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New Features and Enhancements for FCC.gov

by David Robbins, Managing Director
February 14, 2012 - 12:37 PM

David Robbins

Just as the Internet is in a state of constant evolution, a good website must be in a constant state of innovation.  Since the launch of the redesigned FCC.gov last spring, we have continued to roll out new site features and enhancements. The daily work is informed by feedback from an array of audiences – legal practitioners, consumers, telecom professionals and elected officials, to name a few – as well as by best practices in the federal Web community and the broader Internet.

Two months ago, we announced the launch of MyFCC in beta, a companion site to FCC.gov that lets individual users create their own FCC online experience, with quick access to the tools and information they need. Today, I thought I would take the opportunity to update you on a number of more recent developments, and to again invite your feedback and suggestions.

These include:

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Expanding Broadband and Protecting Voice Service in Rural America

February 8, 2012 - 03:04 PM

Sharon Gillett

Improving communications in rural America has always been a focus for the FCC, and the primary vehicle to achieve that goal has been the Universal Service Fund.  Despite great strides in this arena, one area where rural America still lagged the rest of the country was access to broadband.  Eighteen million Americans still have no high-speed Internet, and millions live, work, and travel in areas without mobile broadband coverage.  To address this gap, we took on the massive, once-in-a-generation task of retooling our rural subsidy system, creating the Connect America Fund to finish the job of connecting rural America to broadband, while bringing accountability and fiscal responsibility to programs that for too long lacked both.  We’re moving forward aggressively to implement these important changes.

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Smart Government Fixes for Lifeline

by Sharon Gillett, Chief, Wireline Competition Bureau
February 7, 2012 - 10:05 AM

Sharon Gillett

These past few months have been especially proud ones for me at the Federal Communications Commission for one very simple reason: I have had the privilege of being part of a team that put the principles of smart government to work.  Yesterday, the Commission released a bipartisan Order comprehensively reforming the Lifeline program, the culmination of months of effort to clean-up and modernize this vital program.

Lifeline is a program that helps low-income Americans afford phone service by providing them with a monthly discount on their phone bills, averaging $9.25, paid for by our universal service fund. The program has been around since 1985, and over that time, the percentage of low-income families with phones has increased from 80% to nearly 92%.  But the program’s problems have also increased, especially after the Commission in 2008 made it easier for pre-paid wireless providers to participate.

The pre-paid services proved very popular, in part because the companies priced their plans so the Lifeline subsidy covered the whole bill, allowing them to advertise “free” phones.  Unfortunately, Lifeline’s rules were built for the kitchen phone, not the cell phone. As a result, some consumers got multiple subsidized phones – something that didn’t happen in the hard-wired wall phone days.   Some companies were enrolling consumers who weren’t eligible.  Some companies were collecting a $30 bounty every time they signed someone up..

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Understanding Maps at the Federal Communications Commission

by Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer
February 3, 2012 - 05:16 PM

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Last October, the FCC quietly deployed a new section to fcc.gov.  The section, http://www.fcc.gov/maps, translates complex policy into understandable stories for consumers.   Our maps are a fresh approach to internet mapping and help to advance our goal of open government.  Here’s a little insight to the why and how are doing this... 

At the FCC we rely on data to manage and understand complex issues.  We have extensive enterprise data and lengthy legal descriptions of each of their current landscapes, changes in regulations, and effect of these changes.  In many cases, our data on any one of these topics contains millions of records of database licenses or regulatory actions.  Descriptions of our actions are primarily available through public notices, rule makings and formal orders.  

We are always working to ensure that all consumers are able to understand our work to unleash the opportunities of broadband for all Americans.  That’s where good mapping can make a big difference. 

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FCC Chairman: Digital Textbooks to All Students in Five Years

February 3, 2012 - 01:04 PM

Chairman Genachowski and Secretary DuncanWednesday, at the first-ever Digital Learning Day Town Hall in Washington, DC, FCC Chairman Genachowski and Secretary of Education Duncan challenged states and the education and technology industries to get digital textbooks into the hands of all students in five years. Barriers to adoption of digital textbooks include: antiquated state procurement rules, lack of device and content interoperability, and connectivity costs. 

Six months ago, Genachowski and Duncan launched an effort with business and education leaders to help schools make the transition to digital textbooks. At yesterday’s event, this collaborative presented them with the “Digital Textbook Playbook,” a resource for schools making the move to digital learning.  As a next step, Genachowski and Duncan announced a meeting in March 2012 with education CEOs, state officials, and nonprofit leaders to advance the national adoption of digital textbooks.

The FCC has been working since the 1990s, via its E-Rate program, to connect every library and classroom in America to the Internet. Now it is time for the next broadband-enabled learning revolution; digital textbooks offer lessons personalized to students’ learning styles and aptitudes that enable real-time data and feedback to parents and teachers. Key facts:

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Back to the Future – Another Amazing Trip to CES

by Mignon Clyburn, FCC Commissioner
January 24, 2012 - 05:30 AM

I kicked off another New Year by once again being the envy of my high tech gadget friends back home. For the third time in a row, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) from January 10-12. The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), which is responsible for organizing the event, needs to bottle and sell their secret for hosting a successful event year after year.

My visit began on Tuesday afternoon accompanied by Peter Slen, host of the CSPAN program, The Communicators. During a tour of a few exhibits, what intrigued me most was how energy efficiency initiatives, though not much discussed in marketing CES, were becoming more prominent on the floor. This is particularly appropriate and significant because as these CES shows forecast the increase in demand for advanced electronics, naturally this would also lead to an increase in the demand for electrical and other energy sources. Peter and I also spoke about how these incredible innovations are opening up a host of options and opportunities for those with physical and cognitive challenges.

Afterwards, Julie Kearney, Brian Markwalter, and other members of the CEA staff were gracious enough to take me on a tour of some of the exhibitors that had developed mobile health services and applications. It seemed as if CEA devoted an entire floor in the South Hall to these new technologies. These exciting applications ranged from monitors that help those who are suffering from difficult chronic diseases to high tech treadmills and other gym apparatus for those who want to meet and exceed the work out challenges they set for themselves. It is clear that the communications, information management, and health care industries are collaborating and leveraging mobile technological advances to improve the lives of so many people.

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New Year Solutions for Rural Call Completion Problems

by Sharon Gillett and Jamie Barnett, Chiefs of the Wireline Competition Bureau and Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau
January 5, 2012 - 10:49 AM

Rural “call completion” problems are a serious issue that the Commission has been grappling with over the past few months.  Local phone providers in rural areas have reported an alarming increase in complaints from customers that long distance calls and faxes are not reaching them. Other complaints include poor call quality and incorrect caller ID information, showing perhaps an unfamiliar local number for a long-distance call.  It’s a persistent and ongoing concern affecting 80% of rural carriers recently surveyed by a rural telephone company trade association on the issue.

This can have dire consequences.  Small businesses lose customers who get frustrated when their calls don’t go through.  Urgent long distance calls from friends or family are misidentified on caller ID and not answered.  Prescriptions faxed to a pharmacy fail to transmit. 

The issue is complicated, but in a nutshell, the problem appears to be occurring in rural areas where long distance carriers normally pay higher-than-average charges to the local telephone company to complete calls.  These charges are part of the decades-old system of “access” charges that help pay for the cost of rural networks.  To minimize these charges, some long-distance carriers use third-party “least-cost routers,” which attempt to connect calls to their destination at the lowest cost possible. Sometimes, however, the calls appear not to be connecting at all.

The good news is that new FCC rules – which took effect on Dec. 29 – will provide both short and long-term solutions to rural call completion problems.  These rules are part of an Order the FCC adopted in October making broader reforms to the access charge system, called intercarrier compensation, or ICC.

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Introducing MyFCC Beta

by David Robbins, Managing Director
December 20, 2011 - 09:56 AM

MyFCCBuilding a website that serves many audiences is a complex challenge. And it is a challenge best met in partnership with the site’s frequent users.

That’s why today we are excited to announce the public Beta launch of MyFCC, and to solicit and encourage your feedback, questions and recommendations as part of our commitment to continual improvement of the FCC.gov experience.

MyFCC is a new tool designed to let you create a customized FCC online experience for quick access to the tools and information you need. Personalization options built into MyFCC make it possible to easily create, save and manage a customized page, choosing from a menu of “widgets” featuring a wide variety of the FCC’s most frequently used tools and services. Examples include the latest headlines and official documents, the Daily Digest, and quick access to forms and online filings. The public Beta offers 22 such widgets for starters, with more on the way.

With its various customization options, MyFCC not only lets you set up a personalized page, but also allows any individual or group to easily share content where it’s needed -- either on my.fcc.gov or on other websites. Each individual widget can be embedded on any other website and you can also create full dashboards of widgets to share with friends and colleagues.

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FCC/SBA/SCORE Small Business and Broadband Conference

by Gilberto de Jesús, Attorney Advisor
December 16, 2011 - 06:31 PM

[[wysiwyg_imageupload:347:height=89,width=70]]On February 15, 2012, OCBO and the E-Business Now Consortium, the Small Business Administration, the Service Corps of Retired Executives, and the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will jointly host a series of workshops on broadband tools for small businesses.  E-Business Now was created to ensure that small businesses develop the skills necessary to compete in today’s rapidly evolving digital marketplace.

This free event will take place at the Convention Center here in the District of Columbia.  We encourage entrepreneurs from the tri-state area and beyond to take advantage of this unique opportunity.  The workshop will explore strategies for boosting your revenues through broadband technology; creating a technology plan for your business; building the perfect website; tech strategies for improving cash flow; and one on one mentoring sessions on the latest broadband applications and techniques for small businesses.

Whether your business is IT focused or traditional brick and mortar, this conference will offer much needed insight on how the web can help you create a virtual online presence, expand your business footprint and streamline your administrative processes.

We certainly hope you can join us in February. If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at Gilberto.dejesus@fcc.gov.

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Apps for Communities Challenge Winners Announced

by Brittany L. Stevenson, New Media Associate
December 15, 2011 - 03:52 PM

Last April, Knight Foundation and the Federal Communications Commission challenged developers and citizens from across the country to develop apps that deliver personalized, actionable information for the Apps for Communities Challenge. As a result, we received almost 70 entries from around the U.S., from California to Pennsylvania.

The challenge awards $100,000 in prizes to winning application developers and is intended to bring together providers of public data, developers, and traditionally underserved populations through a national contest.

Today, the FCC and the Knight Foundation are proud to announce the winners of the Apps for Communities Challenge, developers who answered the call to make local public information more usable and more actionable, making the benefits of broadband more tangible for all Americans. They’ve created apps that directly connect citizens to public information, like social services, job listings, fresh food locations, resources for the homeless and education training. Our winners inspired us with their creativity and commitment to helping communities in need across our country.

The wait is over, and the winners of the Apps for Communities Challenge include:

$30,000 — Grand Prize:

Yak.bus

Yak.bus by Ryan Resella, San Francisco, California.

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