou.

When I was asked to do a live radio interview with one of the most talented souls to ever take pen to paper, I had a groundswell of feelings—honor, joy, apprehension and humility—sentiments stirred up to that point only by the call from the White House asking me to serve on the FCC.

As I carefully collected my thoughts in advance of my maiden interview with Dr. Angelou, I was filled with anticipation because I knew she was going to delve into the historic significance of my appointment.  She is – and was—one of America’s most cherished chroniclers of history and culture, and this moment would not be lost on her.

In retrospect, I say somewhat immodestly, our interview went very well.  But honestly, it was not because of me, but all because of her. Our discussion was notable and noteworthy because she brought her “Angelou” soul to the microphone.  We were sisters, talking about a uniquely American historical moment, sharing accolades and smiles, even though we were separated by hundreds of miles.  Her incomparable depth of knowledge and her unmistakably mellifluous tone added warmth and texture to the instant rapport.  She had a special way of bringing you in close enough to get a little glimmer of her world, with all of its mahogany richness and melodramatic reality, just long enough so you felt the depth of her humanity.

My heart is heavy, as I join millions who mourn the loss of this wonderful soul who serenaded us with words and wisdom, yet I cannot help but smile just a bit, because I will never forget how she made me feel.

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Hurricane Season’s Coming: 11 Practical Tips to Help You Stay Connected When Disaster Strikes

May 27, 2014

When an emergency occurs, most of us reach for the phone to check on loved ones and, if needed, call for help. Yet in past disasters, some forms of communications – and the electricity that powers them – have been disrupted for days or even weeks. The FCC is working with providers and communities to make communications more reliable, but there are some actions that only you can take. So with hurricane season on the way, now is a good time to review our tips on communicating during an emergency – 11 practical steps to help you stay connected when disaster strikes.

As a first step, we suggest you take stock of what type of phone service and equipment you have. Many consumers no longer subscribe to “traditional” landline telephone service delivered over copper wires, which generally continues to work during a power outage. (You may need a “corded” phone to use it, however; cordless phones typically require electric power.) Many now subscribe to telephone service delivered over a broadband connection that relies on electricity or battery back-up power to operate. If you fall into this category, and if your electricity is out for days, you will need a plan to keep communicating. We offer some solutions.

Of course if you use a wireless device, you already know the importance of battery power. Our tips remind you to charge your device when a storm is expected and consider keeping an extra battery on hand. We also suggest ways to conserve battery power when needed. You may also want to keep a charging cord in your car.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 23, 2014

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and, more important, a time to honor the sacrifices of those who have served in our armed forces. I certainly join my fellow Americans in paying tribute to our fallen heroes and remembering our veterans and today’s servicemen and women who protect us and advance our interests around the globe.

This weekend also happens to be notable in the history of communications.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse famously telegraphed, “What hath God wrought!” from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, the first official telegraphic message sent over of a long distance. Coincidentally, 18 years later to the day, Abraham Lincoln would send nine telegraph messages to Union generals, becoming the first President to regularly use electronic communications. Eighty years ago, Congress passed a law largely to deal with the network revolution Morse unleashed – the Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC.

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