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Policymaking in a Time of Technology Transitions

by Zachary Katz, Chief of Staff
February 22, 2013

As of last summer, more than 55% of U.S. wireless consumers had smartphones, up from 16% in 2009. The iPad launched less than three years ago; today, more than one third of consumers have a tablet or e-reader. And half of all adults under 35 now live in households without wireline phone service. The ways we share and exchange information are changing fast, driving tremendous benefits for consumers and businesses throughout the country. 

At the FCC, we're working to make sure our policies keep pace with this rapidly evolving communications landscape. Faced with major technology transitions -- from narrowband to broadband; from time-division multiplexing (TDM) to Internet Protocol (IP); from copper to fiber; from only wireline services to greater use of wireless -- we're focused on accelerating these trends and carrying out Congress's directives to serve the public interest in this dynamic, innovative sector. Over the past few years the FCC has made significant progress toward those goals, including developing the country’s first National Broadband Plan, overhauling the Universal Service Fund from voice to broadband, transforming the intercarrier compensation system, and unleashing more spectrum for wireless broadband. But as technology transitions continue, much work remains, which is why Chairman Genachowski created the FCC’s Technology Transitions Policy Task Force in December.

Last week I spoke at the University of Colorado's Silicon Flatirons Center about the FCC in a time of technology transitions. I emphasized that technological transitions do not change the values Congress codified in the Communications Act, and that the FCC remains committed to advancing a set of core principles rooted in those values.

What are those principles? For the Tech Transitions Task Force, the following are key:

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FCC Reaches Out to Local Seniors Committed to Lifelong Learning

by Diana Coho, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Specialist
February 21, 2013

The Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau serves as the FCC’s face with the American public.  One of my recent outreach assignments was to deliver a presentation to the monthly forum of the Lifetime Learning Institute (LLI) of Northern Virginia, which provides continuing education opportunities to older Americans at the Annandale Campus of the Northern Virginia Community College.

Older Americans are an important group for the FCC to reach since we believe that access to high-speed Internet service – broadband – can improve the quality of life for all Americans.  But many of the older Americans we routinely interact with are less likely than the rest of the country to subscribe to broadband, own a computer, or have the skills that are needed to use the Internet – commonly referred to as “digital literacy” skills.  In addition, we find that many older Americans don’t believe the Internet is relevant to their daily lives and are concerned about taking on new expenses when living on low or fixed incomes.  Vision and hearing loss or other challenges can make it difficult for older Americans to use a computer, and adaptive technologies pose a  steeper learning curve.  Many older Americans are also concerned about possible fraud and identity theft in cyberspace.

But research shows that once older Americans learn how to use the Internet, they quickly begin using email, going online to do research, make appointments, shop, take courses, manage bank accounts and electronic medical records, and communicate with friends and family – increasingly through social media sites and techniques.  Older Americans are also buying more cell phones, using e-readers and tablets, and adapting to advances in telemedicine.  I was heartened to find out that the Annadale group was very tech savvy!

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Connect2Compete and HUD Team Up to Expand Digital Literacy Across the US

by Kevin Almasy, Public-Private Initiatives
February 19, 2013

Although broadband adoption has increased in recent years, one-third of the country is still without home access. With nearly 80-percent of teachers assigning Internet-based homework, a high-speed connection to complete school assignments is a necessity, not an option. We need to ensure that all Americans can easily access broadband internet in their homes. The gap between families that have home access and those that are beholden to free access points must be closed.

Within the next decade, it’s estimated that nearly 80 percent of jobs will require digital skills. Already, more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies, from Walmart and Target to Best Buy, require online job applications.

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Last Thursday, Chairman Genachowski and Secretary Donovan announced that HUD will join Connect2Compete’s (C2C) digital literacy coalition of libraries, non-profits, and for-profits as a digital literacy outreach partners.  HUD and C2C are currently holding a successful digital literacy training curriculum pilot at HUD sites in Macon, Ga., Cook County, Il., and San Diego, Ca.

HUD serves approximately 4.5 million families across the country. As a coalition member, HUD staff and volunteers will work with public housing authorities, multifamily owners, Native American housing, and other HUD-funded organizations to raise awareness on digital literacy training opportunities and encourage eligible families to register for discounted high-speed Internet and laptops. Chairman Genachowski announced a similar partnership between C2C and the Department of Labor in July.

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Commission Releases Supplement to the Incentive Auction Rules Option and Discussion Paper (NPRM Appendix C)

by Gary Epstein, Chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force
February 4, 2013

Today, a Supplement to the Incentive Auction rules Option and Discussion Paper, commonly referred to as Appendix C, contained in Expanding the Economic and Innovation Opportunities of Spectrum Through Incentive Auctions, Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Docket No. 12-268, 27 FCC Rcd 12357 (2012) was released and is available in the docket.  This Supplement, prepared by the Commission’s outside auction experts, Auctionomics and Power Auctions, provides additional details about several of the Forward Auction proposals discussed in the NPRM.  It provides additional details about several of the more novel aspects discussed in connection with the Forward Auction, including the use of intra-round bidding, managing the shifting of demand between categories of licenses and the forward auction closing rule.  

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Progress Update: How the FCC is Expanding Broadband Connectivity for Health Care

February 1, 2013

Broadband connectivity is transforming America’s health care system, creating better, faster, and more cost-effective health care across the country. The sector represents almost 18 percent of the nation’s GDP, and increased efficiency has the power to lower costs, create better results for patients, and trigger economic growth.

At the January 31 Open Commission Meeting, Julius Knapp, Chief of  the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology and Linda Oliver from the Wireline Competition Bureau delivered an update on the Commission’s work to support wireless and wireline connectivity for health, including the new Healthcare Connect Fund and the FCC’s ongoing work to expand spectrum access for wireless medical devices.

The FCC also hosted a telemedicine demonstration by the Georgia Partnership for Telehealth (GPT), which focuses on increasing access to health care through innovative use of technology. During the live demo, Dr. Debra Lister from Coffee Regional Medical Center, an FCC Rural Health Care Pilot Program participant, conducted a simulated patient exam – allowing the audience in Washington, D.C. to hear the heartbeat of a patient in rural Bacon County, Georgia. Innovations like these mean that soon, geography won’t have to impede the delivery of quality health services.

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Pictured Above: Les Evans of Georgia Partnership for Telehealth (GPT),shows Chin Yoo from the FCC’s Rural Health Care team, how a specialist in DC could hear a patient’s heartbeat in rural Georgia.

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Women's Access to and Use of ICT in Latin America

January 31, 2013

WISENET (Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network) is the International Bureau’s convening platform that aims to leverage the experience, resources and connections of the international Information and Communications Technology (ICT) community to better the situation of women, their communities and their countries. As part of this work, the FCC has invited prominent women and men in technology from around the world to post blogs sharing their experiences.

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Several years ago, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I worked with women in rural Guatemala and had the opportunity to witness, first-hand, the challenges that Latin American women and young girls face every day – gender discrimination, limited access to education, and lack of health care, just to name a few. My experience with those women continues to motivate me and my team at Bixal to seek out opportunities that use information and communications technology (ICT) to address gender disparity

Gender inequality in Latin America does limit women's access to ICT. But for years, researchers have been unable to provide definitive metrics on the issue.  Instead, routine theories have persisted on the topic, such as that "women face barriers that include lack of access and training, and are confronted with software and hardware applications that do not reflect their female needs." Relying on anecdotal evidence, some studies have even concluded that women in Latin America are less likely than men to use digital technologies because they are "technophobic" and/or less tech-savvy than men.

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Commission Launches New and Improved Incentive Auction LEARN Website

by Gary Epstein, Chair of the Incentive Auction Task Force
January 17, 2013

Today the FCC launched a new and improved LEARN website.

The LEARN (Learn Everything About Reverse-Auctions Now) website is a one-stop information resource for incentive auction stakeholders, particularly broadcasters.  Informing, educating, and reaching out to the broadcaster community is critical for both broadcasters who want to take advantage of the unique opportunities the incentive auction will provide and those who do not.  The new and improved LEARN website provides easy access to current, clear, concise, and accurate information designed to help broadcasters make informed business decisions about participating in the incentive auction.    

One of the many new features on the site is an 11-page summary of the broadcast incentive auction process, prepared by the Incentive Auction Task Force staff.  This FCC Staff Summary highlights the key issues considered in the broadcast incentive auction notice of proposed rulemaking. 

The Staff Summary and all of the other new informational tools on the new and improved LEARN site will help inform all stakeholders, and are just a few of the many ways the FCC is working towards a successful incentive auction.  We look forward to your feedback!

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Connect America Cost Model (Version 2)

January 16, 2013

Please provide comments to the issue below as part of the 2012 WCB cost model virtual workshop for inclusion in the record. Comments are moderated for conformity to the workshop's guidelines.

Background

On December 11, 2012, WCB announced the release of version one of the Connect America Cost Model. Version one of the cost model allowed the Bureau and interested parties to examine various options for different network deployments to serve funded locations (e.g., fiber to the premises or fiber-fed digital subscriber line) and different assumptions about both the amount of existing facilities assumed to exist (e.g., green-field or brown-field deployments, the mix of aerial, buried or underground plant) and unit costs for capital and operating expenses.

Version two of the Connect America Cost Model augments version one in a number of key areas, specifically with regard to input data sets. Version two utilizes 2010 census boundaries and December 2011 broadband map data, as well as the latest available version of GeoResults wire center boundaries. Additionally, version two incorporates updated consumer location and business location counts.

The Bureau expects to adopt a final version of the Connect America Cost Model, with specific inputs, at a later date in 2013, which it will use to set Phase II support amounts to be offered to price cap carriers.

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Using Data To Make the Case for Gender in ICTs

January 15, 2013

WISENET (Women in ICTs Shared Excellence Network) is the International Bureau’s convening platform that aims to leverage the experience, resources and connections of the international Information and Communications Technology (ICT) community to better the situation of women, their communities and their countries. As part of this work, the FCC has invited prominent women and men in technology from around the world to post blogs sharing their experiences.

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I love data. I love collecting it, playing with it, and using it for decision making. My firm, Sonjara, builds custom data applications for non-profits, academic institutions and governments, so we know a lot about how valuable data is, and the challenges of collecting and maintaining it.

“Without data, there is no visibility; without visibility, there is no priority.”[1] In a world of "big data", where more and more data is needed for decision-making, no data – or data locked in a PDF document – means an issue with no visibility.

This is a serious problem in the intersecting fields of gender equality and information and communication technology policy. Those of us working in both fields see massive gender disparity in the use and access to ICT.  However, the only evidence to date of this disparity exists anecdotally and in small case studies and data sets. Without a larger data set as evidence, it is difficult to prove the importance of incorporating a gender component into ICT for development activities. There are two things we can do to improve this situation:

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FCC and Public-Private Partners Launch Smartphone Security Checker to Help Consumers Protect Mobile Devices This Holiday Season

December 17, 2012

More than 20 million Americans will unwrap a new mobile device this holiday season, but most smartphone users admit they don’t know how to protect themselves from mobile security threats. With mobile cyber attacks increasing every year (threats increased 367% in 2011), it’s important that consumers stay protected against growing risks such as viruses, malicious apps, and mobile device theft.

To assist the more than 120 million American smartphone owners, today the FCC launched the Smartphone Security Checker, an online tool to arm consumers with security steps customized by mobile operating system. The tool is the result of a public-private partnership between government experts, smartphone developers, and private IT and security companies. Partners include DHS, NCSA, FTC, CTIA, Lookout, BlackBerry, Chertoff Group, Sophos, McAfee, Symantec, and others. The smartphone Security Checker is available at www.fcc.gov/smartphone-security.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said, “With less than half of smartphone owners using passwords to protect their devices, this new tool will be of particular value to millions of Americans. The holiday gift-giving season is a perfect time to remind consumers to take simple steps, like setting a password, to protect themselves from mobile security threats.”

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