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Kick-off: How can I make calls while I'm abroad?

June 21, 2010

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It's the first day of summer, and the official start to a busy travel season. Whether you are headed to the tropics to enjoy the beach, or halfway across the world on a business trip, you want to know how to stay in touch with people back home without breaking the bank. E-mail is a great way of doing this, but you still may need to speak with someone on the phone. The question is, what is the best and cheapest way to call the U.S. from a foreign country? To answer this question along with many more, the FCC is kicking off its "Wireless World Travel Week" today. There are many more variables with international calling than with domestic calling. You should be well informed before trying to make phone calls from a foreign country. Useful tips will be posted here throughout the week, focusing on a different topic each day. Here's the schedule for the rest of the week:

Tuesday: Getting Ready for Your International Trip
Wednesday: Calling Options from Overseas
Thursday: VoIP – Calling Over the Internet
Friday: Back at Home – Checking Your Invoices

The goal of this initiative is to inform consumers about international calling to help them avoid unnecessary charges while abroad. We hope our tips are informative, helpful, and allow you to make the best decisions when calling from overseas.

Check out our tip sheet, Wireless World Travel Made Simple, and a video message. You can also follow the FCC on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fcc, where you will find more tips throughout the week.

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The Savvy Traveler

June 21, 2010

As my good friend and colleague who I'll just call the "Girl in the Paisley Dress" goes off to Europe for a well-needed getaway, I'm wracking my telecom brain to help her navigate the mobile phone landscape for travelers abroad. In an attempt to make her the quintessential savvy traveler, I've decided to blog about useful tips when traveling with a mobile phone overseas, as it may serve other travelers well.

First on the list is to find out what type of phone she has to see if it will work in Europe as some U.S. phones work in Europe and others do not. She should check with her carrier to see if her phone is GSM enabled (the European standard).

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If the phone is not GSM enabled, she should consider one of the following: She could buy a GSM enabled phone in the U.S., which would allow her to use her same phone number while overseas (so that her friends and family can call her on their speed dials). She could also buy a cheap phone at her destination that matches her paisley dress, with a local SIM card. The SIM card is sort of like the brain of a GSM phone and the phone will not work without it. Or, she could take her GSM phone and put a local SIM card into it when she gets to Europe.

Advantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She gets a local number, no roaming charges, free incoming calls (usually), international calls and text messages will be cheaper than from her U.S. phone, local calls at her destination are not international calls so are much cheaper, and she has to pay as she goes so there are no hidden costs.

Disadvantages of buying a SIM card overseas:

She will not have the same number she has in the U.S., she must have a phone (or buy a mobile phone) that can take the SIM card, and people calling or texting her from the U.S. will be calling or texting to an international number so it may be more expensive to the calling party.

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Unleashing Spectrum For Mobile Broadband

June 18, 2010

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Vote to Adopt the Broadband Framework Notice of Inquiry

June 17, 2010

At its public business meeting today, the FCC voted to adopt the Broadband Framework Notice of Inquiry (NOI). This NOI launches an open proceeding through which the agency will seek public comment on issues related to the future of broadband in America.

The NOI seeks input on the best legal framework to apply to broadband Internet services—such as cable modem and telephone company DSL services—in order to promote competition, innovation, and investment in broadband services; to protect consumers; and to implement important aspects of the National Broadband Plan.  A decision in April by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Comcast Corp. v. FCC raised serious questions about the Commission’s ability to rely on its current legal framework—which treats broadband Internet service as solely an “information service”—when moving forward on these policy objectives.

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June Meeting

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 17, 2010

We just concluded our June agenda meeting. There was a big crowd hanging on to every word of the discussion regarding the Commission’s now-adopted Notice of Inquiry about the scope of our authority over broadband service. The Commission’s settled understanding of our authority was thrown into doubt as a result of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision this past April in Comcast v. FCC. After much deliberation, Chairman Genachowski proposed a thoughtful and creative approach to our dilemma.

As I noted in my statement today, powerful industry forces see this as an opportunity to eschew all oversight. Let’s face it, large companies who dominate the market like to call the shots. They also like to call Capitol Hill and state officials. In the first quarter alone, the two largest telecom companies spent a combined $10.65 million in their lobbying efforts. There is little question that figure will approach a whopping $50 million by year’s end.

While the FCC does not have its own army of paid lobbyists – and thus, we cannot reasonably compete for air or face time like major industry players – our dedication to our principles is no less fervent. When I signed on for this job, I made a commitment to the American people to operate in the public interest, and I will not be deterred despite being outspent. We have too much at stake and I’d like to think there are still some reasons to have faith in Washington these days.

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NTIA Sets July 1 Deadline for Additional State Grant Applications for Broadband Mapping, and Regional Broadband Efforts

June 15, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:255:height=100,width=70]]The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced in a press release last month that it will accept supplemental grant applications from state governments and other existing awardees in its State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program for additional broadband improvement and mapping activities. Act quickly: the deadline is July 1.

The NTIA noted that one of the primary purposes of the grant program is to “assist states in gathering data on the availability, speed, and location of broadband services” in furtherance of the purposes of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  and the Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008 (BDIA). The broadband data states compile will be used to help create the National Broadband Map that the Recovery Act requires NTIA to make publicly available by February 17, 2011. This map, which NTIA plans to update every six months, should provide consumers more precise information on available broadband services and facilitate government efforts to increase broadband availability nationwide.

In addition to mapping, this NTIA grant action can be used for other purposes, including  implementation of Recommendation 9.11 in the National Broadband Plan  that “federal support should be expanded for regional capacity-building efforts aimed at improving broadband deployment and adoption.”  Eligible initiatives cited by the NTIA include state broadband task forces or advisory boards, technical assistance programs, local or regional technology planning efforts, and programs to promote increased computer ownership and Internet usage.

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Back in the Midwest: Chicago

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 14, 2010

I flew out to Chicago yesterday to attend the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 39th Annual Conference. This morning I opened a panel entitled “Wireless Spectrum Needs: What is the Best Way to Serve All of the American People?” Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder and President of Rainbow PUSH, was kind enough to introduce me, along with Adrienne Biddings, from Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation.

I offered some brief remarks about a few of the important questions facing the Commission and Congress as we think about long-term spectrum policy. I highlighted my concerns about the diversity implications of spectrum reallocation, what role wireless should play in terms of the success of broadband adoption, and the need to provide new entrants and small businesses meaningful opportunities to acquire spectrum licenses. These are all issues that have a significant impact on communities of color.

It was great to see Rep. Maxine Waters in Chicago, as well as legendary civil rights leader Reverend Willie T. Barrow. Unfortunately, I did not have much time to spend in the Windy City as I have to head back to D.C. for a full week of meetings. Most notably, we have our monthly Commission agenda meeting this Thursday to chat about a little thing called “classification.” But I’ll save that for another day.

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Consumer View: Staying Safe from Cyber Snoops

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
June 11, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=71]]Recent news reports have focused attention on a growing concern: The ways in which wireless and WiFi networks can make consumers’ private data accessible.

In May, Google reported that its Street View cars – used to develop Google Maps – had mistakenly collected personal information sent over WiFi as they drove around, in addition to gathering less intrusive data about the WiFi networks themselves.

Now this week, a group of hackers reported that it had gotten the e-mail addresses of more than 100,000 Apple iPad owners by hacking the Web site of AT&T, Apple’s partner. The hackers also got the ID numbers the iPads use to communicate over the network. The Google and AT&T incidents are different kinds of intrusions, each worrisome in its own way, and each with a different remedy.

The iPad incident appears to be a classic security breach – the kind that could happen, and has happened, to many companies – and is exactly the kind of incident that has led the FCC to focus on cyber security. Our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau is now addressing cyber security as a high priority. The FCC’s mission is to ensure that broadband networks are safe and secure, and we’re committed to working with all stakeholders to prevent problems like this in the future.

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St. Paul Postscript

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 11, 2010

What a great ending to my four-day trip to the Midwest. There was no better way to spend it than with my new friends at the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Community broadcasting is essential to the overall fabric of our communications landscape and I enjoyed chatting with this talented and diverse group about the challenges they face.

One highlight of my trip was a visit to KFAI, a non-commercial, FM, community broadcast station. One of the most incredible things about this 30-plus-year-old station is that, in addition to its four paid employees and two scholarship interns, it has hundreds – yes hundreds – of volunteers that help put the station on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

KFAI is in the process of overhauling its programming schedule, so it was a fascinating time to chat with the staff and volunteers about the dynamics of that process. And speaking of programming, it is hard to imagine a more diverse operational lineup. One of the unique aspects of the station’s content is its Ethiopian and Somali programming, which serves as a bridge to home for the many immigrants from those countries. Like countless other local radio stations, KFAI struggles to achieve the right balance of education and entertainment – especially when it comes to the 35-and-younger crowd. It is never easy to figure how to balance providing what the local community needs and what other factors suggest it wants.

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Mobile Wireless Competition Report

by Ruth Milkman, Chief of the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau
June 10, 2010

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On May 20th, the Commission released its Mobile Wireless Competition Report, the 14th in a series of annual reports to Congress, which reviews the state of competition in the wireless industry.

This year's report expands our analysis of what is traditionally called "Commercial Mobile Radio Service" into a larger understanding of competition across the full mobile wireless "ecosystem", including voice, messaging, and broadband services, as well as "upstream" segments (e.g., towers, spectrum, backhaul) and "downstream" segments (e.g., devices and applications). The broad perspective of the report reflects the increasing importance of mobile wireless broadband, as mobile devices that can access the Internet – such as smartphones – are gaining enormous popularity.

One of the main goals of the FCC staff in preparing this year's report was to bring as many relevant facts to the table as possible. In many cases, we've looked at trends from two or three different angles to reveal a fuller picture of how wireless marketplace is evolving. And, for the first time, we are making much of the data in the report available in machine-readable format for researchers and data practitioners. (Some data used in the report is from proprietary sources such as financial analysts which the Commission does not have the permission to re-distribute in machine-readable form.)

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