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Unauthorized Fees: What's Hiding in Your Phone Bill?

by Joel Gurin, Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
July 12, 2011

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If you're a savvy consumer, you know how small charges can add up over time. You may regularly scrutinize your bank statement for overdraft fees, scan your credit card bill for hidden charges, and pay careful attention to shipping and handling every time you order something online. But you may not realize that unauthorized mystery fees can also hide in your phone bill. Without realizing it, you may be a victim of "cramming," a fraudulent, illegal practice that the FCC is taking action to fight.

Cramming happens when a company puts a charge on your phone bill for a service that you never ordered and almost certainly don't need. Cramming companies don't even need to know your address to place a charge on your bill: They just need to find your phone number online or through a directory. These fake charges can be for services that sound like they're part of your phone service, like long distance service, or they can be for things as diverse as horoscopes, psychic hotlines, or diet plans. When crammers purport to provide a form of telephone service, the FCC generally has jurisdiction to take action against them; when a cramming company bills for an unrelated service, it falls under the Federal Trade Commission's jurisdiction.

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Exclusive Sneak Peek: FCC Technology Experience Center and #SeeTheSpectrum

by Tammy Sun, Director, Office of Media Relations
July 11, 2011

TEC Center

Broadband is no longer a luxury.  It's an essential platform for new products, economic growth and job-creating opportunities and opening markets that allow businesses to start, grow and hire.

Mobile broadband is growing at an exponential rate and as demand increases, the benefits are more compelling by the day.  That’s why one of the top priorities of the FCC is to unleash more mobile spectrum through measures like voluntary incentive auctions, a proposal that the President has championed along with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle, and more efficient spectrum management policies.

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Communicating with the Public During Emergencies

by Jamie Barnett, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
July 8, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:54:]]With over 1,400 tornadoes and widespread flooding, we have already seen too much loss of life from natural disasters this year.  A bright spot in these terrible reports is when we hear a survivor say, “I got the warning, and I got to safety.”  This is the crucial premise of all alerts and warnings.  We may not be able to protect every single person from every disaster, but if we can get timely, accurate information about imminent danger to people in harm’s way, they can take action to save themselves and their loved ones.  Alerts provide the information that turns precious seconds into survival.

One of the FCC’s primary statutory obligations is to promote the safety of life and property through the use of wire and radio communications, and we are committed to this responsibility. We recognize this should be a team effort, and the FCC works closely with FEMA to bring the future of emergency alerting to consumers.

In 2008, the FCC adopted rules allowing wireless carriers to voluntarily transmit emergency text-like alerts to subscribers’ cell phones and other mobile devices. Since then, the FCC, FEMA, the wireless industry and state and local governments have worked to make a personal localized alerting network (or PLAN) a reality.  Four carriers – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – have committed to making PLAN available in New York City by the end of the year, and these carriers and others will begin to deploy PLAN in other parts of the country by April 7, 2012, the deadline set by the FCC.

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2011 American Library Association Conference

by Staff, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
July 6, 2011

By Helen Chang, Becky Lockhart and Mikelle Mora

The American Library Association opened its annual conference in New Orleans on June 24.  We attended the conference as representatives of the FCC.  Our purpose was to help educate consumers, librarians and educators on important issues such as Broadband and E-rate.  During the event, we spoke to attendees, disseminated information and attended sessions.  Below, we have shared our ALA experiences with you.

Enjoy,

Helen, Becky and Mikelle

American Library Association conference

Helen:  I was last in New Orleans for the ALA Conference in 2006. At that time, New Orleans was just recovering from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and most conventions had re-scheduled their events to other cities.  ALA, however, decided that the conference would go ahead in the Big Easy even though a sizeable portion of the convention center was still undergoing repair.  Their reasoning?  The best way to help New Orleans recover would be to bring business to the city.  And, the best way to do that would be to go ahead with the conference in New Orleans as scheduled.  The city responded with an overwhelming welcome.  Now, five years later, the massive convention center is in full operation and the city is humming.  More than 20,000 people were in attendance and the FCC was among over 900 exhibiting organizations.

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Contributing Code Back: FCC.gov’s Open-Source Feedback Loop

by Benjamin J. Balter, New Media Fellow
July 6, 2011

Here at the FCC, we're always excited when we can contribute to open source software. Open source software is just like any other software, except the creator publishes the underlying source code that powers the application, allowing others to improve upon or adapt the project to their own needs, and hopefully, contribute those improvements back to the community to do the same. Think of it as the software equivalent of the “give a penny, take a penny” jar at your local convenience store.

hardcoding

Many popular applications and technologies you or I may use on a daily basis have open source software under the hood: Facebook (PHP) and Twitter (Hadoop), Wikipedia (MediaWiki),cell phones (Android), your web browser (Firefox), even FCC.gov (Drupal, PHP, jQuery, Apache, Solr, MySQL).

Today we follow up on our March release of DeveloperView, with two small open-source releases. The FCC became the first .gov to contribute to WordPress, a content management system that silently powers just over 13% of the Internet, with a faceted search widget. The tool, which we use internally to track migration of content from the old site to the new site, allows users to refine search results - not too dissimilar from the filter by type filters in the right sidebar of fcc.gov's search results.

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Training on NEPA and Historic Preservation Rules

by Steve DelSordo, Federal Preservation Officer
June 24, 2011

More than 200 people gathered in the Commission Meeting Room Tuesday, June 21, to hear presentations on federal environmental and historic preservation regulations for the siting of communications facilities, including towers used for mobile telephone, broadband, broadcast, public safety, and other licensed services.

 FCC speakers included staff members from the Wireless, Consumer and Governmental Affairs, Media, and Public Safety and Homeland Security bureaus.  In addition, the Federal Preservation Officers from FEMA, USDA Rural Utilities Service, and Department of Commerce NTIA provided information on their review procedures when their agencies fund broadband and public safety projects. The federal employees were joined by review officers from three State Historic Preservation Offices, or SHPOs, who discussed how they participate in the historic preservation reviews. The audience included representatives of communications and tower companies, their trade associations, environmental consultants, licesees, and communications attorneys, as well as the historians and archeologists who study the effects of proposed towers prior to construction.

A webcast of the session is available in our Events section.  The handouts and PowerPoint presentations are available as PDFs below:

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Caller ID Spoofing: Who's really on the line?

by Joel Gurin and Sharon Gillett, Chief, Consumer & Governmental Affairs Bureau and Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 23, 2011

Caller ID is a boon to anyone who wants to avoid telemarketers, hostile ex-es, or other examples of what the group No Doubt called "telephonic invasion." ("It's all your fault/I screen my phone calls," they sang in the 1995 hit Spiderwebs.) It's also a helpful tool for busy people who simply want to know if a call is urgent or can be returned later. But scammers have discovered that this useful feature can be used deceptively, in ways that can cost you if you're not careful.

Consider this scenario, which happened to a reader of the Savannah (Georgia) Morning News. You get a call from your gas company, saying that your gas will be shut off unless you immediately make up for a past due bill by credit card. You're very cautious about giving out your credit card number, and it sounds like a scam to you. Except that - the caller ID on your phone tells you that this is, in fact, a call from your gas company. Or is it?  The consumer who got this call was a victim of caller ID spoofing: A con where the scammer made someone else's caller ID appear on the consumers' caller ID service.

There are sometimes good reasons for a caller to hide behind this kind of electronic mask. For example, domestic violence shelters may need to use an ID number in order for their calls to be received, yet may have good reasons not to reveal their true phone number. Far too often, though, fake caller IDs are used by bad actors to get money from consumers, steal consumers' identities, or stalk or harass.  Many consumers have complained to the FCC about callers seeking consumers' financial or other confidential information by purporting to be the consumers' credit card companies, while there are other reports of con artists masquerading as government officials or banks to get identity or financial information from consumers.

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Progress Made on the Road To Bring Broadband to Rural Areas, but Many Miles To Go

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 22, 2011

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Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill recognized the importance of bringing broadband to rural America.  It told the FCC Chairman, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, to take a close look at rural broadband, and to submit reports describing “a comprehensive rural broadband strategy” to Congress.  In May of 2009, Acting Chairman Copps delivered the first report.  Today, Chairman Genachowski released the second—and final— report required by the legislation.

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Exceptional Health Care for Rural America

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
June 22, 2011

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There are rules, and there are exceptions.  This week we’re making some common-sense exceptions so that some 235 health care providers can continue to provide high-quality health care to rural America.

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Seeing It All at the Cable Show in Chicago

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 22, 2011

Having just spent two days at the Cable Show in Chicago, IL, I can safely say that the content and programming industries continue to amaze me. As I walked through the many acres of floor displays and demonstrations, I noticed that the tastes and preferences of viewers continues to expand, and that content providers stand ready to cater to virtually every facet of human interest.

Content wasn’t the only attraction, as innovation is flourishing as well. High-speed delivery is only getting faster, and the ability to watch recorded and stored programming from different household TVs and platforms is finally here. DVRs are evolving to fit every time-shifting whim, and on-screen displays are becoming more user-friendly, more attractive, and come with far more options. I watched a number of demonstrations, and can affirm that the at-home consumer experience has been wonderfully enhanced. Individuals can customize their content.

As was said numerous times in Chicago, broadband is a platform for everything, and is the number one growth path for small businesses. I applaud all of the innovators and content providers underneath the colorful cable umbrella, and can’t wait to see even more mind-blowing offerings next year.

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