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Celebrating National Consumer Protection Week

by Kris Monteith, Acting Chief, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau
March 2, 2015 - 01:44 PM

This week, March 1-7, 2015, the FCC is celebrating National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), joining with a coalition of more than 85 consumer advocacy groups and federal, state and local government agencies in a coordinated campaign to help raise awareness about consumer protection. Together we’re encouraging consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. 

At an NCPW kickoff event in late February, the FCC  joined a number of coalition member in face-to-face meetings with members of Congress and their staff to discuss consumer issues and disseminate helpful consumer information.

Each day throughout NCPW we encourage you to check our website –– for tips and links to helpful information about issues such as smart device theft protection, phone bill cramming, accessibility to consumer help, emergency communications, and more.

Our coalition’s web site ( also offers consumers a wealth of tips and information on topics such as finances, health, privacy, technology and more.

You can download and print the materials and share them with friends and neighbors, or order materials from select partners if you're planning a larger event such as a conference or workshop.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau works year-round with the Commission’s other bureaus and offices to educate consumers facing issues and challenges around communications technologies and services, with the goals of consumer protection and empowerment.

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Technology Has Heart

by Dr. Nina Miller, Senior Policy Fellow, Connect2HealthFCC Task Force
February 27, 2015 - 10:24 AM

As we near the end of February -- American Heart Month -- and begin to look toward spring, it’s a good time to reflect on a critical health issue in the United States:  heart disease. At the Connect2HealthFCC Task Force, our goal is to better enable the use of broadband and advanced technologies to help consumers get well and stay healthy. Heart disease, affecting a growing number of Americans each year, is an area ripe for innovative technology-based solutions to improve its management, treatment, and ultimate prevention.

The critical nature of this endeavor requires little explanation for in the words of Aristotle, “the heart is the perfection of the whole organism.” And yet, despite its philosophical and biological significance, according to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women with over 600,000 lives lost each year. That accounts for an astonishing 1 in every 4 deaths. Furthermore, 1 in 3 American adults currently have some form of heart disease.

As a physician, I have seen the devastating effects of advanced heart disease first hand. From repeat hospitalizations due to poorly controlled heart failure to emergency surgeries for heart attacks, the impact of heart disease is profound. Fortunately, however, I have also seen the promise of broadband-enabled solutions to better prevent and control this disease.

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Good News for Consumers, Innovators and Financial Markets

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 26, 2015 - 12:05 PM

Thank you to the over four million Americans who participated in the Open Internet proceeding. Thanks to them, this decision on Internet openness was itself the most open proceeding in the history of the FCC.

As a result, the FCC today has taken an important step that should reassure consumers, innovators and the financial markets about the broadband future of our nation.

Consumers now know that lawful content will not be blocked or their service throttled. Today’s action puts in place bright line rules to ban these practices outright.

Innovators now know they will have open access to consumers without worrying about pay-for-preference fast lanes. This, too, is a bright line rule to ban paid prioritization.

Financial markets now know that rate regulation, tariffing and forced unbundling – the old-style utility regulation – has been superseded by a modernized regulatory approach that has already been demonstrated to work. The rules under which the wireless industry invested $300 billion to build a vibrant and growing business are the pro-investment model for the rules we adopted today.

The future of the Internet does not reside in backward-looking regulation from another era. There are 48 sections of Title II of the Communications Act. The modern regulatory approach we adopted today cuts away 27 of those provisions (even more than were removed for mobile voice service) to establish the above-mentioned bright line regulations for issues that exist today, and to apply the well-known “just and reasonable” standard as the rule for Internet activity going forward.

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Driving Wi-Fi Ahead: the Upper 5 GHz Band

February 23, 2015 - 05:02 PM

Today’s Wi-Fi spectrum bands are wildly popular.  But with more and more people and devices taking advantage of this technology, these bands are getting congested.  It reminds us of the famous Yogi Berra quote, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.” 

In response to the growing use of Wi-Fi, the Federal Communications Commission has taken steps to meet the growing demand for additional unlicensed spectrum.  Last year, we added 100 megahertz of spectrum for Wi-Fi in the lower 5 GHz band.  The Commission is also seeking to secure some unlicensed spectrum opportunities in the 600 MHz band as part of our upcoming incentive auction.  But more needs to be done—and soon.

One spectrum band that we believe needs greater attention is in the upper 5 GHz band.  In light of the proximity to spectrum in other parts of the 5 GHz band that are already used for unlicensed services, this is a prime candidate to help meet the demand for Wi-Fi.  Unlicensed services generally share spectrum with other radio services on a non-interference basis.  So one of the bands identified for potential new sharing is the 75 megahertz of spectrum located at 5850 to 5925 MHz (also known as the U-NII-4 band) that was allocated by the Commission in 1999 for Dedicated Short Range Communications Service (DSRC) systems intended to improve roadway safety. 

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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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Embrace the Internet for EEO “Widely Disseminated Rule”

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 20, 2015 - 03:21 PM

As I have said previously, I believe the Internet is the greatest man-made invention in my lifetime. We spend a considerable amount of time and effort at the Commission determining how best to remove barriers to its deployment, studying and reporting its speed and availability, scolding broadband companies for not doing enough and, in some cases, providing American ratepayer subsidies to ensure it will reach all corners of our country.  Therefore, it comes as a surprise – and a disappointment – that we don’t embrace it when it comes to compliance with existing Commission rules.  I previously highlighted that the Internet was the appropriate vehicle for providing broadcast contest rules, and the Commission has been updating our regulations accordingly, but the Internet may be just as important for communications companies trying to attract a diverse workforce. 

The Commission’s Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) rules require broadcast and cable companies to distribute information far and wide—and provide evidence of such outreach—when they have open positions to be filled.  Specifically, the rules require broadcasters with five or more, and multi-channel video programming distributors with six or more, full-time employees to cast a wide net to recruit minority and female applicants for all full-time job vacancies. These employee search efforts are required to be part of companies’ public files, which are either currently online or likely to be in the near future, and are subject to random Commission audits to ensure compliance and analyze performance.  And companies are subject to enforcement actions when EEO rules are not followed.    

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Sound Principles for Lifeline Reform

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 13, 2015 - 03:51 PM

Over the last few years, the Commission has taken action to reform each of its universal service distribution programs to refocus them on broadband. The only program outstanding is the Low-Income or "Lifeline" program. Given recent pronouncements, I expect some changes to Lifeline in the not-too-distant future.

The Lifeline program was originally intended to provide low-income consumers with a discount to help make wireline telephone service more affordable. Over time, it began to pay for prepaid wireless service, and the "discount" often covers the entire monthly bill. That shift has more than doubled the size of the program. It also created problematic incentives that opened the door to waste, fraud and abuse that have never been sufficiently resolved. This is unacceptable.

The Commission has taken important steps to rein in program excesses, including by requiring annual eligibility re-certifications and instituting a database (the NLAD) to screen for duplicate subsidies. However, it appears that abuses are continuing.

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The 'Wonders' of Video Description Technology

by Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman
February 13, 2015 - 01:47 PM

A few months ago, Stevie Wonder visited the FCC to talk about how we can harness the power of technology to make performance art more accessible.  At that time, I discovered that Mr. Wonder would be receiving a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.  When he urged the FCC to raise awareness about and availability of audio description of video programming, I thought the Grammy special would be a wonderful showcase.

On February 16, 2015, thanks to the leadership of CBS CEO Les Moonves, CBS will use video description on its broadcast of "Stevie Wonder: Songs in the Key of Life - an All-Star GRAMMY Salute." It is the first time video description has ever been used for a musical performance program. 

If you're unfamiliar with video description technology, it's a feature that allows consumers who are blind or visually impaired to listen to an audio track describing a video program's visual elements when there is no audio accompanying those elements.  The audio describes non-verbal actions taking place on the screen, such as a body language, scene changes, setting, visual jokes, costumes or other content.  People who can see take for granted these silent but essential aspects of programming, but, without video description, people who are blind miss them.

Many popular television programs today offer video description services, including Fox's "Bones," NBC's "Grimm," PBS's "Downton Abbey," Nickelodeon's "Go Diego Go, " USA's "Royal Pains," and many more. You can experience what video description offers to the public by watching this video clip.

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Wireless Providers Fulfill Commitment to let Consumers Unlock Mobile Phones

February 11, 2015 - 02:40 PM

One year ago, the FCC announced a voluntary commitment among a number of mobile wireless service providers to adopt policies that allow their customers to switch networks while keeping their existing devices – a process called cell phone unlocking.  That commitment came with a one-year deadline. Today, we are proud to report that the country’s major providers have met their commitment.

Specifically, the principles adopted into the CTIA Consumer Code for Wireless Service include pro-consumer provisions on disclosure, postpaid and prepaid unlocking, notice, customer response time, and unlocking phones for deployed military personnel.  When CTIA adopted these six principles, participating providers committed to a one-year implementation deadline.  

Under this commitment, participating wireless providers will unlock your postpaid mobile device upon request, provided the terms and conditions of your service contract or installment plan have been met and your account is in good standing.  Participating wireless providers will unlock prepaid mobile devices no later than one year after initial activation, consistent with reasonable time and usage requirements.  Participating providers will clearly notify you when your postpaid device is eligible for unlocking if the device is not automatically unlocked.  Additionally, your wireless provider will post on its website a clear, concise, and easily found policy on mobile wireless device unlocking.

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Delegated Authority: Serious Objections and Solutions

by Michael O'Rielly, FCC Commissioner
February 2, 2015 - 03:47 PM

I am fortunate to work at an agency with incredibly dedicated and talented staff.  The vast majority of personnel at the FCC are hardworking public servants, intent on conscientiously carrying out our work overseeing the communications industry.  The Daily Digest shows how much they accomplish every single day on a wide range of issues.  Generally, I support their efforts.

Notwithstanding my support for the staff’s work, there are certain aspects of the FCC’s duties that should be reserved and addressed by the full Commission.  Chief among those are matters that are new or novel.  The FCC’s rules reserve new or novel issues for a Commission vote—and there are good reasons for doing so.  That way the full Commission has the opportunity to set precedent on matters of first impression that can have significant and long-lasting legal and policy consequences.  It is also helpful for the Commissioners, with their broader perspectives, to act on issues that may have implications for other segments of the communications industry.  Moreover, it ensures that parties that want to challenge final FCC decisions are able to do so in a timely manner.  It does little good to have a decision be decided at the bureau level when everyone knows the result will be appealed to the full Commission (unless the goal is to intentionally fail to act on an application for review).   

At times, the Commission has, by order, given additional authority to the Bureaus and Offices, beyond what is already provided for in the rules.  Such ad hoc delegation can sometimes be permissible.  However, looking back over the last 30 years, that seems to be the exception, not the norm.  And past delegations shouldn’t become a justification for future delegations.  Why am I hamstrung by a decision to delegate an issue to staff made by a Commission years ago? 

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