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FCC's Data Innovation Initiative: Reinvigorating the FCC's Data Assets

by Greg Elin, Chief Data Officer
June 30, 2010 - 12:53 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:43:height=100,width=70]]As part of the FCC reform agenda to improve our fact-based, data-driven decision making, the Media, Wireline Competition, and Wireless Telecommunications bureaus have released simultaneous, identical Public Notices seeking comment on all aspects of how they collect, use, and disseminate data.

Along with Public Notices, we are also publicly announcing a cross-agency data team of Chief Data Officers in the bureaus, a Geographic Information Officer, and a Chief Data Officer for the agency to ensure a better connection between data and sound analysis in policy processes.

These actions are part of the FCC's Data Innovation Initiative publicly launched yesterday. They are the next steps of a journey that began last fall with the Commission's first-ever, agency-wide inventory identifying hundreds of distinct data sets. The Public Notices initiate an iterative process examining all the FCC's current and future data requirements, starting with these three Bureaus.

Yesterday's Public Notices invite you to join us on this journey for the next 45 days as we openly and transparently look closer at, and seek your comments on, nearly 340 data sets managed by the Media, Wireline Competition, and Wireless Telecommunications Bureaus and consider future needs. Each of the three Bureaus has compiled a working inventory of their respective data collections to make it easier for everyone—not just those who file information year in and year out—to provide us with comments and insights on innovating how the agency collects, uses, analyzes, and shares information.

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Getting It: the FCC's Role in Bringing Broadband to Health Care

June 28, 2010 - 04:31 PM

It's nice to hear from someone in the public that the FCC "gets it."

I heard just such a remark in California last month, when I had the opportunity to travel to the California Emergency Technology Fund's Rural Connection Workshop in Redding, California. CETF, if you are not aware, is a non-profit organization established by the California Public Utilities Commission, which provides leadership throughout the state to accelerate the deployment and adoption of broadband to unserved and underserved communities.

The Workshop provided a forum for community, state, local, and federal leaders to discuss broadband deployment progress made in California as well as obstacles still faced. I was honored to provide an update on initiatives in the FCC's Rural Health Care Universal Service Program, including the Rural Health Care Pilot Program, and to hear the many helpful ideas and comments from attendees.

In case you haven't heard of the FCC's Pilot program, here's what it does in a nutshell: it helps build high-speed broadband connections that connect public and non-profit rural health clinics with medical centers in larger communities. The Pilot is funding projects that will be able to provide rural America with real-time consultations with medical experts at research hospitals, using telemedicine to save lives and money, and bring other benefits that only robust broadband connections can bring in the information-intense world of health care.

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Morning with the ALA

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
June 28, 2010 - 06:30 AM

“Once you learn to read, you will forever be free.”
-- Frederick Douglass

This past Saturday, I had the honor of addressing the American Library Association Conference. This group is not only important to me because of the work they do in communities across the nation, but also because my mother, Emily, is a retired librarian.

In many communities, libraries are the primary places where people receive digital literacy training. As I emphasized in my speech, knowing how to read is no longer sufficient to be “literate” in the 21st Century. For the nearly 100 million Americans who do not have broadband at home, 22% cite digital literacy as the number one reason for not adopting broadband. Libraries rode the technology wave and recognized the problem of digital literacy long before there was a National Broadband Plan.

My remarks highlighted portions of the National Broadband Plan that support libraries’ efforts to promote deployment and adoption of broadband, including: (1) overhauling the Universal Service Fund, which was successful in bringing voice service to nearly every American; (2) developing a Unified Community Anchor Network for institutions, including libraries, to better use their connectivity to improve the lives of the people in their communities; and (3) creating a Digital Literacy Corps to address digital literacy issues.

During the question and answer session, I emphasized how, from the beginning of my tenure at the FCC, I have made a conscious effort to get input from organizations and institutions who work directly with the American people. In my view, that viewpoint is essential if we are to understand the implications of our actions at the federal level. I noted that I look forward to working with the ALA, as it represents such an important aspect of our National Broadband Plan. Thank to all the wonderful people at the conference who shared with me their thoughts and personal experiences.

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Tracking VoIP: What We Now Know

June 25, 2010 - 03:26 PM

Until today, we couldn’t have told you this: out of 97 million residential phone lines in the U.S., nearly 20% were VoIP subscribers. (Annoying technical footnote alert:  this actually refers to “interconnected” VoIP, the most common form of VoIP service, which is voice service over a broadband connection that also allows users to both receive calls from and place calls to the public switched telephone network, like traditional phone service. We don’t track non-interconnected VoIP, which generally speaking, enables voice service between two computers on broadband only.)

Anyway, that VoIP fact comes from our latest Local Telephone Competition Report, which, for the first time, includes information about voice services delivered over broadband connections. Why, you may ask, has it taken so long for the Commission to get these numbers? Well, interconnected VoIP is a relatively new product, and the Commission is careful about imposing potential burdens, like data reporting, on nascent services. The Commission in 2004 began considering the idea of collecting VoIP data, and finally, in 2008, concluded that the time was right to collect those figures. While private data firms have for some time estimated VoIP penetration, the FCC now has hard data on VoIP subscribers, data that give us a more complete fact base for understanding voice services.

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

June 25, 2010 - 10:05 AM

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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 - 10:21 AM

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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 - 02:32 PM

[[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 - 10:04 AM

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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 - 06:30 AM

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 - 06:30 AM

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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