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The Problem with Pay-for-Play

July 26, 2010

Yesterday, the Enforcement Bureau entered into a settlement with Univision Radio, Inc. to resolve serious allegations that station employees secretly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to play the music of artists from the Univision Music Group (UMG) record label.  Federal law allows radio stations to accept payments for material they broadcast, but does not permit them to conceal that fact from the public.  The purpose of this law is to protect consumers from deceit – or, as the FCC has long explained, to ensure that listeners understand who is trying to persuade them.

In a companion action, another Univision company pled guilty to criminal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  The Univision company admitted that UMG executives, employees and agents made illegal cash payments to radio station program managers from 2002 to 2006, in order to increase airplay of UMG recordings.  The coordinated actions of the federal government attacked both ends of the enterprise – DOJ’s action primarily addressed the record label that paid the bribes, while the FCC focused on the Univision radio stations that accepted them.

All told, Univision will pay $1 million to resolve the cases.  But the FCC settlement is about more than money.  Univision must also change its business practices, hire a Compliance Officer, and take other concrete steps to avoid future violations, so the music that secretly pays the most, no longer plays the most.

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Short questions, big return

by Dan McSwain, New Media
July 23, 2010

It might seem obvious and simple, but it remains true: FCC.gov and the rest of our online properties exist to serve consumers' and citizens' needs.

The best advice this agency can get about our websites comes from you, the people that make up our online audience.

To meet that goal, our team recently launched a new way for users to make a direct impact in improving our sites. Our user feedback tool will play a hugely valuable role in helping us design better and more useful websites.

There are several challenges we're keeping in mind as we work to improve.  These sites need to be accessible, efficient, and easy-to-use for a broad range of users. Throw in some government rules that haven't quite kept up with the technological times, and the job gets even more challenging.

That's what makes your input so important. Your voice will help us make data-driven decisions about how we can improve the FCC.gov experience. And you can be a part of our continued emphasis on public participation and engagement in our online work.

Oh, and one more thing. Behind the scenes, we're preparing for a major redesign of FCC.gov this year. This feedback will be a valuable part of the data we consult in this redesign process -- and we want as many website users as possible to take part. The National Archives recently solicited citizen feedback on how to best serve their audiences through a redesigned page. The team at the National Archives deserves recognition for running an open and participatory process – and their work will definitely inform ours moving forward.

Take a simple step and tell us what you think.

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Openness and Transparency: A Digital Dialogue

by Benjamin Balter, New Media
July 22, 2010

The internet’s continued evolution has given rise to countless avenues of communication not imagined just two-decades earlier. Today, executives can leverage the power of e-mail to broker deals halfway around the globe at near-instantaneous speed. Former classmates can exchange photos or reminisce about their favorite elementary-school teachers, countless years after graduation. Scientists and researchers can share their latest findings or can query humanity’s collective knowledge, all without leaving their chair. And pet lovers across the country can upload more than 300,000 videos of their kittens. At the FCC, this innovation provides ever-evolving avenues for openness, transparency, and continued dialogue between government and the citizens it seeks to serve.

For the FCC, openness is not simply about making information obtainable for those who seek it, but rather, making sure that information is well known, easily accessible, and freely open to all. Whether on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, or the FCC’s numerous RSS feeds, the agency makes information regarding its actions – past, present, and planned – readily available across today’s most popular social media platforms for users to share, comment, and most importantly, learn what the government is doing on their behalf.

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Americans with Disabilities Act 20th Anniversary Celebration

July 21, 2010

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On Monday the country marked an extraordinary milestone as we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To commemorate the occasion the FCC, along with the White House and the Department of Commerce, held a technology showcase displaying the remarkable advances in assistive technology. A short program followed featuring a host of speakers including Chairman Genachowski (whose remarks you can read here) and the President’s Special Assistant for Disability Policy, Kareem Dale. Awe-inspiring performance troupes dotted the event. The piece performed by the stunning Wild Zappers, an all male deaf dance company, marked a high point. This video was shown as an introduction to the program.

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/WhatYouAreLookingFor

July 16, 2010

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Here at the FCC over the last year, you may have noticed new features and functionality the FCC has been rolling out to improve and modernize its Web presence. One quiet and continuing goal has been to improve the user experience by creating simple pages with easy-to-remember URLs where you can reliably find what you are looking for. This is a work in progress and far from complete, but we wanted to highlight a few such hubs of information that are worth looking into and keeping an eye on. Each new release will continue to mature through iterations, so join the discussion by letting us know your ideas. There's much more to come.

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July Open Commission Meeting: Thoughts from the Chairman

July 15, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:153:height=104,width=70]]The FCC held an Open Commission Meeting today to discuss expanding the reach and use of broadband by rural health care providers, increasing access and investment in mobile spectrum, and streamlining efficiency in the Electronic Tariff Filing System.

Chairman Genachowski shares his thoughts on today’s Open Commission Meeting below:

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Denying Bill Shock by Distorting the Facts

July 15, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=98,width=70]]The FCC receives thousands of complaints a year about cell-phone bill shock — what happens when consumers get sudden, unexpected increases in their bills from one month to the next. In May, we released a national survey, done with two major research firms, showing that 17 percent of Americans — 30 million people — have experienced this problem. Click here for the whitepaper on the FCC survey.

Now, rather than focusing on ways to address consumers' concerns, the wireless trade association (CTIA — The Wireless Association) has been hard at work finding unfounded ways to criticize the FCC's data.   The association's latest attack on the FCC's study is based on an astounding misstatement: that as many as 70 percent of the people we interviewed were teenagers. This is simply untrue — in fact, we made it clear that we interviewed only adults.

Ironically enough, this whopper of an error stemmed from CTIA's misunderstanding of how research organizations interview cell-phone users, who are an increasingly important part of any survey sample. Click here for a more detailed rebuttal of this and other errors in CTIA's argument.

It's unfortunate that CTIA, which represents one of the country's most innovative and productive industries, has decided that ignoring or distorting the facts is a better strategy than simply addressing wireless customers' concerns. This trade association apparently believes there's nothing to worry about if 30 million Americans have gotten sudden increases on their cell-phone bills.

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Getting Ready for the Comcast NBCU Forum

July 13, 2010

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Some of the biggest news to emerge from the media industry has arisen from Comcast’s expressed intention to buy a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric. This afternoon the FCC will conduct a forum to parse views and hear public opinion.

This afternoon we will wade through many of the issues raised by stakeholders during our public forum in Chicago. We have assembled two panels. The first will look at online video distribution. Television industry executives will take the stage with professors and policy figures to assess the impact of the merger on the growing world of online video. The second panel will look at the effect on multichannel video programming distributors, such as cable and satellite television companies. This set also includes internet providers, a group that increasing numbers of viewers rely upon to watch programming. After these panels we will ask for public comment. You can participate online during the event by asking questions of the panelists. Email livequestions@fcc.gov or use #fccNBC in your post on Twitter.

If you’re in Chicago today, come join us. The forum will take place at Northwestern University Law School’s Thorne Auditorium, from 1 – 8pm CST. No registration is required. Otherwise join us online. We will be streaming the event in its entirety at fcc.gov/live and will be live tweeting throughout the afternoon.

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My Journey to Alaska

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
July 13, 2010

I’m back in the Washington, D.C. heat after staying cool for almost a week in Alaska. Senator Mark Begich and his staff ensured that I experienced urban, rural and extreme rural Alaska with visits to Anchorage, Cordova, Kotzebue and Kiana. At each stop, Alaskans proved to me that Southerners do not have a monopoly on hospitality. They welcomed me with friendly smiles and full plates of Copper River Red Salmon that melted in my mouth, fresh Alaskan King Crab legs (for breakfast!) and even corned beef hash (my childhood morning obsession)! While I enjoyed every bite, I also benefited from an earful of feedback about the National Broadband Plan and proposed or current FCC policies.

Before the trip, I heard about all of the ways in which the “Great Land” differs from “the lower 48.” As I flew across the State and met with consumers, providers and other stakeholders, I gained an appreciation of the unique challenges faced by Alaskans. But I was more struck by the similarities. Fundamentally, we all share common goals – the improvement and enhancement of the communities in which we reside. Alaskans, like everyone else, recognize the power of broadband to help achieve these goals.

Connecting the urban, rural and extreme rural Alaskan communities allows individuals to expand their horizons. It also helps strengthen communities while maintaining cultural identities. Connecting to one’s cultural home should not be jeopardized by lack of access. Ubiquitous broadband can ensure that Alaskans and other individuals always have the option of staying close to home without sacrificing opportunities.

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Six Months Later: Challenges Continue and Communications Services are Key to Haiti's Future

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
July 12, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=98,width=70]]Today, six months since the devastating January 12th earthquake in Haiti,   our hearts are with our neighbors in Haiti.  I am picturing many of the people I met in Haiti when I participated in the FCC’s communications assessment team there after the earthquake – from the government officials to the radio and TV broadcasters who were making the most of very little to the young boy delighted by a small ball.

The country has now moved from the initial recovery phase to reconstruction.  And yet, every day, our counterparts continue to be forced to work with limited resources and to strive against daunting challenges.

We at the FCC remain committed to helping Haiti improve its communications framework.  Communications services are key to Haiti's future.  As Haiti implements its reconstruction plans, including new "growth poles" of population centers, a diversity of competitive communications services will be critical for successful rebuilding of all sectors.  Communications services will fuel the economy and facilitate delivery of education, health care, and government services to new communities.  Whether through narrowband or broadband applications, communications and information technologies will drive the use of new media, mobile banking, and other applications that are important for both day-to-day life and long-term growth.

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