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Final Reminders: What should I do when I return home?

June 25, 2010

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This week we have covered pre-departure steps, overseas calling alternatives, and VoIP services, all focused on avoiding excess charges. Today we will wrap up the "Wireless World Travel Week" with an overview of the international calling tips, as well as a few final reminders.

  1. Check with your provider before you travel to see if your phone will work abroad.
  2. If your phone will work, check with provider to see if you can buy a SIM card in the foreign country to avoid roaming charges.
  3. If your phone will not work abroad, choose an alternative calling method that is best for you – purchase or rental of a world phone for instance.
  4. Disable push notification and wireless network settings on your smartphone as much as possible to avoid unintentional data transfer charges.

If you are using a mobile phone abroad, you will need to be able to charge it. Make sure you have the proper power adapters and converters for the country you are visiting, and any other equipment specific to your phone.

While you should be aware of all charges before you travel abroad, it is important to look closely at your invoice/bill to make sure that charges are accurate. If there are any discrepancies, notify your provider immediately. Keep in mind that roaming charges apply as soon as you arrive in a foreign country, so have a plan of action for placing calls abroad before you travel.

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Can I make calls over the Internet from Wi-Fi hotspots?

June 24, 2010

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[Addendum: The FCC does not endorse the VoIP services mentioned below or any distinct technology.]

We've gone over many different options for international calling which all revolved around use of wireless networks and landlines. However, there is another cheap and easy way to make international calls called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) through a Wi-Fi hotspot. This allows you to call someone using high-speed Internet service instead of a telephone service. Just make sure that your phone does not automatically connect to an international mobile network, which can be expensive to access.

Of course, you must have Internet access to use a VoIP service, as well as a computer with microphone or webcam, or a smartphone that has VoIP capabilities. Assuming you have access, you can use one of many popular VoIP services such as Skype, Fring, or Truphone. If you use a VoIP service to make a call to another person using VoIP, it will probably be absolutely free (not including any fees you may have to pay to access the Internet). If the person you are calling is not using VoIP on their computer, you can also call them directly on their phone. This is often cheaper than using a calling card or local SIM card.

The main advantage of using VoIP to make international calls is that it is very inexpensive (free in certain circumstances). The downside is that it requires Internet access, and a computer or mobile device that has the necessary VoIP application. Also, international equivalents of 911 and E911 may not be fully functional with VoIP calling. Make sure you are aware of these limitations before relying on VoIP as your primary calling method. Visit the following links to learn more about VoIP services and to look up calling rates to individual countries.

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Testing Broadband Speeds

by Joel Gurin, Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
June 23, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:78:height=100,width=70]]Here at the FCC, we've been working lately on new ways to measure broadband speed and help consumers understand it. We believe that consumers deserve to know what broadband speeds they need for different applications, from email to gaming; what the advertised speeds really mean; and whether they can be sure they're getting the speeds that are advertised. To that end, the FCC is partnering with SamKnows to conduct the first scientific, hardware-based test of broadband performance in America. To help us improve broadband quality in the U.S., volunteer at TestMyISP.com to sign up for this landmark test. The video below explains how it works and how you can get involved.

Read or post comments here.
Cross-posted from Blogband.

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Once I am overseas, what calling options can I choose from?

June 23, 2010

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You have arrived overseas, and are ready to make a call. After verifying your carrier's policies and charges, you should have a plan for how you will communicate while overseas.

Some phones are capable of using a SIM card that can be purchased overseas (call your provider for details on your specific phone and whether it's compatible with the system in the country you're visiting). This means you will have a local phone number, and not the same phone number you use in the U.S., but you will not have roaming charges. International calls and text messages placed from your destination will be much cheaper, and incoming calls will most likely be free. Keep in mind that it may be more expensive for the calling party because they will be calling or sending text messages to an international number.

If you plan on using your phone heavily, an alternative might be to purchase an inexpensive phone as well as a SIM card with prepaid minutes in the country you are visiting, so you know exactly how much you will be spending. You can also purchase a calling card if you need to make a long distance call to the U.S., as this is often much less expensive than using a hotel room phone. While it is not a good idea to use hotel room phones for a direct long distance call the U.S., you should use them if you want to call between rooms in the hotel.

Use your international calling card from a phone booth and not your mobile phone, as regular per minute charges usually apply if you use your mobile phone. And if you have an option of contacting someone in the country you're visiting at either a wireline or mobile number, call the wireline.

Another popular option is using the internet to make phone calls, called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. Stay tuned for tomorrow's post on how to use this inexpensive method!

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Sad Day

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 23, 2010

Today is one of great sadness for me because I just learned that I lost a dear friend, a mentor, and one of the most distinguished public servants and civil rights heroines I have ever known.

Some people have been very gracious in mentioning that I am the first African American female Commissioner at the FCC, but whenever I hear that, my thoughts immediately turn to all of those who had the courage and fortitude to break down a number of other barriers that made my service possible. Commissioner Marjorie Amos-Frazier was one of those pioneers. Her dedication to civil rights and to improving the lives of the less fortunate began, in the 1940’s, when she encouraged Charleston African Americans to register to vote and worked to desegregate the restaurants, theaters and other public places in the city. As director of the Alliance of Concerned Citizens for Better Government, between 1972 and 1976, she focused her attentions on providing better conditions for the poor. She ran and beat seven other candidates to win a seat on the Charleston County Council in 1974 because, “I had seen so much wrong doing and I felt there needed to be a change.” When she was elected to the South Carolina Public Service Commission in 1980, she was the first African-American, and the first non-legislator to hold that position. In 1988, she became vice-chairperson of the Commission and two years later she became chairperson. She served on the Commission until her retirement in 1993. She is the only African-American to have been installed into the Charleston Federation of Women's Club Hall of Fame -- yet another first for this dedicated public servant.

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Low-Income Pilot Program Roundtable

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 23, 2010

With so much information literally at our fingertips, it’s easy to take for granted a simple internet search to look up medical benefits or ailments, get directions, or apply for a job. But millions of Americans do not have broadband access at home and cannot participate in the information highway, which I believe is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

As I reiterated today in my remarks to participants at the Low-Income Pilot Program Roundtable, studies consistently show that cost is the greatest barrier to broadband adoption. The goal of today’s event was to develop pilot programs that provide subsidies for broadband access to low-income consumers. Not long ago, we faced the same problem with telephone service. However, many Americans now have access to this essential service because of support from the Universal Service Fund. For low-income consumers, our Lifeline and Link Up programs have helped connect them to this phone service. I support our efforts to shift these programs so they can also cover broadband service.

The roundtable brought together participants from communications and utilities companies, research centers, and nonprofits who champion the needs of senior citizens and low-income communities. I look forward to seeing the results of today’s collaborative discussion and am eager to implement pilot programs that enable low-income consumers to travel with us along the information highway.

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Will I be able to use my phone overseas? What preparations do I need to make?

June 22, 2010

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In order to maintain communication with people back home in the most affordable way, you need to be ready ahead of time. First, make sure you understand the telephone system in the country you're going to. Different countries use different types of mobile phone networks, so don't assume that your phone will work in a foreign country. And even if your phone does work for voice calling, some of its other functions – such as sending and receiving data or text messages – might not work. The most important thing is to check with your wireless provider before you leave for your trip. When in doubt, ask.

For most U.S. customers, the service plan that covers domestic usage does not cover usage while traveling abroad. And the rates may be much higher when you are abroad, because of the additional fees for "roaming" on a foreign mobile phone network. Roaming can be complicated, and charges may vary by country and mobile network. Again, it is best to check with your provider before you depart to find out the service arrangements that best fit your needs, and to find out all the rates and charges that will apply. Higher rates may apply to all features of your phone, including making or receiving voice calls, receiving or checking voice mail, sending or receiving texts, and uploading to or downloading from the Internet. Even if you have "unlimited" use of these features, you may still be charged per minute/text/etc. By knowing these charges ahead of time, you will be able to save money and avoid any surprises when you return home.

The bottom line: don't make any assumptions about your phone or calling plan. By researching your carrier's policies and charges, you can decide whether you should bring your own phone along or use one of many alternatives once you arrive in your destination country. Those alternative options will be discussed tomorrow!

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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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