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Internet Epitomizes Part of Our Society But Not Its Full picture

by Serena Romano
October 18, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:238:height=88,width=70]]On any day coming to the office, opening up my mailboxes at home, or scanning through my mail at the airport queue I come across an old friend who suddenly wants to link up with me, a vague acquaintance who wishes to see me at an exhibition, or an urgent petition that I need to sign.

The prospect of friends suddenly springing up from old times used to thrill me. I was delighted to sign petitions that would guarantee my democratic rights, and basked in the idea of going to an art exhibition. As always with novelties they are delightful only if they are rare enough to continue to be pleasant.

However, today the acceptance level of intrusion has been surpassed, and I only get moderately amused when acquaintances who hardly recognize me at a conference, insist on becoming my “friends” on Facebook.

So, now more than ever we must rethink our personal communications policies towards our parents, friends, and colleagues. Maybe I want to send photos of the latest birthday to parents, but not necessarily start a discussion that would be best fit for Sunday afternoon tea-time. I want to share lots of fun –or even silliness – with friends on Facebook, but that does not replace face-to-face encounters. I may not want all of my colleagues as my friends on Facebook (depending on the above-mentioned level of silliness displayed), but I expect at least an acknowledgment from them on all Emails sent with a professional query.

The Internet is splitting our personalities and recomposing them in accordance with the community networks that we adhere to. Now more than ever we need to keep control of our lives, information, and ideas.

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Senior Consumers Also Experience Cell Phone Bill Shock

by Susan Fisenne
October 18, 2010

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The response from consumers to the Commission's actions on bill shock has been an encouraging sign that our initiatives are resonating with the people that need them the most.

Earlier this week, Chairman Genachowski spoke at the Center for American Progress about ways consumers can avoid cell phone bill shock. Consumers who have personally experienced bill shock were also on hand to share their stories. My conversations with consumers leading up that event gave me second-hand bill shock — I just cannot fathom getting an $18,000 cell phone bill!

Reaching out to consumers raised two points in my mind. The first was a creeping anxiety about my own family's cell plan. Did we really have the unlimited text and data plan I believed we did? Was I about to get the bill shock of my life courtesy of my texting tween at home? Thankfully, a call to my carrier was all it took to confirm my plan and clear my mind.

Secondly, I wondered how bill shock might affect America's seniors. I visited a local assisted living facility and, with the help of the Director of Resident Services, chatted with five residents. Sure enough, two of those residents had experienced bill shock. Ms. Ana's voice-only plan — typically $80 a month — jumped unexpectedly by over 50%. Unable to get help or a clear explanation from her cell provider, Ms. Ana gave up. She returned her phone to her provider's nearest retail store, terminated her contract and paid the early termination fee. She is now a very satisfied customer of AARP's Consumer Cellular plan.

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Home Wi-Fi Network Security

by Yul Kwon
October 15, 2010

As you may have heard, October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and throughout the month the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other government agencies are providing information for consumers to better protect themselves while online. I'm happy to be able to pass along some critical information to you regarding wireless (or "Wi-Fi") network security. I even narrated a video

to help educate consumers about the importance of securing wireless networks.  We're disseminating this information through several formats: this post, a video, a fact sheet and a checklist. This information, as well as much more to come, is available on www.fcc.gov/consumers. We also have links to other important cybersecurity information, including guides provided by the Federal Trade Commission and the National Cyber Security Alliance.

Many of us use Wi-Fi networks at home as a convenient way to connect computers, laptops, and other devices to the Internet through a wireless router. Wi-Fi is great because it doesn't require a tangle of wires and a fixed location to access the Internet. You're free to roam your home and oftentimes your patio, backyard, and porch, while still being connected. However, it seems that every technological opportunity comes with its own technological challenges. One of the challenges with a Wi-Fi network is that it can be less secure than a wired network.

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Desirability of Continuing the Internet Governance Forum

by Ana CristinaNeves
October 15, 2010

(Part of the ongoing WISENET Series)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:240:height=100,width=70]]Ana Cristina Neves, from the Knowledge Society Agency, Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education of Portugal summarizes key points from her November 2009 presentation at the Internet Governance Forum.

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Pam Gregory and Jamal Mazrui to Lead Accessibility and Innovation Initiative

by Joel Gurin
October 15, 2010

By Joel Gurin and Karen Peltz Strauss

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=98,width=70]]We are very pleased to announce that Pam Gregory will be the Director, and Jamal Mazrui will be the Deputy Director, of the Commission’s new Accessibility and Innovation Initiative. Chairman Genachowski launched the initiative at a joint White House/ FCC/Department of Commerce event in July, consistent with a recommendation in the National Broadband Plan.

The mission of the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative is to promote collaborative problem-solving among stakeholders to ensure that people with disabilities reap the full benefits of communications technology. We will use many tools to achieve this objective, including the Chairman’s Award, Accessibility and Innovation challenges, workshops, field events, facilitated dialogues, and online tools such as a problem solving commons and a clearinghouse.

We have or will be launching soon accessibility challenges to developers, industry, and students related to accessible wireless apps, cloud computing and cognitive disabilities, web 2.0 accessibility, and geo-location accessibility, as Chairman Genachowski mentioned in his July 19, 2010 speech. In the near future, we will be providing more details on the Chairman’s Award for Advancements in Accessibility as well as other upcoming events.

We are thrilled that Pam has agreed to lead the Accessibility and Innovation Initiative. Pam has been working on disability issues at the FCC since 1996 and was the first chief of the Disability Rights Office. You can contact Pam at Pam.Gregory@fcc.gov.

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October's Open Commission Meeting: Empowering Consumers

by Julius Genachowski
October 14, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:88:height=93,width=70]]New technology is an exciting thing, and what's happening in the mobile space is simply incredible. With any new technology, consumers need to be empowered to address concerns quickly and with simple solutions.

During the October Open Commission Meeting we took bold moves on our consumer empowerment agenda. Following the meeting I recorded a video that outlines how the FCC is taking on important consumer issues — like bill shock — to empower and educate Americans.

Watch the video to learn more, then leave your comments below.

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Bill Shock: Starting to Set the Rules

by Joel Gurin
October 14, 2010

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At today's FCC open meeting, the Chairman and the four other commissioners unanimously voted to propose rules to prevent Bill Shock. These proposed rules would require mobile carriers to send their customers a voice or text message when they are approaching their limit for a text, voice, or data plan, and when they are starting to incur roaming fees. The Commission notes that there are already similar rules in the European Union, where these alerts appear to be helping consumers without putting an undue burden on wireless companies. You can read the proposed rules and the commissioners' and Chairman's statements here.

We in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, which prepared these proposed rules, are happy to have the full support of the Commission as we go forward. What happens next is a period of comment to allow all interested parties – including the industry, consumer groups, and the public at large – to weigh in on our proposals. That's where you come in. You can go to our Consumer Help Center, at fcc.gov/consumers, and use the "File a Comment With the FCC" button to make your views known. If Bill Shock has happened to you, you can "File a Consumer Complaint" from the same website. You can also share your stories with us posting a comment to this blog, or sending me an e-mail at joel.gurin@fcc.gov.

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Fighting Bill Shock: We Hear You Now

by Joel Gurin
October 13, 2010

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As you can read in his blog post here, our Chairman, Julius Genachowski, outlined an ambitious Consumer Empowerment Agenda in his speech earlier today. The goal of that agenda is to ensure that consumers have better, more complete, and more helpful information on all the communications services we use every day. We're taking the concept of truth in billing and expanding it to truth at every stage – ensuring that you have accurate information when you're choosing a service provider, choosing a plan, or deciding whether to switch providers, as well as when you're reading your bill.

Today, we've also released a white paper that analyzes the complaints we've gotten on wireless bill shock over the past few months. The data are, well, shocking. Out of a total of 764 complaints from January through June, we found that two-thirds involved amounts of a hundred dollars or more; 150 complaints involved a thousand dollars or more; and eight complaints involved 10 thousand dollars or more.

Three consumers at today's event told stories about their own experiences that show the human side of the bill-shock numbers. One was a woman who was visiting her sister in Haiti when the earthquake hit, and unexpectedly had to use her phone for voice and text back to the U.S. Her carrier told her that they would waive fees for people dealing with this emergency – but it turned out that they only waived fees for voice. She returned home to find a 35 thousand dollar phone bill. The carrier has now waived most of that charge, but is still billing her for over five thousand dollars for using her phone during this emergency situation.

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The FCC's Consumer Empowerment Agenda

by Julius Genachowski
October 13, 2010

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On the way in this morning, I got an email from a friend that rings familiar to way too many Americans.

My friend said that he incurred $2,000 in extra data charges while on a trip overseas, despite buying an "international plan." He added that this was "more than 15 times" what he had expected to pay.

He was a victim of what we at the FCC call "bill shock," and, according to our research, there are 30 million Americans just like him.

Bill shock occurs when consumers see their bills jump unexpectedly by tens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars from one month to the next. Common cases are when a subscriber is charged for unknowingly exceeding his or her allotments for voice, text or data, or gets hit with roaming charges that are unexpected.

A few hours ago, I delivered a speech highlighting what the FCC is doing to put an end to bill shock, as well as other fees and billing practices that are giving consumers headaches.

I'm proud that the FCC is pursuing an aggressive Consumer Empowerment Agenda. In a nutshell, our strategy is to educate, empower, and enforce.

We are working to harness technology and promote transparency to empower consumers with the information they need to make smart decisions and to make the market work. And when there is bad conduct in the market, the FCC has acted, and we will continue to act. Consumers must know that the FCC's got their back.

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How shopping can eliminate information asymmetries

by Irene Wu
October 13, 2010

(Part of the ongoing WISENET Series)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:137:height=99,width=70]]The last time I shopped for a laptop, I conducted an extensive online search.  I read articles from computer shopping magazines.  I looked at user reviews.  Then, I started comparing prices online.  I visited the manufacturer’s website.  With regret, I learned that in Hong Kong they were selling the same laptop with a fancy Vivienne Tam design which was unavailable in the US!  Finally, I found a big chain store with the best price.  I clicked through to order.  Then, a note popped up that the laptop (blue!) was in stock at the bricks and mortar store two blocks from where I live.  I reserved it online and walked down the street to pick it up.  Before online shopping, it was hard to know whether the prices in the neighborhood shops were better or worse than elsewhere.  Finding the answer cost time, energy, and money.  But, now the consumer has better access to information, there is a better balance between what the customer and the salesperson knows – the information asymmetry is mostly eliminated.  How have ICT’s eliminated information asymmetries in your experience? … In the next post of this series, collective action and the impact of ICT on society... .

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