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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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Legal and Telecom Practitioners' Voices in the new FCC.gov

by Colin Sandy, FCBA Access to Government Committee Co-Chair
May 3, 2011

Federal Communications Bar Association members and other interested individuals took a deep dive into the new FCC.gov website during a half-day session at the commission on April 25. The seminar featured lots of great interaction with the new site and provided the commission’s New Media team with valuable feedback for  future industry-focused iterations of FCC.gov, which will begin rolling out later this year.

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International Girls in Information and Communication Technologies Day

by Meredith Attwell Baker, Commissioner
April 27, 2011

Tomorrow, Thursday, April 28th, 2011, is the first annual International Girls in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) Day.  Girls in ICT Day is an international initiative launched with the idea of creating a global environment that will empower and encourage girls and young women to consider careers in the field of information and communication technologies.  The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has called upon all ITU member countries to celebrate International Girls in ICT Day on the fourth Thursday in the month of April.
Also tomorrow, the FCC is holding its Career Day at the Commission, where we invite employees to bring their children to work with them and experience a day in the life of an FCC employee.  In connection with both FCC Career Day and International Girls in ICT Day, I encourage all of our ICT stakeholders to open their doors tomorrow in recognition of this important initiative for young women.

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CSRIC Membership Nomination Extension

by Jeffery Goldthorp, Associate Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
April 27, 2011

We’ve been getting a lot of questions about membership on the Communications Security, Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC).  So, we decided to extend the deadline to give everyone time to respond.  THE NEW DEADLINE FOR NOMINATIONS IS MAY 13, 2011.  The Public Notice extending the date is available on our website at http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2011/db0419/DA-11-713A1.pdf.

We’d like to have a broad range of interests and expertise represented on the CSRIC.  Here are the types of organizations we described in the PN. 

  • Federal, state, tribal, and local; State, tribal, and/or local government agencies and organizations with expertise in homeland security and communications issues;
  • Communications service providers and organizations representing communications service providers;
  • Online retailers, online technology service providers, Internet security companies, and other providers of online services;
  • Entities representing users of communications systems in  business, finance, energy, education, and health care sectors and;
  • Consumer or community organizations, such as those representing people with disabilities, the elderly, those living in rural areas, and those representing populations that speak, as their primary language, languages other than English.

As a refresher - the CSRIC is a Federal Advisory Committee that will provide recommendations to the Commission on topics such as best practices to promote reliable 9-1-1, E9-1-1, and Next Generation 9-1-1 (NG9-1-1) service; best practices to make communications networks, more secure, resilient, and defendable from Internet-based attacks; promoting the development of a broadband-based, next generation alerting system o distribute emergency alerts and warnings to the public, among others.

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2011 APCO Woman’s Leadership Conference

by Jennifer A. Manner, Deputy Chief, Public Safety & Homeland Security
April 22, 2011

I just came back from the APCO Woman’s Leadership Conference in Orlando, Florida.  While at the event, I had the opportunity to meet a wide cadre of women public safety communications professionals and hear about their experiences.  These women, from across the country and Canada, demonstrate what is right with our country.  Many of these women run important 9-1-1 and dispatch operations—the operations that directly support our country in responding to the worst emergencies.  For example, one of the women I had the opportunity to meet works in the 9-1-1 center in Tucson, Arizona, where the recent shootings of 18 innocent people occurred at an event in a shopping center with Congresswoman Giffords.  The experiences of this woman and the 9-1-1 operations center she works out of during this is a testament to public safety communications professionals throughout the country.  The public safety communications professionals at this 9-1-1 center were able to respond to the emergency in an effective manner; even when the call volume was exponentially higher then what they normally face on Saturday morning.  Because of their ability to perform effectively, emergency personnel were quickly and efficiently deployed to the scene.

This was just one experience that was shared with me at the Conference.  Hearing their experiences provided  many  examples of why I am proud to be able to work at the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau where we all work to support the important goal of ensuring public safety and homeland security by advancing  state-of-the-art communications that are accessible, reliable, resilient and secure, in coordination with public and private partners.

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The Unique Experiences of Women are Enhancements to Leadership

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
April 21, 2011

Last week, following my trip to Boston, I had the honor of traveling to Orlando to speak at the Women in Public Safety Communications Leadership Conference, hosted by the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials International. This event is of course near and dear to my heart, as it combines two of my passions: promoting public safety and empowering women. Women face unique challenges in the workplace, so I always jump at the opportunity to share my experiences in arriving at where I am today.

The most important lesson I attempted to impart at the Conference was to understand and embrace the fact that there are many paths to becoming a leader in this industry. Over the years, I have spoken with a number of women who have conveyed their discouragement in the fact that they are unable to advance into leadership positions in their respective fields. I always stress, however, that there is a big difference between being a leader and having the title of leader – the ability to take charge and to be a model for others to follow is what defines a leader, not necessarily the position one holds.

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Apps for Communities

by Clay Johnson, Partner, Big Window Labs
April 14, 2011

The Knight Foundation and the FCC are putting on a contest called Apps for Communities to improve civic connectivity and services in cities and towns across the United States. The goal is to create apps that use publicly available data to help people in communities across the country – for example, by giving them information on public transportation, health care, or other public services. Similar contests like Washington, DC's "Apps for Democracy" and New York City's "BigApps" have been notable successes. The only problem is that a lot of smaller towns don't have the kinds of communities or the budgets to put contests like these together. Apps for Communities takes location out of the equation-- we're looking for developers to use technology and data to help improve access to services in any community across the country.

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Need for Speed, Part II

by Walter Johnston & James Miller, Office of Engineering and Technology
April 13, 2011

Consumers may need better information to determine which broadband service to purchase to meet their needs. Yesterday, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) released a Public Notice requesting comment on this topic. As CGB Bureau Chief Joel Gurin noted, the metrics for broadband speed and performance are not as meaningful to consumers as, say, measures of fuel economy:  “Most people don’t understand megabits-per-second in the way they understand miles-per-gallon.”

But in another way, fuel economy and broadband performance are similar—they’re complex measurements influenced by many factors. How much gas you use depends on everything from how full your tires are to how cold it is outside to how aggressively you drive. Similarly, a single user checking email at 10 AM might find a lower speed broadband service to be sufficient, but the same connection might not support a household with a heavy gaming user, a VoIP- and VPN-using telecommuter, and movie fans watching HD-quality streaming video in the living room at 7 PM. 

It’s no simple task to determine how “fast” your Internet connection is; just developing a measurement methodology that accurately captures and represents performance is a serious technical challenge.

The FCC took on this challenge when we set out to test broadband performance in the homes of 10,000 volunteers across the nation. To do this test, we contracted with SamKnows, a consulting company that conducted a similar effort in the United Kingdom with the regulatory authority for the UK communications sector. Our nationwide test is the first precise U.S. measurement of internet services as delivered to the home by the service provider.

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