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FCC Celebrates National Rural Health Day

by Matthew Quinn, Director of Healthcare Initiatives
November 21, 2013

Today is National Rural Health Care Day, providing an opportunity to honor the life-saving role that rural health care providers play in their communities, and to focus on how broadband technologies can help them do their jobs even better.

Broadband-powered health information technology is critically important in rural areas, where it can overcome the barriers of distance to connect providers to cutting-edge resources that would otherwise be out of reach. Unfortunately, there are many challenges in funding, implementing and sustaining the use of broadband-powered health IT.

One important resource to tackle this challenge is the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, which includes the new Healthcare Connect Fund.  The program provides funding to eligible health care providers (HCPs) for telecommunications and broadband services necessary for the provision of health care. The goal of the program is to improve the quality of health care available to patients, especially in rural communities, by ensuring that eligible HCPs have access to telecommunications and broadband services. Funding for the Rural Health Care Program is capped at $400 million annually.

Through the FCC’s Rural Health Care Program, thousands of eligible health care providers across the nation have been able to expand connectivity and thus adopt health technology applications to:

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FCC Speed Test App: Our First Results

by Mike Byrne and Eric Spry, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis
November 21, 2013

Last week, the FCC released the first public version of the FCC Speed Test app for Android phones.  The app, available for free in the Google Play store, provides precise and nuanced data about the performance of mobile broadband networks used by consumers in the U.S.  The launch was an exciting moment for us, and we were eager to see how the app would be received.  Now, some initial results are in, and they are very promising.

Here’s some of what we saw on just the first two days following the release:

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The IP Transition: Starting Now

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 19, 2013

Our communications networks are changing – and fast. What some call the “IP transition” is really a series of transitions; a multi-faceted revolution that advances as the packets of Internet Protocol (IP)-based communication replace the digital stream of bits and analog frequency waves. The impacts on networks have already begun and will be profound. Fiber networks are expanding. Bonding technology is showing interesting possibilities with regard to the nation’s traditional copper infrastructure. Communications protocols are moving from circuit-switched Time-division Multiplexing (or TDM) to IP. And wireless voice and data services are increasingly prevalent, empowering consumers to connect at the place and time of their choosing.

This is what I have called the Fourth Network Revolution, and it is a good thing. History has shown that new networks catalyze innovation, investment, ideas, and ingenuity. Their spillover effects can transform society – think of the creation of industrial organizations and the standardized time zones that followed in the wake of the railroad and telegraph.

But the future of networks can be hard to see, especially in moments of great change. When Alexander Graham Bell offered Western Union all rights to his telephone patents in 1876, the response was a curt dismissal. A Western Union memorandum concluded that “[t]his ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.”

The way forward is to encourage technological change while preserving the attributes of network services that customers have come to expect – that set of values we have begun to call the Network Compact.

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A Visit with the Fantastic Folks at FCC-Gettysburg

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
November 18, 2013

I recently was fortunate enough to visit the FCC's Gettysburg facility and meet several dedicated, hard-working, creative, and caring folks committed to serving the public. The visit began with a tour of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau's Consumer Center and a demo of a tool they use to follow-up on telephone calls into the center. Part of the tour included a hands-up component where I was able to watch and listen in on a phone call they had received, which was extremely helpful in aiding my understanding of all the different programmatic and IT efforts underway at FCC.

David Bray visit to FCC's Gettysburg Facility

I also met with folks from the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) who gave a tour of the "war room" where spectrum auctions are held, showing a mock auction including the software supporting the online bids. After that visit I also met with folks from WTB's Technical Systems and Innovation Division who handle elements of FCC's Universal Licensing System and other important national endeavors. My tour included meeting with advanced technical experts on FCC's land mobile, microwave, and public safety/homeland security telecommunications endeavors. In all instances, I was impressed with the drive and commitment to serving the public that the FCC employees and contractors presented in their actions and in spirit.

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A Call for Input: Improving Government Efficiency at the FCC

by Diane Cornell, Special Counsel, Office of the Chairman
November 18, 2013

***Please Note: original blog text was revised 11/19/2013 to notify the public that any feedback received will be made public

As Chairman Wheeler announced in his initial blog post upon joining the FCC, improving agency processes and procedures to more efficiently and effectively serve the public interest is one of his top priorities.  As Special Counsel to Chairman Wheeler, I have been tasked with developing a plan within the next 60 days that includes recommendations on how best to tackle the challenge of reforming FCC processes.

In connection with that effort, we are soliciting public input on improving the efficiency of how we conduct business here at the FCC.  We know that stakeholders who interact with the FCC will have many thoughts on substantive reforms that the agency should undertake, but for this effort, we are particularly interested in your ideas and insights to improve the efficiency of the process at the FCC. 

Please email your thoughts and ideas on FCC process reform to innovation@fcc.gov (note that comments related to specific ongoing proceedings should be filed in those dockets and not in response to this blog post).  PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR INPUT AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, BUT NO LATER THAN DECEMBER 2nd, SO THAT WE HAVE SUFFICIENT TIME TO EVALUATE RESPONSES. 

In particular, we are interested in any thoughts on what concrete steps the FCC can take to:

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New FCC Speed Test App: How does your mobile broadband network measure up?

by James Miller and Walter Johnson, Office of Engineering & Technology
November 14, 2013

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:491:]]Today we’re publicly releasing the first version of the new FCC Speed Test App for Android smartphones, as part of our Measuring Broadband America Program to cellular and Wi-Fi mobile broadband. The app is a first step towards accurately evaluating mobile broadband network performance, and is aimed at arming consumers with information to allow them to make fact-based, informed decisions when choosing and evaluating their mobile wireless providers.

Aggregated data collected through the app will also help to inform the FCC in its future policy decision making.  Our program is based on a collaborative effort involving consumer volunteers, the Federal Trade Commission, wireless service providers, researchers and others to produce the most accurate information possible on mobile broadband services in an open and transparent process. 

Measuring Broadband America currently provides the nation’s most accurate information on the performance of fixed broadband services for major Internet Service Providers.  Extending Measuring Broadband America to mobile services will provide valuable information to the public, industry and policy makers on both the performance and the deployment of broadband networks across the nation. 

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Opening Day at the FCC: Perspectives, Challenges, and Opportunities

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
November 5, 2013

Today I had the privilege of meeting with the staff of the Federal Communications Commission for the first time as Chairman. I am grateful to the President and the Senate for the confidence they have placed in me and look forward to working with the superb professionals at the FCC.

Over the last six months Chairwoman Clyburn has kept this agency running in top form. There was nothing “Interim” in her chairmanship. Chairwoman Clyburn and her colleagues addressed tough issues and came to important conclusions. Mignon Clyburn is a leader and the American people and this agency are better off because of her leadership.  

I know from conversations with the Chairwoman that she brushes off such compliments and talks about the great team at the FCC, especially Michele Ellison who took time from her important “day job” to serve as Chief of Staff. Michele and all of the members of Chairwoman Clyburn’s staff also deserve a huge thank you.

As I waited for the Senate’s decision I boned up by reading the speeches of Commissioners Rosenworcel and Pai. And while awaiting confirmation Commissioner O’Rielly and I actually spent time together in the same jury pool at the DC courthouse. It will be an honor to work with these dedicated individuals and to be stimulated by their intellect. Former Chairman Genachowski put us all on a course to a better broadband future and I am very cognizant that we are all building on his accomplishments.

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Mobile Accessibility and Employment of People with Disabilities

by Jamal Mazrui, Deputy Director, Accessibility and Innovation Initiative
October 31, 2013

The FCC's Accessibility and Innovation Initiative is pleased to commemorate October as National Disability Employment Awareness Month. 

In recent years and on a global scale, the spread of smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices has been dramatic.  A driving force behind this has been the revolution in mobile apps.  Hundreds of thousands of apps have been developed for various mobile platforms, including Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Nokia, and Windows Phone. From a disability perspective, apps may be subdivided into the categories of accessible apps and assistive apps.

For the disability community, there are two vital kinds of apps: accessible and assistive. An accessible app is designed according to accessibility guidelines for user interfaces so that people with a range of physical or mental capabilities can operate the software successfully, such as people with visual, hearing, dexterity, or cognitive disabilities. An accessible app generally has a mainstream rather than disability-specific purpose.  It benefits a broad user base in the accomplishment of human tasks that are commonly pursued.

An assistive app, on the other hand, helps people with particular impairments surmount what might otherwise be experienced as limiting consequences of a disability, (e.g., identifying paper currency to a blind person, facilitating direct sign language communication for a deaf person, inputting text from dictation by someone with a dexterity impairment, or giving reminders to someone with a cognitive disability).  Naturally, an assistive app also has to be an accessible app to those who particularly benefit from it.

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On Cyber Trick-or-T(h)reats

by Dr. David A. Bray, Chief Information Officer
October 30, 2013
David Bray

Last week, I started a public conversation on the importance of communication.  This week I want to discuss another side of digital communication:  the spread of viruses, malware, and advanced persistent threats on the internet. The timing of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month with Halloween is appropriate, because sometimes when engaging in professional or personal communications on the internet, we also run the risk of cyber tricks-or-threats.

Cyber tricks-or-threats can come from visiting sites that do “drive by” infections, opening malicious file attachments, or downloading supposedly “free” software that compromises our computer’s security.   Don’t forget that in the mobile broadband age, the threats you normally associate with your home or office computer can easily be found on your mobile device:  the same cautionary principles apply.  For those of us who use the internet to engage in public and personal transactions, it is a quality assurance concern that our digital communications on the public infrastructure be kept both secure and private.

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Toward More Resilient Communications Networks

by David Turetsky, Chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
October 28, 2013

It’s been a year since Hurricane Sandy struck a devastating blow to communities in the Eastern United States. Since then, America’s recovery efforts have focused not only on rebuilding but also on resiliency – that is, improving our ability to withstand future disasters. The lessons learned from the storm are shaping the FCC’s work as well.

Hurricane Sandy was a powerful reminder of the importance of resilient communications networks – whether you are calling for help, checking on the well-being of loved ones, or just trying to resume day-to-day business after a disaster strikes. Unfortunately, millions of Americans faced communications problems after the storm. For example, at its peak, Sandy disabled approximately 25 percent of cell sites in the affected region – and more than 50 percent in the hardest-hit counties. But some wireless providers fared better than others because of the preparations they undertook, suggesting that there are additional steps providers can take to bolster network resiliency.

In fact, the Commission held field hearings after Hurricane Sandy to hear from stakeholders about how to improve disaster-time communications. Based on one of the ideas raised, the Commission recently proposed rules that would require wireless service providers to publicly disclose the percentage of cell sites within their networks that are operational during and immediately after disasters. The concept is simple: by providing consumers with a yardstick for comparing wireless performance in emergencies, this proposal could empower consumers and in turn create competitive incentives in the wireless industry to improve network reliability. We are seeking public comment on this and other approaches.

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