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FCC Needs to Improve its Internal 911 and IPv6 Compliance

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
June 2, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets communications rules and policies, as directed by the Congress, and works with providers and organizations as they develop and implement industry standards.  To remain relevant, the agency must stay on top of current technologies and serve as a model both for industry and other federal agencies.  The FCC loses credibility when it seeks to impose rules or standards on the private sector but does not adhere to the same or similar commitments in its own operations.

To this end, I suggest that two important areas are ripe for improvement. 

Direct access to 911.  As has been highlighted in recent regulatory actions, the FCC is responsible for promoting safety of life, via communications technologies and we take that responsibility very seriously.  For instance, the agency has advanced numerous policies to improve the effectiveness of the 911 system with the hopes that one day wireless callers—especially those with hearing or speech disabilities—will be able text their emergencies to First Responders.  In fact, the FCC acted three months in a row to adopt changes to the current 911 capabilities of wireless carriers, comparing the cost of these regulations to the cost of a life or lives. 

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Opportunity Abounding in STEM

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 30, 2014

You would have been both amazed and encouraged if you had accompanied me across the Potomac River to northern Virginia recently. I had the pleasure of spending a stimulating afternoon at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, the real-life high school made famous by the inspirational hit movie, “Remember the Titans”. But the buzz surrounding this day was not about the football team; it was all about technology and innovation, and how tech executives, entrepreneurs, developers and policy makers came together to engage and inspire students to pursue careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Innovation Afternoons” is part of a program in which an earnest and committed group of business leaders, entrepreneurs and educators are nurturing a pipeline of diverse future STEM leaders. Under the banner of the Equal Footing Foundation, community leaders also fund, launch and sustain “computer clubhouses” in partnership with local governments, businesses and nonprofits.

The result is an innovative, after school learning center where students 8-18 can work with adult mentors to learn, develop and explore their interests as future STEM leaders. Many of these students do not independently have access to technology, so the computer clubhouse is their gateway to the web and all that it holds for young technologists. Today, this program supports 1,500 students every week, and hosts 30,000 individual visitors every year. It has been recognized and awarded for outstanding academics, citizenship and peer-to-peer mentoring.

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The Caged Bird Sings . . . My Brief But Incredible Brush With Greatness

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 28, 2014

A remarkable woman once told us: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  That woman was the indomitable Dr. Maya Angelou.

When I was asked to do a live radio interview with one of the most talented souls to ever take pen to paper, I had a groundswell of feelings—honor, joy, apprehension and humility—sentiments stirred up to that point only by the call from the White House asking me to serve on the FCC.

As I carefully collected my thoughts in advance of my maiden interview with Dr. Angelou, I was filled with anticipation because I knew she was going to delve into the historic significance of my appointment.  She is – and was—one of America’s most cherished chroniclers of history and culture, and this moment would not be lost on her.

In retrospect, I say somewhat immodestly, our interview went very well.  But honestly, it was not because of me, but all because of her. Our discussion was notable and noteworthy because she brought her “Angelou” soul to the microphone.  We were sisters, talking about a uniquely American historical moment, sharing accolades and smiles, even though we were separated by hundreds of miles.  Her incomparable depth of knowledge and her unmistakably mellifluous tone added warmth and texture to the instant rapport.  She had a special way of bringing you in close enough to get a little glimmer of her world, with all of its mahogany richness and melodramatic reality, just long enough so you felt the depth of her humanity.

My heart is heavy, as I join millions who mourn the loss of this wonderful soul who serenaded us with words and wisdom, yet I cannot help but smile just a bit, because I will never forget how she made me feel.

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Hurricane Season’s Coming: 11 Practical Tips to Help You Stay Connected When Disaster Strikes

by Rear Admiral (Ret.) David Simpson, Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau and Kris Monteith, Acting Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
May 27, 2014

When an emergency occurs, most of us reach for the phone to check on loved ones and, if needed, call for help. Yet in past disasters, some forms of communications – and the electricity that powers them – have been disrupted for days or even weeks. The FCC is working with providers and communities to make communications more reliable, but there are some actions that only you can take. So with hurricane season on the way, now is a good time to review our tips on communicating during an emergency – 11 practical steps to help you stay connected when disaster strikes.

As a first step, we suggest you take stock of what type of phone service and equipment you have. Many consumers no longer subscribe to “traditional” landline telephone service delivered over copper wires, which generally continues to work during a power outage. (You may need a “corded” phone to use it, however; cordless phones typically require electric power.) Many now subscribe to telephone service delivered over a broadband connection that relies on electricity or battery back-up power to operate. If you fall into this category, and if your electricity is out for days, you will need a plan to keep communicating. We offer some solutions.

Of course if you use a wireless device, you already know the importance of battery power. Our tips remind you to charge your device when a storm is expected and consider keeping an extra battery on hand. We also suggest ways to conserve battery power when needed. You may also want to keep a charging cord in your car.

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Looking Back, Moving Forward

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 23, 2014

This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer and, more important, a time to honor the sacrifices of those who have served in our armed forces. I certainly join my fellow Americans in paying tribute to our fallen heroes and remembering our veterans and today’s servicemen and women who protect us and advance our interests around the globe.

This weekend also happens to be notable in the history of communications.

On May 24, 1844, Samuel Morse famously telegraphed, “What hath God wrought!” from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, the first official telegraphic message sent over of a long distance. Coincidentally, 18 years later to the day, Abraham Lincoln would send nine telegraph messages to Union generals, becoming the first President to regularly use electronic communications. Eighty years ago, Congress passed a law largely to deal with the network revolution Morse unleashed – the Communications Act of 1934, which established the FCC.

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How Older Americans Can Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Connected

by Diana Coho, Consumer Affairs and Outreach Division
May 19, 2014

Why are many older Americans still hesitant to buy mobile phones, tablets or other devices, access the Internet or become broadband adopters? According to recent studies, many seniors say they shy away from using new devices because they are not sure how to use them or have trouble seeing the display, using the touch screens, hearing the prompts or learning the appropriate commands. Some are afraid to ask for help or simply don’t know where to get the help they need. 

A recent Pew study shows 77 percent of seniors are willing to learn how to use tablets and smartphones, but indicated they would need some assistance.  

To raise awareness of the benefits of broadband-enabled communications technology and to help facilitate its use, the FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau is hosting a special event from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursday, May 22, 2014, in recognition of Older Americans Month. Presentations and demonstrations will show older Americans, their families and caregivers how they can Stay Safe, Stay Healthy and Stay Connected.

The FCC event will highlight new programs, phone apps, government websites, and discuss how to harness these new resources to maximize access and facilitate healthy, connected living from home. The program will feature consumer information about:

  • staying safe online
  • text alerts
  • communicating during emergencies
  • technologies for people with disabilities
  • aging in place
  • telemedicine
  • digital literacy
  • remote access to loved ones and health care providers

Presenters include FCC experts as well as representatives from other agencies, nonprofits, academia and the private sector.

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Preserving An Ever-Free and Open Internet

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
May 7, 2014

Over 100,000 Americans have spoken.

And during the past few weeks, tens of thousands of consumers, companies, entrepreneurs, investors, schools, educators, healthcare providers and others have reached out to ask me to keep the Internet free and open. 

While the calls, emails and letters are new, my commitment to Internet freedom is not.  In fact, my public efforts to preserve a free and open Internet began many years ago.

While it is my normal practice not to comment in advance on items which are on circulation out of my deep respect for the integrity of our regulatory and administrative process, given the high level of attention and the outpouring of expression on the notice of proposed rulemaking on Open Internet, I felt it was important to highlight my previously stated views.

When I voted to approve the 2010 Open Internet Order, I voiced four concerns about the scope of the rules and the legal theory upon which the Order was based.

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Protecting Consumers in the Transition from Copper Networks

by Julie Veach, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
May 7, 2014

A unanimous Commission held in January that the technology transitions currently underway are a positive development for American consumers—holding promise for innovative new services and unleashing innovation and opportunity.  The Commission also agreed that its role is to ensure that these transitions reinforce and advance the fundamental values found in the Communications Act:  public safety, competition, consumer protection, and universal service.

An important transition is the move away from the old copper-based networks to networks that rely on fiber, wireless, and other technologies.  These technologies can offer benefits for consumers and network providers alike.  For example, copper deteriorates quickly in flood situations, and the broadband speeds it can support have been limited (although some innovative companies offer broadband services over copper at speeds above 50 Mbps).  Fiber can support broadband speeds of 1 Gbps or more; wireless facilities are often less costly to deploy and can support use at multiple locations. 

But customers have come to rely on the features and functionalities of the old copper networks.  Communications systems can fail in different ways and for different reasons depending upon the underlying technology used; this raises questions about consumer expectations, and potential consumer harms, as they transition from one technology to another.  For example, based on their experience with copper networks, consumers may expect their plug-in phones to work during a power outage without any action on their part.  Consumers may also expect a variety of familiar data-based services, such as credit card readers, home alarms, and medical alert monitors, to function in a particular way.  Networks other than copper may not support these functionalities, or not in the ways that consumers have come to expect.

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Public Service Recognition Week 2014

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
May 6, 2014

Yesterday morning, we had an “all-hands” meeting of FCC staff to talk about the agency’s priorities and to provide an update on the Commission’s recent activities. But the most important message I wanted to convey to FCC staff at this meeting was “thank you.”

One of the great joys of being FCC Chairman is the honor and pleasure of serving with dedicated public servants who make remarkable contributions to our nation every day. I have seen them deliver amazing successes in my short tenure here, and I am always impressed at the innovation and “can-do” attitude displayed in every circumstance. The Commission is tasked with solving many difficult, complex issues, and my colleagues throughout the FCC always seem to rise to the occasion. They are constantly looking to the future for ways to improve the lives of the American people through communications technology.

The public servants of the FCC -- and across government at all levels -- work every day on behalf of the American people with little or no fanfare. This week is dedicated to making sure public servants across the country get the recognition they deserve. That’s because this is Public Service Recognition Week – an annual celebration of the men and women who serve the United States as federal, state, county and local government employees.

I applaud the commitment of public servants throughout the nation, and I am proud to be a part of such an outstanding team at the FCC.  I hope others will celebrate and recognize the great work of our federal, state and local public servants, not only during Public Service Recognition Week but every single day of the year.

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Finding the Best Path Forward to Protect the Open Internet

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
April 29, 2014

I am a strong believer in the importance of an Open Internet. As President Obama has explained, “Preserving an Open Internet is vital not just to the free flow of information, but also to promoting innovation and economic productivity.” That is why I have made preservation of the Open Internet a priority for the FCC.

Some recent commentary has had a misinformed interpretation of the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently before the Commission. There are two things that are important to understand.  First, this is not a final decision by the Commission but rather a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions.  Second, as the Notice makes clear, all options for protecting and promoting an Open Internet are on the table. 

I believe this process will put us on track to have tough, enforceable Open Internet rules on the books in an expeditious manner, ending a decade of uncertainty and litigation.

The idea of net neutrality (or the Open Internet) has been discussed for a decade with no lasting results. Today Internet Openness is being decided on an ad hoc basis by big companies. Further delay will only exacerbate this problem.  The NPRM is seeking input on the best way to protect and promote the Open Internet.

In its Verizon v. FCC decision the D.C. Circuit laid out a blueprint for how the FCC could use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to create Open Internet rules that would stick. I have repeatedly stated that I viewed the court’s ruling as an invitation that I intended to accept.  We ask for comment on this approach in the NPRM.

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