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Blog Posts by Michele Ellison

Just Around the Broadband Bend

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 23, 2015 - 04:04 PM

It's often said that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.  I had just such an experience when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force went to Jackson and Sunflower County, Mississippi

Our meetings, roundtables, and site visits demonstrated the transformative power of broadband in health.  They reinforced in living color ― indeed, in Ole Miss crimson and Jackson State navy ― that we can’t be weary in well doing and that there is a critical need especially in our rural communities to get broadband done right and get it done right, now.  And, they put real faces and families behind our every policy effort.

According to a recent study, Mississippi was ranked the unhealthiest state in the nation for the third consecutive year.  As the deputy state epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers will tell you, Mississippi has the highest number of deaths from cardiovascular disease and the second highest prevalence of diabetes and obesity in the country.  On the broadband connectivity front, the vast rural stretches of the state present significant challenges. 

But, Mississippi is much more than its health and broadband connectivity metrics.  I saw this first hand when the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force visited rural Mississippi, the second stop in its Beyond the Beltway series.

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Introducing FCC Distinguished Health IT Scholar, Dr. Chris Gibbons

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
November 10, 2014 - 11:16 AM

The American scientist and inventor Edwin Land once said, “don't undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”  (You may recall that Land co-founded the Polaroid Corporation, which revolutionized instant photography.)

Connecting everyone, everywhere to the people, services and information they need to get healthy and stay well – the fundamental vision of the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force – is such a challenge.  It’s not impossible, in my view, but manifestly important to the health of our nation and the stability of our economy.  And, it’s not impossible if we continue to leverage the power of broadband and advanced technology tools.

Over the summer, the Task Force heard from a wide range of stakeholders in the broadband health space who agree that this is a challenge we must accept.  They’ve encouraged us to take the long view, pursuing tangible, near-term gains in accelerating broadband adoption and promoting health IT, but also thinking 10-15 years out so the Commission can stay ahead of the curve. 

An undertaking of this magnitude requires a multi-disciplinary approach and a broad range of stakeholder partners.  That’s why I’m pleased to introduce a key member of our team, Dr. Michael Chris Gibbons of Johns Hopkins University.  Dr. Gibbons serves as an FCC Distinguished Scholar in Residence, providing critical health IT, population health and data analytics heft to our team.  

Dr. Gibbons is a physician informatician, healthcare disparities and urban health expert whose academic research has focused on the use of technology and consumer health informatics to improve healthcare disparities.  He also received training in general surgery at Johns Hopkins, prior to completing a preventive medicine residency. 

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FCC Celebrates National Health IT Week

by P. Michele Ellison, Chair, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force and Deputy General Counsel
September 15, 2014 - 12:31 PM

At the FCC this week, the Connect2HeatlhFCC Task Force is joining public and private stakeholders in celebrating National Health IT Week, September 15-19:  http://www.healthit.gov/healthitweek/.  Two big events of note:

  • On Tuesday, September 16, Commissioner Clyburn will present at the First Annual National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved Conference: “Connecting for Health Empowerment Using Health Information Technology to Transform Care in Multicultural Communities.”  This conference will present "cutting edge" strategies that use health information technology tools to advance health and eliminate disparities: http://www.nhitunderserved.org/index.html

We’re pleased to contribute to the effort to raise awareness of Health Information Technology’s power to improve the health and health care of consumers across the nation.  And, we salute the health care providers, communications carriers, technologists, innovators, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and many others who are using Health IT to transform how care is delivered, health information shared, quality measured, and consumers engaged in their own health and health care. 

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Leveraging the Power of Broadband to Facilitate Advanced Health Care Solutions- An occasional series from CONNECT2HEALTHFCC

April 10, 2014 - 11:32 AM

Recently, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the formation of a new task force – CONNECT2HEALTHFCC – that will focus on the critical intersection of broadband, advanced technology, and health with the singular goal of ensuring that advanced health care solutions are readily accessible to all Americans, from rural and remote areas to underserved inner cities.

We are excited about this new phase in the Commission’s efforts to promote and showcase broadband-enabled health solutions.  And, judging by the outpouring of interest we’ve received thus far from industry, academia, sister agencies, health professionals, and other stakeholders, you are too.

Michele has been on the job for just a few weeks and is knee-deep in setting up the Task Force.  Starting next week, we will begin meeting with stakeholders and giving the task force more form.  Suffice it to say the process will provide opportunities for broad and meaningful input.  Please stay tuned. 

In the meantime, please share your thoughts and ideas about structure, scope etc. here: connect2health@fcc.gov.  New meeting requests can be sent to engageC2H@fcc.gov.

*   *   *

In this post, we want to focus briefly on one interesting facet of this puzzle – the potential of mobile health tools.    

One of the biggest game changers out there with the promise to dramatically improve patient outcomes, reduce health disparities, and lower costs is mobile health technology. 

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Jammin' - A Hit for Bob Marley, a Miss for Communications

by Michele Ellison, Chief of Enforcement Bureau
February 9, 2011 - 11:15 AM

Over the last several years, cell and GPS jammers have become increasingly portable and accessible to consumers on the Internet. These websites often mislead consumers, suggesting that cell jammers may be used lawfully to silence unwanted cell phone use in restaurants, movie theaters, or on the roads. And, some websites (including many based outside the U.S.) claim that individual consumers are responsible for determining the legality of their jammers.

Don't be fooled!

Because jammers are designed solely to block authorized communications, the marketing, sale, and operation of jammers is illegal in the United States. Why? Well, using jamming devices can endanger the public.

Jamming devices are indiscriminate. For example, when a cell jammer is used, the jammer's unwanted signal is often set to the same frequency as the phone signal, only stronger.

The jammer's signal can be so powerful that it cancels the signal of all phones in its range – yes, it may silence loud conversations disturbing those nearby, but it also can prevent a desperate teenager from calling 9-1-1 to report an accident, an elderly person from placing an urgent call to a doctor, or anyone else from successfully placing an emergency or other safety-related call.

Similarly, GPS jammers are often touted as "anti-spy" devices that can prevent an employer or a suspicious spouse from tracking your movements in your car. However, GPS jammers can also disable the E911 function in certain cell phones that allows emergency services to home in on 9-1-1 callers who are injured or otherwise unable to provide their location.

Given these real public safety concerns, the Enforcement Bureau has adopted a strict enforcement policy in this area. Leveraging the presence of the Bureau's Field Offices across the country, we will aggressively pursue violations wherever we find them.

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Mystery solved: Consumers win in Verizon Wireless "mystery fees" settlement

November 4, 2010 - 05:40 PM

Late last week, the Enforcement Bureau resolved a ten-month investigation into allegations that Verizon Wireless incorrectly billed 15 million customers for unauthorized data charges.  The settlement — the largest enforcement action in FCC history — ensures that affected customers will get at least $52.8 million of their money back and requires Verizon Wireless to make a record $25 million payment to the U.S. Treasury.  It also obligates Verizon Wireless to cease billing for unauthorized data charges, give consumers more (and clearer) information about data plans and options, and provide robust training to its customer service employees — so that consumers who have questions can get straight answers and prompt action.

Notably, Verizon Wireless customers themselves played a key role in bringing the "mystery fees" to light.  The settlement is a great example of what can happen when consumers speak up, and we're proud to have played our part in making sure that the voices of many millions of individual consumers were heard.

So, in addition to the money, what else do Verizon Wireless customers get out of the settlement?

  • Improved customer service
  • Data blocks on request, if they want to avoid or limit data charges
  • Right to request a refund for unauthorized data charges, if they do not receive one
  • Close monitoring of data charges by a new Verizon Wireless Data Charge Task Force
  • Strong accountability and compliance monitoring by the FCC

This is just the latest in the Enforcement Bureau's continuing effort on the consumer protection front.  We will monitor the company's compliance going forward, and remain committed to standing with and for consumers.  So, consumers, if you need us, our lights are always on.

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Enforcement Bureau Settles Case That Restores Nearly $22 Million to TRS Fund

September 22, 2010 - 04:15 PM

As the result of a settlement negotiated by the Enforcement Bureau and released yesterday, Purple Communications, Inc., will pay around $22 million to the Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund.  TRS is a vital service that allows people with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone – through an interpreter – with hearing people.  The settlement follows the FCC’s demand earlier this year that Purple restore millions of dollars to the fund for overbilling it in violation of FCC rules.  The issues under investigation included whether the company unlawfully offered financial incentives to inflate TRS usage and billables, and whether the company recovered not once but twice from the fund for business-related calls to or from Purple employees.  In addition to the payment to the TRS Fund, the settlement also requires Purple to adopt a detailed compliance plan to prevent future misconduct, and to pay $550,000 to the U.S. Treasury.

The action is a victory for consumers all the way around.  The settlement protects carriers and the general public from overpaying into the TRS Fund.  The $22 million paid back will directly offset what the fund will need in the future to pay for TRS service, and therefore what the public will need to pay to support it.  And, most important, the settlement ensures that the fund will be used for its intended purpose – providing affordable relay services for consumers with disabilities who need and want to communicate with hearing people.

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The Problem with Pay-for-Play

July 26, 2010 - 01:35 PM

Yesterday, the Enforcement Bureau entered into a settlement with Univision Radio, Inc. to resolve serious allegations that station employees secretly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to play the music of artists from the Univision Music Group (UMG) record label.  Federal law allows radio stations to accept payments for material they broadcast, but does not permit them to conceal that fact from the public.  The purpose of this law is to protect consumers from deceit – or, as the FCC has long explained, to ensure that listeners understand who is trying to persuade them.

In a companion action, another Univision company pled guilty to criminal charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  The Univision company admitted that UMG executives, employees and agents made illegal cash payments to radio station program managers from 2002 to 2006, in order to increase airplay of UMG recordings.  The coordinated actions of the federal government attacked both ends of the enterprise – DOJ’s action primarily addressed the record label that paid the bribes, while the FCC focused on the Univision radio stations that accepted them.

All told, Univision will pay $1 million to resolve the cases.  But the FCC settlement is about more than money.  Univision must also change its business practices, hire a Compliance Officer, and take other concrete steps to avoid future violations, so the music that secretly pays the most, no longer plays the most.

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