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New FCC Speed Test App: How does your mobile broadband network measure up?

by James Miller and Walter Johnson, Office of Engineering & Technology
November 14, 2013

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:491:]]Today we’re publicly releasing the first version of the new FCC Speed Test App for Android smartphones, as part of our Measuring Broadband America Program to cellular and Wi-Fi mobile broadband. The app is a first step towards accurately evaluating mobile broadband network performance, and is aimed at arming consumers with information to allow them to make fact-based, informed decisions when choosing and evaluating their mobile wireless providers.

Aggregated data collected through the app will also help to inform the FCC in its future policy decision making.  Our program is based on a collaborative effort involving consumer volunteers, the Federal Trade Commission, wireless service providers, researchers and others to produce the most accurate information possible on mobile broadband services in an open and transparent process. 

Measuring Broadband America currently provides the nation’s most accurate information on the performance of fixed broadband services for major Internet Service Providers.  Extending Measuring Broadband America to mobile services will provide valuable information to the public, industry and policy makers on both the performance and the deployment of broadband networks across the nation. 

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Opening Day at the FCC: Perspectives, Challenges, and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 5, 2013

Today I had the privilege of meeting with the staff of the Federal Communications Commission for the first time as Chairman. I am grateful to the President and the Senate for the confidence they have placed in me and look forward to working with the superb professionals at the FCC.

Over the last six months Chairwoman Clyburn has kept this agency running in top form. There was nothing “Interim” in her chairmanship. Chairwoman Clyburn and her colleagues addressed tough issues and came to important conclusions. Mignon Clyburn is a leader and the American people and this agency are better off because of her leadership.  

I know from conversations with the Chairwoman that she brushes off such compliments and talks about the great team at the FCC, especially Michele Ellison who took time from her important “day job” to serve as Chief of Staff. Michele and all of the members of Chairwoman Clyburn’s staff also deserve a huge thank you.

As I waited for the Senate’s decision I boned up by reading the speeches of Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. And while awaiting confirmation Commissioner O’Rielly and I actually spent time together in the same jury pool at the DC courthouse. It will be an honor to work with these dedicated individuals and to be stimulated by their intellect. Former Chairman Genachowski put us all on a course to a better broadband future and I am very cognizant that we are all building on his accomplishments.

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Mobile Accessibility and Employment of People with Disabilities

by Jamal Mazrui, Deputy Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative
October 31, 2013

The FCC's Accessibility and Innovation Initiative is pleased to commemorate October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

In recent years and on a global scale, the spread of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices has been dramatic.  A driving force behind this has been the revolution in mobile apps.  Hundreds of thousands of apps have been developed for various mobile platforms, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Nokia, and Windows Phone. From a disability perspective, apps may be subdivided into the categories of accessible apps and assistive apps.

For the disability community, there are two vital kinds of apps: accessible and assistive. An accessible app is designed according to accessibility guidelines for user interfaces so that people with a range of physical or mental capabilities can operate the software successfully, such as people with visual, hearing, dexterity, or cognitive disabilities. An accessible app generally has a mainstream rather than disability-specific purpose.  It benefits a broad user base in the accomplishment of human tasks that are commonly pursued.

An assistive app, on the other hand, helps people with particular impairments surmount what might otherwise be experienced as limiting consequences of a disability, (e.g., identifying paper currency to a blind person, facilitating direct sign language communication for a deaf person, inputting text from dictation by someone with a dexterity impairment, or giving reminders to someone with a cognitive disability).  Naturally, an assistive app also has to be an accessible app to those who particularly benefit from it.

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On Cyber Trick-or-T(h)reats

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
October 30, 2013
David Bray

Last week, I started a public conversation on the importance of communication.  This week I want to discuss another side of digital communication:  the spread of viruses, malware, and advanced persistent threats on the internet. The timing of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with Halloween is appropriate, because sometimes when engaging in professional or personal communications on the internet, we also run the risk of cyber tricks-or-threats.

Cyber tricks-or-threats can come from visiting sites that do “drive by” infections, opening malicious file attachments, or downloading supposedly “free” software that compromises our computer’s security.   Don’t forget that in the mobile broadband age, the threats you normally associate with your home or office computer can easily be found on your mobile device:  the same cautionary principles apply.  For those of us who use the internet to engage in public and personal transactions, it is a quality assurance concern that our digital communications on the public infrastructure be kept both secure and private.

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Toward More Resilient Communications Networks

by David Turetsky, Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
October 28, 2013

It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy struck a devastating blow to communities in the Eastern United States. Since then, America’s recovery efforts have focused not only on rebuilding but also on resiliency – that is, improving our ability to withstand future disasters. The lessons learned from the storm are shaping the FCC’s work as well.

Hurricane Sandy was a powerful reminder of the importance of resilient communications networks – whether you are calling for help, checking on the well-being of loved ones, or just trying to resume day-to-day business after a disaster strikes. Unfortunately, millions of Americans faced communications problems after the storm. For example, at its peak, Sandy disabled approximately 25 percent of cell sites in the affected region – and more than 50 percent in the hardest-hit counties. But some wireless providers fared better than others because of the preparations they undertook, suggesting that there are additional steps providers can take to bolster network resiliency.

In fact, the Commission held field hearings after Hurricane Sandy to hear from stakeholders about how to improve disaster-time communications. Based on one of the ideas raised, the Commission recently proposed rules that would require wireless service providers to publicly disclose the percentage of cell sites within their networks that are operational during and immediately after disasters. The concept is simple: by providing consumers with a yardstick for comparing wireless performance in emergencies, this proposal could empower consumers and in turn create competitive incentives in the wireless industry to improve network reliability. We are seeking public comment on this and other approaches.

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On the Importance of Communication

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
October 21, 2013
David Bray

Our modern world teems with communication. Most of us have cell phones or smart phones that allow us to be reached 24/7 by almost anyone as we move about the planet. We can access the Internet and catch-up on global and local news, share our thoughts via blogs, wikis, instant messages, or uploaded media files. Digital images, sounds, music, and video all can be accessed through the Internet to communicate ideas, share perspectives, and convey emotions from events both at home and halfway around the world.

I am so excited to join the FCC family as the new CIO. I realize I have much work to do to learn the full breadth and depth of the FCC's existing and historical IT efforts both internally and in collaboration with the public and private sectors. Everyone has been friendly and excited to communicate the Commission’s great endeavors. There is a palpable sense of purpose and mission here at the FCC. I am impressed by the number of people who have been here for fifteen, twenty, and thirty years or more, all who say they are here because of the role the FCC plays in enabling communication to support our national growth, prosperity, security, safety, and freedom.

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Updated: The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching

by Bill Lake, Media Bureau Chief
October 21, 2013

Reposted from the September 19, 2013 post "The Low Power FM Application Window is Fast Approaching" with Updated Information

In August we had our first of two webinars on how communities and non-profit organizations can apply for new low-power FM radio station licenses during the next window, October 15 – November 14, 2013.  The webinar allowed viewers to ask questions directly to Bureau staff.  We were delighted to answer many questions during the session and have continued to respond to your inquiries since then.  The second webinar will be held on Thursday, October 24.  Before this next session, we want to give you these reminders and highlights on a number of important issues:

First and foremost, don’t forget you can start filling out your Form 318 application online now!  You won’t be able to file the application until the October 15 – November 14, window, but we highly recommend you complete the entire application as soon as possible.  This will allow you to avoid any last minute questions or technical issues.

Second, remember that, while you do not need a 501(c)(3) certification, you must be organized as a nonprofit educational institution, corporation, or entity under your State’s laws, as of the date of the application filing, to be eligible to apply for an LPFM license.  In other words, if you have only recently filed your incorporation papers and have not received confirmation as of October 29, you will not be eligible to apply. 

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For researchers, useful datasets and potential questions

by Irene S. Wu, Senior Analyst, Policy Division, International Bureau
September 27, 2013

At the Federal Communications Commission, we publish a large amount of information and data, much of it potentially useful for research projects.  However, the FCC’s information is organized in ways that facilitate rulemakings, not research; and for those not directly involved in rulemakings, it can be difficult to find the most useful resources, even though the information is public.  To help researchers, today we are releasing a list of questions that we hope will pique the interest of researchers in the US and around the world, along with some tips as to where the public data already exist.  The list includes

  • Public datasets that could be used by researchers, such as
    • Broadcasting ownership data
    • International traffic data
    • Broadband performance data
    • Consumer complaints
  • Public information that could be used to build a dataset, such as
    • 911 calls
    • Consumer lookup tools
  • Research questions touching on issues such as
    • Interpreting broadband service quality and performance
    • Network configuration options for schools
    • Price elasticity studies for international calls
    • IP-to-IP international calling
    • Cloud computing

Of course, any efforts expended by researchers to address these topics are completely voluntary, and no funding has been obligated or is expected to be obligated for any contractual undertakings.  We hope this will continue the long and fruitful dialogue the FCC has had with the research community and generate new ideas and insights that will benefit public policy in the future.

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Providing Relief for the Families of Inmates From the High Cost of Staying in Touch

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
September 26, 2013

Today, the Commission released an Order that will provide meaningful relief to millions of Americans who have borne the financial burden of unjust and unreasonable interstate inmate calling service (ICS) rates.  These reforms are the right thing to do.  Our actions will increase inmates’ ability to stay in contact with their families and loved ones—including the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent.  That increased contact reduces recidivism, which benefits all of us through safer communities and by reducing the expense of incarcerating the re-offenders.  In fact, one study notes that a 1% reduction in recidivism would lead to $250 million in annual cost savings.   

The ICS rates that spurred us to act are high.  In one case, the cost of a 15-minute call is $17.50—about $1.15 per minute.  The Order we released today is a major step toward fulfilling our statutory obligation to ensure that rates for all consumers are just, reasonable and fair. 

Let’s take a look at the reforms:

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The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching

by Bill Lake, Media Bureau Chief
September 19, 2013

***Due to the Government-wide lapse in funding the webinar date and LPFM Open Filing Window Deadline have changed. Please see "Updated: The Low Power FM Application Window Is Fast Approaching" for the correct dates.***

Second, remember that, while you do not need a 501(c)(3) certification, you must be organized as a nonprofit educational institution, corporation, or entity under your State’s laws, as of the date of the application filing, to be eligible to apply for an LPFM license.  In other words, if you have only recently filed your incorporation papers and have not received confirmation as of October 29, you will not be eligible to apply. 

Third, we will permit organizations in a community to work together to file a single Form 318 application.  Alternatively, organizations in a community could apply separately – for the same or different frequency – knowing that they may decide later to aggregate points so they can negotiate a time-share agreement if the Commission determines that they are tied with the highest point total in the same mutually exclusive group.  (Applications are mutually exclusive if they are filed in the same window and the simultaneous operation of the proposed stations would result in one, or more, stations causing objectionable interference to another.)

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