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ON DECK: Pending and Upcoming Litigation Involving the FCC

February 19, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:286:height=104,width=70]]As we progress through the first quarter of calendar year 2010, we in the Office of General Counsel thought it might be of interest to summarize briefly the pending appellate litigation matters of significance in which the FCC is a party.
First, on January 13th in New York City, the Second Circuit held oral argument in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. FCC.   The case presents a First Amendment attack on the FCC’s decisions finding violations of the broadcast indecency statute and regulations for Fox’s broadcast of expletives by celebrities Cher and Nicole Richie on separate live television awards shows.  That case is on remand from the Supreme Court, which overturned the Second Circuit’s earlier judgment that the FCC had not adequately explained a change in its indecency enforcement policy.  It likely will be several months before the court issues its opinion – but, whatever the outcome, the case is a potential candidate to head back to the Supreme Court before final resolution.
Similarly, on February 23rd (just a few weeks after this year’s Super Bowl), the Third Circuit will hear oral argument in Philadelphia in CBS Corp. v. FCC, another broadcast indecency case.  At issue is CBS’s broadcast of the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show in which Janet Jackson, performing with Justin Timberlake, suffered what some have described as a “wardrobe malfunction.”  CBS is challenging the $550,000 forfeiture that the FCC assessed against certain CBS-owned affiliates for broadcasting Jackson’s fleeting nudity.  The Third Circuit previously found that the FCC had changed its policy without adequately explaining why, but this case also is on remand from the Supreme Court in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fox Television Stations, described above.

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Helping Haiti: The FCC's Work with Conatel

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
February 19, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=100,width=70]]At the FCC, we continue to be very busy on a number of fronts to continue to help Haiti regarding its communications services.

Within the U.S. Government, our work is in coordination with USAID as you know.  But it really derives directly from our regulatory counterpart in Haiti – Conatel.  The importance and necessity of our work at the FCC is underscored by the requests of the Director General (DG), Mr. Montaigne Marcelin,  which continue to come in.

When the communications asssessment team was in Haiti in late January, we were fortunate to be able to spend a great deal of time with the DG and the staff of Conatel.  We discussed the status of the communications sector in Haiti, and several key regulatory issues like spectrum management.  In addition, on behalf of our two agencies, Mr. Marcelin and I signed an  “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Regarding Communications Regulatory Cooperation” between Conatel and the FCC, as requested by the Conatel DG. The MOU states that the FCC will provide assistance to Conatel in several areas, including: ongoing assessment of the needs of the communications sector in Haiti, spectrum management, licensing policies and procedures, human resource capacity building, as well as other regulatory issues as needed.  The cooperation between Conatel and the FCC is envisioned to be telephone and email consultation, in-country assessments and technical assistance by FCC staff, and Conatel staff fellowships at the FCC.

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FCC Ethics Program

February 18, 2010

Among the missions of the Administrative Law Division of the FCC’s Office of General Counsel are the prevention of conflicts of interest on the part of the Commission’s employees, and the prompt resolution of any such conflicts that may occur.  On his first full day in office President Obama signed an ethics Executive Order establishing some of the strongest ethics guidelines ever set for Federal employees, including those working at the FCC.   The FCC is fully committed to ensuring that these ethics rules are faithfully followed, and has a team in place that is dedicated full-time to assisting its employees in interpreting and complying with the Federal ethical standards
Our goal in promoting these high ethical standards for all of our employees is to assure the American people that the decisions made and that actions take by its dedicated civil servants are motivated solely by the interests of the public and are free of any inappropriate outside influences.  In an earlier blog, my colleague, Larry Schecker has described some of the steps that the FCC has taken and continues to take, under the authority of the Freedom of Information Act, to foster openness in government and to further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the actions taken by the Commission.  Apart from the FCC-wide approaches that Larry describes, there are several additional vehicles for promoting openness in government that are under the oversight of the FCC’s ethics advisors. 

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America's 2020 Broadband Vision

February 17, 2010

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In a month, the Federal Communications Commission will deliver a National Broadband Plan, as it was asked to do by Congress and the President in the Recovery Act.

This will be a meaningful plan for U.S. global leadership in high-speed Internet to create jobs and spur economic growth; to unleash new waves of innovation and investment; and to improve education, health care, energy efficiency, public safety, and the vibrancy of our democracy.

I believe this plan is vitally important to America's future.

Studies from the Brookings Institute, MIT, the World Bank, and others all tell us the same thing — that even modest increases in broadband adoption can yield hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Broadband empowers small businesses to compete and grow and will ensure that the jobs and industries of tomorrow are created in the United States.

The economic benefits of broadband go hand-in-hand with social benefits and the potential for vast improvements in the quality of life for all Americans.

The National Broadband Plan will describe concrete ways in which broadband can be a part of 21st century solutions to some of our nation's most pressing challenges, including:

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And Now Haiti, Part One

February 17, 2010

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Prior Postings:January 14, January 15, January 20, January 28, February 5

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Helping Haiti: Back from Port-au-Prince

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
February 5, 2010

FCC to Host Public Forum on Mobile Broadband for First Responders

February 5, 2010

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There's a lot of excitement around the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau this week about our upcoming public forum on mobile broadband for first responders. On Wednesday, February 10 at 2:00 p.m., we'll be hosting first responders, network operators, and policy makers for a two-hour discussion about how we can solve a problem that has plagued the public safety community for far too long.

Looking back over the past decade, there is one thing that every major disaster has in common: when police, fire, EMS, and other public safety organizations couldn't communicate – between agencies and disciplines and across jurisdictional lines – lives were lost, and property was damaged or destroyed. While sharing photos, videos, and mapping data is now a part of everyday life for most Americans, the public safety community has largely been left behind. Despite all of the advances in mobile communications, the new generation of first responders still needs to carry a device that resembles a two-pound brick that only handles voice calls. Soon, however, all that will change.

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The FCC and FOIA

February 3, 2010

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The FCC’s FOIA Annual Report for FY 2009 has just been posted as required by the FOIA.  This year our report shows improvement in many areas.  And new this year, in addition to a PDF of the report, all of the statistics are available in spreadsheets (CSV format) for the public to examine and use. 
One interesting point from the report – 94% of the FOIA requests where we had responsive records were granted in whole or in part; only 6% were denied in full pursuant to one or more of the FOIA exemptions. 
The FY 2009 report shows that we have dramatically reduced the backlog of FOIA appeals.  At the start of FY 2009 we had 30 pending appeals, and we received 14 new appeals during the fiscal year.  The Commission disposed of 37 appeals (either by decision or by informally resolving the appeal), leaving only 7 pending appeals at the start of FY 2010. 
As we move forward, we aim to do even better.  We are trying to process FOIA requests even faster.  We are working to process appeals as quickly as possible, either resolving them informally or submitting the appeal to the Commission for decision.  And under the President’s Open Government Directive, we are making more and more information available on the FCC’s website.
So, let me ask – what helpful information about the FOIA could we post that is is not on our website?  Our Chief FOIA Officer, General Counsel Austin Schlick, wants to know!

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Helping Haiti: Update from Port-au-Prince

by Mindel DeLaTorre, Chief of the International Bureau
January 29, 2010

(UPDATE: Photos from the FCC Team in Haiti below.)

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:98:height=100,width=71]]There is much to report on developments related to the US Government’s efforts on communications services in Haiti since my last posting.  I traveled with a U.S. team to Port-au-Prince, arriving before daybreak Monday, January 25.  We are on-the-ground now, assessing communications needs.  We joined an initial group of three FCC technical experts, who deployed to Haiti days after the earthquake to support a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Team.  Our combined team includes two of us from the FCC International Bureau, three from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, one from the Enforcement Bureau, one from the Office of Engineering and Technology and two private sector experts on the team.  We are here in response to a request from Director General Montàigne Marcelin of Conseil National des Télécommunications (Conatel), the communications agency in Haiti, in coordination with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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Highlighting the staff of the FCC...

by David Fiske, Director, Office of Media Relations
January 28, 2010

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:235:height=100,width=71]]The vast majority of Commission staff serve the American public each day “behind the scenes.”  Sharon Hurd, a Media Relations Specialist in the Commission’s Office of Media Relations (OMR), is one such staffer.  If you subscribe to the FCC “Daily Digest”, or are interested in information about Commission actions, the chances are pretty good that Sharon may have been involved in helping to get this information to you on a timely basis. And last spring, you could even have met her personally when she traveled around the country as part of the FCC team meeting with consumers to help with the transition to digital television.

OMR is the arm of the agency responsible for overseeing the release of official FCC actions and decisions. Ask any agency staff member who they turn to in OMR when they need assistance in getting items released and you can be sure Sharon’s name will be high on that list. These items include a wide variety of documents from high profile policy decisions and Chairman and Commissioner speeches to routine license renewal notices. But Sharon – and the entire OMR team – know that there are a lot of consumers and interested parties who are waiting to learn about these decisions, and they work hard to help get this information out expeditiously.

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