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The FCC as a Platform: New Tools for Developers to Get Involved

by Abhi Nemani, Director of Strategy and Communications, Code for America
May 16, 2011

There’s a saying that technology makes easy problems easy, and hard problems possible.
Well the FCC is taking on some very hard and important challenges, and doing so smartly with the use of technology to not only increase transparency but also leverage public participation. In particular, by opening up access to its data, the commission is enabling developers across the country to create innovative and useful applications for anyone to use.
Today, Code for America is pleased to announce that we’re helping make it a little easier to get involved by building development tools to jumpstart civic coding with the FCC.
Code for America (CfA) is a new non-profit that recruits talented, passionate, and tech-savvy individuals into public service to use their skills to make a difference. We recently held a “hack-a-thon” with some computer science students at Stanford University, and over two dozens college students and CfA fellows spent the day building “wrappers” for the FCC’s new application protocol interfaces, APIs.

Wrappers are tools written by developers for developers to make it easier to quickly access data. These tools are standard for major consumer websites such as Facebook or Twitter have wrappers because they help developers spend more time on writing their own apps, and less on trying to integrate into the platform. 
With these developer libraries, a developer can go from an idea for an interesting civic app to execution rapidly and easily. Importantly, they bootstrap the creation of a developer ecosystem around an existing platform – unlocking the potential for a sustained and engaged community supporting the FCC’s work.
We’ve built wrappers for the FCC with the major web development languages, and we’re encouraging developers to build with and on them -- as well as copy them for any other languages you’d like to code on:

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Building a Better "Beta"

by Steven VanRoekel, Managing Director
May 11, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:92:height=100,width=66]]When we launched beta.fcc.gov on April 5, our team kicked off an iterative process to maximize the impact of citizen feedback on the site.

The traditional concept of “beta” reflects some of the best attributes the Web: fast cycles of change designed to build off of what’s working, tweak things that can improve, and ditch the things that aren’t helping users. Our goal is to embody that continual improvement online.

That spirit is the bedrock of the new Fcc.gov platform. At a moment when federal agencies are taking stock of their customer service strategies and leveraging new tech to increase agility and responsiveness, this beta approach can and should make dot govs more valuable for citizens.

In our beta period, here’s a sampling of what we learned:

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Chairman’s PLAN Remarks

by George Krebs, New Media
May 11, 2011

Chairman Genachowski at PLAN launch

Chairman Julius Genachoswki spoke at the World Trade Center site in New York City yesterday to kick off PLAN (Personal Localized Alerting Network). Joining him were New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, and a handful of executives from the nation’s largest wireless providers. This is a momentous launch for emergency alerting and we’re proud that New York City will take the lead in being one of the first cities up and running.

An excerpt from the Chairman’s remarks is below.

Communications technology - and in particular mobile broadband - has the potential to revolutionize emergency response and save lives.

We've got a lot of work to do to reach our goals, but today we take an important step.

One shortcoming that was exposed on 9/11 is that emergency authorities didn't have the ability to send alerts with vital instructions to people's mobile phones - nor the ability to break through network congestion.

Today, we announce that that's about to change.

The Personal Localized Alerting Network - what we call PLAN - is a new technology and service that will turn your mobile device into an emergency alert device with potentially life-saving messages when public safety is threatened.

Read the Chairman’s full remarks.

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SMARTBoards and Other Brilliant Uses of Broadband to Educate our Future Leaders

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 11, 2011

I recently visited Kenmore Middle School in Arlington, Virginia where President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and other government officials visited this past March. There they lauded the extraordinary progress the middle school has made by leveraging advanced technology. The President discussed his initiative to reform the current “No Child Left Behind” system, by noting how important it is for our Nation to invest in innovative ways to keep those students fully engaged in the classroom. After reviewing the President’s remarks, I wanted to see the school for myself.

Kenmore is an Arts and Communications Technology Focus school. The Principal, Dr. John Word, believes that his 720 students perform better when they are excited about school. Children are already enthusiastic about the arts and advanced technology, so the faculty and staff encourage their existing interests by finding innovative ways to integrate the technology into the core curriculum. Each year, Kenmore picks an artist to be the center of study, and the students learn about the different facets of that artist’s life. This year, they are learning about jazz musician Duke Ellington and they are using their on campus media production studios to create a photo story tribute to his life and his work.

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Roundtable to Tackle Cybersecurity for Small Businesses

by Thomas Reed, Director, Office of Communications Business Opportunities
May 10, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:306:height=100,width=67]]In a rapidly evolving virtual marketplace, businesses know that they have to protect against information security risks, but many are still struggling to understand the types of dangers that pose the biggest threat to their information assets. 

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Where Innovation Happens

by Clay Johnson, Partner, Big Window Labs
May 10, 2011

In 1932, Justice Louis Brandeis famously quipped that state governments are the "laboratories of democracies." As our population has grown since then our state governments have grown larger, making cities a new and interesting place for governmental innovation innovation. In many cases, the smaller the population, the more open to risk and innovation a government is. That's why Apps for Communities' target is cities, towns, rural and underserved communities.

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Announcing: Emergency Mobile Alerts

by Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission
May 10, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:88:height=93,width=70]]Today, I am honored to be at the World Trade Center site with New York City Mayor Bloomberg, FEMA Administrator Fugate, and the heads of the nation’s largest wireless carriers to announce an important initiative to harness the power of communications technology to enhance public safety and save lives.

The Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN)is a new technology and service that will turn your mobile device into an emergency alert device with potentially life-saving messages when public safety is threatened.

How will it do this? PLAN will allow government officials to send text-like alerts to everyone in a targeted geographic area with an enabled mobile device. Since the alerts are geographically targeted, they will reach the right people, at the right time, with the right messages.

PLAN creates a fast lane for emergency alerts, so this vital information is guaranteed to get through even if there’s congestion in the network.

This new technology could make a tremendous difference during disasters like the recent tornadoes in Alabama where minutes – or even seconds – of extra warning could make the difference between life and death. And we saw the difference alerting systems can make in Japan, where they have an earthquake early warning system that issued alerts that saved lives.

Today, we are announcing that AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have put PLAN on the fast track.

Thanks to a public-private collaboration with the FCC, FEMA, wireless carriers and the city of New York, PLAN will be up and running in New York City by the end of the year – at least two quarters ahead of schedule.

By next April, it will be deployed in cities across the country by not only the carriers represented here today, but also by many others, including Leap, MetroPCS, and USCellular.

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Expanding secure HTTPS browsing on FCC.gov

by Benjamin Balter, New Media Fellow
May 9, 2011

We know that protecting personal information online is important for all web users. We’re keeping up with best practices across the web and offering FCC.gov visitors the option to browse the site entirely using the more secure HTTPS protocol.

Browsing with HTTPS is particularly valuable when you access FCC.gov over an unsecured WiFi connection, such as the one often found in a coffee shop or airport. This expands our previously-offered HTTPS default on pages where business and industry practitioners submit online transactions with the FCC.

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Video Relay Service Reform

May 5, 2011

For a decade, thousands of people with hearing and speech disabilities, and their hearing friends, colleagues and families, have come to rely on video relay service to communicate with each other.

VRS enables individuals who use American Sign Language to make and receive “telephone” calls through a sign language interpreter using a broadband connection that enables both video and voice communications. The interpreter voices what the ASL user signs and interprets into sign language what the hearing person responds in voice. VRS providers receive compensation from a fund set up by the FCC called the Interstate TRS Fund into which all common carriers and interconnected VoIP providers contribute via fees they collect from their users.

Although the VRS program has proven widely popular and has been a great success in improving the ability of individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate, it has also been subject to costly, and often illegal, problems of fraud and abuse that have threatened its long-term viability. Over the past year, the Federal Communications Commission has undertaken extensive efforts to reform the VRS program to ensure that it is efficiently managed, that providers comply with the law, and that as a result it remains a fully viable service for its users. For example, the FCC released an order on April 6 (PDF) putting into place a number of rules to eliminate VRS fraud. In the coming months, the Commission also plans to propose other necessary rule changes – including the ways in which VRS providers are compensated – based on a fresh look at the fundamental structure of the VRS program that started with a Notice of Inquiry issued in June 2010.

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The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake Disaster of 2011

by Jamie Barnett, Chief, Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau
May 4, 2011

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:54:]]The earthquake came first, but it was not like all of the other earthquakes they had known. The ground shook so violently, for so long that afternoon on March 11, 2011, the earth liquefying in many places. The destruction of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake was unimaginable, but the wall of water was next. The tidal surge of the tsunami was as high as a two or three story building, smashing buildings and structures like tinker toys. In addition to dealing a near crippling blow to Japan's communications system, and destroying homes in its path, the catastrophe left more than 11,000 dead or missing. The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake disaster reminds us of what America faced during and following Hurricane Katrina that struck the Gulf coast in 2005. That disaster is still with us, even after the rescue of many victims and the restoration of some of the buildings and infrastructure. Even so, it is difficult for us to imagine the enormity of the sense of loss, fear and desperation our neighbors in Japan must be facing during this difficult time.

The disaster in Japan is a reminder: we can never be too vigilant in preparing for the next catastrophic event. Yesterday’s Forum on Earthquake Communications Preparedness is part of the FCC’s vigilance.   Panel participants highlighted several ways to improve communications during disasters:

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