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Our Court Motions to Oppose the Premature Open Internet Challenges

Posted January 28th, 2011 by Austin Schlick - General Counsel

The rules that govern when and how parties may challenge FCC orders are clear, and Verizon and MetroPCS filed too early when they challenged the Open Internet order.

Today, the FCC filed several motions with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit asking that court to dismiss both companies’ challenges as premature.

For easy public access, we have posted the motions below:

Motion of the FCC to Dismiss

Verizon v. FCC, No. 11-1014 (D.C. Cir.)

Motion of the FCC to Dismiss and to Defer Filing of the Record

MetroPCS Communications, Inc., et al. v. FCC, No. 11-1016 (D.C. Cir.)

Motion of the FCC to Defer Consideration of Verizon's Motion for Panel Assignment and to Defer Filing of the Record

Verizon v. FCC, No. 11-1014


Cross-posted from OpenInternet.gov

Posted in Office of General Counsel

Video: Crowd-sourced mobile broadband data

Posted January 25th, 2011 by Michael Byrne - Geographic Information Officer

 We recently spoke at one of the largest federal mapping data events, the ESRI Federal Users Conference, where we presented a cool implementation of FCC APIs mashed up with other, powerful datasets.

Last Spring, the FCC launched a pioneering crowd-sourced data collection tool: the FCC Consumer Broadband Speed Test. Since then, the test has been run more than 1 million times, collecting results both from wired and wireless connections. This is real data, from real consumers, in real communities. To make the data more useful, we released an API to unlock those results and hand the keys to the developer community.

The presentation showed that crowd-sourcing data collections can yield great things – not just for agencies – but for developers in the private and public sectors that can take the data and build new products, services, and research.

By the numbers alone, we know the test has been popular. And for a crowd-sourced federal data container, we think it's a huge success.

The particularly exciting part of this presentation was the ability to display projected speeds at different geographies within standard error, all extrapolated out from the the speed test data points that were input by users. As we explain in the video, by using the 1 million+ records submitted by users, we were able to display a map that shows the probability of a certain level of mobile broadband speed at any given spot in the U.S.

These data sets are great tools at our disposal, especially in the run up to the release of the National Broadband Map. As we get closer to the product launch in February, watch this space for updates of interest to developers, geographers, and consumers.

We’re interested to know what you think about the results, and what other uses for these datasets and APIs you come up with. Watch the video below of the presentation, then leave your comments.

Posted in Data Developer
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Haiti’s Earthquake: One Year After

Posted January 18th, 2011 by Mindel DeLaTorre - Chief of the International Bureau

It’s one year after the devastating earthquake in Haiti and we at the FCC, like many other organizations that have worked to help with the recovery, look back and to the future to see what awaits the country.  International organizations, including the UN, agree that much remains to be done to help Haiti’s reconstruction.  Haiti is still hurting as a result of a natural disaster that, according to new estimates recently announced by the Haitian Prime Minister, killed more than 300,000 people and affected an estimated 3 million -- a third of Haiti’s population. 

Right after the earthquake, Haitians, many of whom struggled to obtain basic services even before the tragedy, became almost totally deprived of the ability to communicate with emergency relief services, relatives, friends and the rest of the world.  Restoring of telecommunications services, however, went relatively quickly and played a major role in rescue efforts after the earthquake.  Mobile phones proved very useful in helping find earthquake victims, and volunteers developed mobile apps to help navigate through the numerous dirt roads and alleyways in Port-au-Prince.  Telecommunications will also play a large role in Haiti’s ability to advance in the reconstruction of the country and as an aid in providing health-related and other basic services to the Haitian people.
The FCC has played a role in the effort to restore Haiti’s telecommunications infrastructure.  A cross-section of FCC staff from many bureaus has taken five missions to Haiti during the past year.  A first FCC team deployed to Haiti days after the earthquake to support a FEMA Mobile Emergency Response Team, followed within days by a larger FCC team that conducted a detailed damage assessment and recommended reconstruction projects in a report to the U.S. Agency for International Development.  Subsequent teams worked hand-in-hand with CONATEL, the Haitian regulator, to conduct spectrum assessments and help restart broadcasts in northern Haiti.

Haiti’s mobile providers also contributed to significant improvements during the past year. They have actually increased network capacity beyond pre-earthquake levels, in part due to more demand and usage from aid workers and displaced families.  They also have opened a new world of financial services through mobile banking, which allows Haiti’s “unbanked” population, estimated in the hundreds of thousands, to save and transfer money via their mobile phones instead of traveling miles and waiting in long lines at the few remaining bank branches.  Last March, Digicel, a Caribbean wireless provider, launched a service in connection with Scotiabank called Tcho Tcho Mobile, winning a $2.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its efforts.  An aid organization, World Vision, tested Digicel’s service with its staff to assess its effectiveness in paying Haitians who participate in cash-for-work programs, and a number of local companies are using it to pay their employees.  In December, a joint venture of Haitian mobile provider Voilà and Unibank launched another mobile banking service called T-Cash.  The joint venture is also working with aid groups such as Mercy Corps and the International Red Cross to promote a mobile application developed in Haiti that sends targeted emergency and public health messages to Haitians via their mobile phones. 

While much remains to be done and visible progress is slow, the FCC, along with hundreds of businesses and aid groups, will continue to help in Haiti’s reconstruction efforts.

Posted in International Bureau
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New Tools Allow Developers to Leverage Spectrum Data

Posted January 14th, 2011 by James Brown - Wireless Telecommunications Bureau

James BrownToday the Federal Communications Commission released two new Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) on our developer page at fcc.gov/developer.  The new APIs leverage data from the Spectrum Dashboard and provide the developer community with direct access to these assets.

Managing spectrum is one of the FCC's primary responsibilities. These APIs are tools that unlock our substantial databases related to spectrum ownership, spectrum use, and spectrum capabilities at different locations.

Below is snapshot of the two APIs.

  • Spectrum Bands: This API returns a description of how spectrum bands are allocated and for what uses within the 225 MHz to 3700 MHz frequency range.  This information includes the lower and upper frequencies of each band, the radio services operating within the band, whether the band is allocated for federal or non-federal use, and whether the band permits unlicensed operation.  The API returns data falling within the frequency range specified as the search criteria.
  • Spectrum Dashboard Licenses: This API returns an overview of who owns spectrum across the country within the 225 MHz to 3700 MHz frequency range in radio services deemed appropriate for mobile broadband use.  The API returns the call sign, licensee name, common name, radio service code, radio service description, channel block, channel block frequency, market code and market description.

When we released the first set of APIs back in September, we did so as part of our Data Innovation Initiative efforts towards better data transparency and open government.  We continue with those efforts by releasing the second set of APIs today.

Your feedback has been essential to improving these API releases and making them more valuable to developers in the wild (see previous conversations here and here). Let us know what uses you might have for APIs like these, recommended tweaks, or suggest APIs you want to see in the future.

Posted in Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Wireless Open Government Spectrum Dashboard Reform - Data Data Developer Api

Report from CES: Your Connected Car

Posted January 14th, 2011 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

For years, a major topic at the Consumer Electronics Show has been the increasing sophistication of in-car electronics. Six-speaker sound systems and GPS mapping were only the beginning.  New cars today are often available with options that provide news, entertainment, communication, route planning, and safety – all enabled by wireless broadband.  Many auto manufacturers are pushing the envelope of car connectivity.  For instance, General Motors has the prototype EN-V – a tiny concept car that can use broadband to navigate itself and that comes when you call it from your smartphone.

At a standing-room-only session at last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, attendees heard from a roster of companies that are now providing apps for cars. OnStar, a pioneer in the field, is growing its paid-subscription service to provide vehicle security and safety. Pandora, which millions of people already use for a personalized radio experience, is seeking to become as easy to use in your car as it is on your laptop or smartphone. Other companies are specializing in speech recognition, in-car systems integration, and other approaches to make a range of automotive conveniences seamless and safe.

As impressive and enjoyable as this technology can be, there’s a clear potential downside: Driver distraction. We’re still trying to figure out how to deal with the problem of texting and driving, a deadly trend that both government and industry are fighting together.  The Department of Transportation is leading the Federal effort, CTIA launched a teen safe driving initiative, and the FCC hosted a workshop and developed an information clearinghouse on distracted driving. Now these mitigation efforts are further complicated by the increasing range of electronic options that tempt drivers to take their eyes minds off the road.

The good news is that the auto industry is recognizing the risk, more openly than when these innovations were presented at CES a year ago. One auto executive on the apps-for-cars panel put it bluntly: “If we don’t do our job well in our space, we can introduce things that can kill people.” In a session on driver distraction and safety, CES brought together David Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, with experts who have monitored the behavior of drivers and the behavior of cars (a field called telematics) to analyze the problem and find solutions.

While this is still a controversial area, the speakers at CES generally agreed on a few key points that suggest the challenges that still lay in front of us. First, many believe that straightforward bans on texting while driving will not have the hoped-for effect. We have now become so used to living wired lives that it’s hard to give up connectivity in the car; as one speaker said, tongue in cheek, “driving is starting to get in the way of our social networking.” Second, it’s clear that broadband connectivity, with all the apps that it brings, is coming to most cars, and that consumers will increasingly demand it. And third, all this innovation must be managed safely for the good of consumers and of the industry itself. A wake-up call came last week when Consumer Reports denied its Recommended designation to two Ford vehicles because of their distracting voice-and-touchscreen systems.

Several major auto companies are putting their engineers to work to make their cars safe, as well as connected and entertaining. Ford is continually improving its Sync system, a popular option now available in all its vehicles, which uses voice commands to provide music, podcasts, and directions with hands on the wheel and eyes on the road. The high-end Mercedes M-Brace system uses voice commands and telematics to provide phone connectivity, entertainment, and safety and security protections. Other automakers are taking similar approaches to the new world of car electronics.

All these advances will provide new options for car buyers – and new challenges for policymakers concerned about auto safety.  What do you look for in a car, and what are your views on safety and driver distraction? Please add a comment to let us know.

Posted in Events Wireless Consumers

Reforming and Improving Lifeline and Link Up

Posted January 13th, 2011 by Sharon Gillett

 Last year was a busy one for Universal Service Fund (USF) reform at the FCC. We adopted a major order that modernized the E-rate program, which supports broadband for schools and libraries. We began the reform process for the High-Cost Fund, which supports phone service and broadband in rural and other high-cost areas, and the Rural Health Care program, which supports broadband for rural health facilities.

As part of our commitment to modernize all our USF programs and improve protections against waste, fraud, and abuse, we’ve also been working hard on improvements and reform proposals for Lifeline and Link Up, which provide telephone service discounts to low-income consumers. These discounts ensure that the financial hardships these customers face don’t disconnect them from the societal and economic benefits of having phone service. 

Here’s what’s been going on ...

Last spring, in light of significant technological and marketplace changes since the current Lifeline and Link Up rules were adopted, we asked the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service to study and make recommendations to the Commission on our Lifeline and Link Up eligibility, verification, and outreach rules.  The Joint Board completed its work and sent us its recommendations late last year, and we’ll soon be addressing those recommendations in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (more on that below).

Recently we have increased our supervision of the program, focusing on a number of different ways to eliminate potential waste, fraud and abuse, and to address the program’s growth.  Under our oversight, the program’s administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company (known as USAC), will conduct nearly fifty compliance audits in the coming months addressing a range of program requirements and covering multiple states and providers.  These audits will test the compliance with our rules of carriers who serve low-income customers and provide us with the data we need to make necessary program reforms.  More importantly, these audits will assist us in discovering and exposing any misconduct in the program, leading to recovery of any improperly distributed program funds and creating incentives for companies to strengthen their internal controls to prevent future problems.

We have also taken targeted actions that will continue to protect the program against waste, fraud, and abuse.  We denied Tracfone’s petition to eliminate our requirement that it contact all of its customers annually to ensure those customers are receiving only one Lifeline benefit per household.  This action comes on the heels of our ordering Virgin Mobile just a few weeks ago to adopt several measures designed to safeguard against abuse and growth in the fund, such as requiring the company to remove customers from the program if they don’t use their phones for 60 days, and taking other steps to prevent customers from receiving duplicate Lifeline-supported benefits.  The benefits of Lifeline and Link Up can only be assured if we carefully monitor the program to ensure that program funds go only to households eligible for them.

As recommended by the National Broadband Plan, we’ve also been working on the development of pilot programs to determine if and how Lifeline and Link Up could be used to support broadband, including through discussions with outside stakeholders who are interested in launching such programs.  More than any other reason, consumers point to cost as the main reason for not adopting broadband, but we know that cost is rarely the only reason.  Pilot programs could help us understand these reasons and how best to use our limited resources to promote sustainable broadband adoption.  The goal of the pilot program would be to collect actionable information to ensure we develop effective strategies for helping low-income families connect to broadband.

Finally, we are preparing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that will tee up a number of improvements to Lifeline and Link Up, including a set of recommendations made in November by the Joint Board, as well as proposals to control the size of the program.  The proposals will not only include improvements to the existing Lifeline program to reduce waste, fraud and abuse but also ways to modernize the program by evaluating whether it reflects the realities of current industry practices and communications technologies.

Posted in Wireline Competition Bureau
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Report from CES: How Will You Watch TV?

Posted January 11th, 2011 by Joel Gurin - Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau

I’m back from the Consumer Electronics Show, the once-a-year showcase for the latest, most innovative consumer technology. With over 130,000 attendees, a show floor the size of six New York City blocks, and IMAX-sized arrays of flat-screen TVs everywhere, the CES can be hard to get your head around. But each year some strong themes emerge.

This year, a major development is what you could call the Emerging Entertainment Ecosystem. We’re moving rapidly into a world where movies, live TV, music, and more will be available on all devices, anywhere and at any time.

The idea of “TV everywhere” has been around for a while. For instance, Slingbox began six years ago by marketing devices that send your TV signal to your smartphone or laptop, wherever you are.  At the Slingbox booth, a rep told me how he’d recently used their product to watch his local TV station via Wi Fi on a plane over the Middle East.  What’s different now is that major manufacturers, software companies, and carriers are partnering to develop fully integrated systems to provide entertainment across devices.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on CES, chose several keynoters to talk about their visions for integrated entertainment. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg described how his company is developing strategies, infrastructure, and devices that will allow you to view TV or movies in HD with higher download and streaming speeds on your smartphone or tablet. The new XOOM tablet, designed in a partnership between Motorola, Google, and Verizon, is made for this use, and was a popular stop on the CES show floor. The XOOM, expected out early this year on Verizon’s 3G network, will use a new version of Google’s Android platform, called Honeycomb, that’s developed specifically for tablet use and will be upgradeable to Verizon’s new high-speed LTE network by mid-year.

In a similar vein, keynoter Boo-Keun (“BK”) Yoon, President and General Manager of Samsung’s Visual Display Business, presented a vision for integrated entertainment from a product manufacturer’s point of view. The world’s leading manufacturer of 3D televisions, Samsung produces everything from smart TVs, which are large Internet-enabled home units, to smartphones and Galaxy tablets. In partnership with Comcast, Hulu, and others, Samsung is “breaking down the wall between devices.” As Yoon demonstrated, you’ll be able to start watching a movie on your tablet, pause, and resume from the same place on your TV; watch the same live TV on your tablet as in your living room; and use your Galaxy to run your DVR, search for programming, and control your home TV set without using a conventional remote.

Many other major exhibitors on the show floor had demos of their own versions of integrated entertainment. The technology relies on broadband, with programming stored and managed through the Internet cloud and accessible by all kinds of devices. As this new entertainment ecosystem becomes the industry standard, we’ll need to develop faster speeds and greater capacity for both fixed and wireless networks. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that 70 percent of all consumer electronic devices will be connected to the Internet by 2014. With half of all Internet traffic now used for video, and more video use to come, the demands on our infrastructure will ratchet up by the year. The National Broadband Plan makes several recommendations for managing the new demand, and the FCC’s spectrum policy has made the expansion of wireless broadband a priority.

The ultimate goal of all this new technology is a better experience and more opportunities for consumers. Please add a comment to share your thoughts and experiences on TV, the Web, and the entertainment experience you’d like to have in the future.

Posted in Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau Consumers

Chairman Genachowski and FCC Staff Take In CES 2011

Posted January 10th, 2011 by George Krebs

Tablets and TVs; gadgets and tech-integrated vehicles; tech-enhanced musical instruments and heavily promoted headphones; innovative toys, energy efficient designs and wireless enabled products of all sorts. Sunday concluded a busy span of stunning technology pageantry in Las Vegas. Thousands of booths were set up and over 100,00 interested device enthusiasts arrived from all over the world for the Consumer Electronics Show , known more commonly as CES (or in this ever expanding, 140-character world, #CES).

Chairman Genachowski, all four Commissioners, and a retinue of FCC staff converged on the convention floor. They got a look at technology – from a wide range of companies – on the horizon and a sense of what’s upcoming in the innovation space. Many of the exhibits in sight shouted wireless and they shouted mobile.

On Friday, day two, the Chairman gave a speech on the need for expanded spectrum offerings and then sat down to chat with the host of the event, CEA CEO Gary Shapiro. This is what the Chairman said:

"As evidenced by the trade show floor, the consumer electronics industry is going wireless, and the future success of this industry and our innovation future depends on whether our government acts quickly to unleash more spectrum -- the oxygen that sustains our mobile devices. 

We’re in the early stages of a mobile revolution that is sparking an explosion in wireless traffic.  Without action, demand for spectrum will soon outstrip supply. 

To seize the opportunities of our mobile future, we need to tackle the threats to our invisible infrastructure.  We need to free up more spectrum."

Read the Chairman’s full speech.

As our team makes their way back to Washington, we’ll bring you their takes and some collected insights. For now, enjoy this video from the Washington Post, showing the Chairman touring the CES floor, speaking to the unbounded potential for job growth on display, and managing to get in a quick game of ping-pong using Microsoft’s Kinect.

(Cross posted on Blogband. Please leave comments there.)

Posted in Events FCC Staff Wireless National Broadband Plan Consumers Mobile
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Open Internet Apps Challenge

Posted January 5th, 2011 by Steven VanRoekel - Managing Director, Federal Communications Commission

For months, we've been hearing from a committed community of citizens that care deeply about preserving the foundational principles of the Internet.

Many of the same people have been involved with the FCC over the last few months through our FCC.gov Developer community. Now that the FCC has released the Open Internet order, we’re calling on that developer community to help us meet a new challenge.

The Open Internet Apps Challenge, released by the FCC, asks this community -- particularly the researchers and developers -- to help build the strongest safeguards possible to preserve these principles and innovate online.

This is an opportunity for the FCC to tap talent in a variety of fields -- technology development, research, monitoring, and more -- to build a powerful toolkit that protects and informs consumers. These software tools could, for example, detect whether a broadband provider is interfering with DNS responses, application packet headers, or content.

The winners of this challenge will have their work widely seen and used. We think that there a number of interesting opportunities in this challenge, particularly for researchers with deep experience in highly-technical and specified fields of industry and academia.

We've called on the FCC Developer community before, like the Open Developer Day we hosted in October, and this challenge presents a new opportunity for the agency to partner with innovators and researchers working towards important goals.

Check out all the details for the Open Internet Apps Challenge at Challenge.gov.

Posted in Open Government Office Of Managing Director Developer Api
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